For years in her travels, La Plata County outfitter Sandy Young rode by an impressive Douglas fir in the Hermosa Creek drainage north of Durango.
“I finally came the conclusion that it could be a record big tree,” Young said this week. “I knew someone would have to measure it.”
It turned out to be a state champ, as determined by the Colorado Tree Coalition.
But it took Young years to act on her hunch. One acquaintance led Young to another and finally to Mark Rouw with Big Trees of Iowa. Young guided him to her Douglas fir located above the confluence of Dutch Creek and Hermosa Creek.
Rouw’s measurements found the fir was 163 feet tall, 17 feet in circumference and has a crown spread of 53 feet – the average of the widest and narrowest points.
In Young’s nomination application to the Colorado Tree Coalition, the condition of the Douglas fir was described as: “Fairly good. Some dead branches but most of crown appears healthy. Trunk divides into two leaders with a weak fork at about 55’ (feet).”
The “Outfitter Tree” (champion trees have names) was certified through the Colorado Tree Coalition as the largest known of it species in Colorado.
The organization maintains a database listing more than 700 trees of countless species.
The Hermosa Creek drainage is coming into its own as a big-tree region.
“All of sudden it’s presenting itself as a place for big trees,” Laurie Swisher, a forester with the San Juan National Forest, said Friday. “It was hardly looked at before they found the champion ponderosa pine.”
Swisher was referring to the 160.6-foot ponderosa pine that already has been recognized as state champion.
The San Juan National Forest has the four biggest ponderosa pines in the state, said Steve Hartvigsen, a Forest Service forester. The forest also has the three largest Southwestern white pines, he said.
“We have three times as many champion trees as any other forest,” he said.
The Hermosa Creek area is considered a likely spot for big trees for its moisture and for being sheltered from severe weather patterns, Swisher said.
The certification of the Douglas fir comes as a timely introduction to the Southwest Old Growth Forest Conference at Fort Lewis College on Aug. 4-5.
The conference brings together experts who will discuss the importance of old-growth forests to the health of the planet. The trees are under siege from drought, fire and insects.
Swisher is among the presenters. She will discuss the effect of wildfire on old-growth ponderosa in the San Juan National Forest.
One of the experts is Robert Van Pelt, a leading researcher into redwoods and tall-tree canopy.
Among sponsors of the conference are the Mountain Studies Institute, the FLC environmental studies program, Center of Southwest Studies, Great Old Broads for Wilderness and the Western Native Tree Society.