A record-breaking heavyweight thrives in newly found old growth grove
By Chloe Bennett
In early July, Erik Danielson hunted for treasure he values more than gold. Trudging through bush and on spongy earth and rocks in the Moose River Plains Wild Forest, the naturalist carved out a path to his latest discovery: A massive Eastern white pine currently known to be the biggest of its kind, with a volume of approximately 1,450 cubic feet.
The typical Eastern white pine in southern Canada and along the eastern portion of the United States has an average diameter of 32 to 36 inches, Danielson said. The tree he located and measured in Hamilton County doubles that with a 62.6 inch diameter. It does not exceed the height of his discovery last year – New York’s tallest white pine, a 174-foot colossus near Bolton, in a forest close to Lake George. But the new find does surpass it in overall mass.
The tree stands among other giants in the 550-acre grove, a two-hour bushwhack from Moose River Road. A 1950 windstorm that blew down many Adirondack trees made it an inconspicuous location to spot the huge pines, he said.
“From that, it was kind of just assumed that whatever had been in there was gone,” Danielson, 32, said.
Danielson first learned of the area’s potential after speaking with Matt Kane, an outdoorsman who reviewed an early 1900s report of the area.
Looking at a light detection and ranging (LiDAR) system, Danielson found that the trees resembled structures similar to old growth, but he couldn’t be sure without a visit. His suspicions were confirmed when he drove from his home near Jamestown to the Adirondacks. The dominant trees in the stand could be more than 300 years old, said Danielson, who works as a stewardship coordinator for the Western New York Land Conservancy.
After locating a prospective titleholder, he identified what appeared to be a larger white pine nearby, which took the crown.
Danielson uses a Native Tree Society method that captures the height, girth and volume of trees with the help of a monocular, laser, clinometer and tape. The technique was created by the society’s co-founder Bob Leverett, who has mentored Danielson for about 10 years.
Leverett, who lives in Massachusetts, said older trees such as the one Danielson measured can hold a substantial amount of carbon dioxide. As scientists research ways to curb some of the effects of climate change, tree carbon storage is seen as a potent natural solution. The greenhouse gas is stored in forest biomass until the area, or individual tree, is disturbed.
“They’re huge carbon sinks, not just in terms of the trees above ground, but further what is on the ground and what is underground,” Leverett said. “So, they’re holding a lot of carbon.”
According to Leverett, around 52.1% of a white pine tree is carbon. The more biomass, he said, the more carbon it’s able to absorb from the atmosphere. The giant found in the Moose River Plains Wild Forest has stored about 35.7 tons of carbon dioxide, Danielson said. That is what comes from the tailpipe of a car driven about 328,989 miles, based on the exhaust produced by the average gasoline-powered passenger vehicle.
Although the mass of the white pine is the largest known to Danielson and the tree measuring community, it’s impossible to be certain of its title, he said.
“The fact is that you can never really say that this is absolutely the largest white pine in existence, or for any species, really,” Danielson said. “But it is significantly larger than any of the other largest known examples that are recorded.”
JOIN A COMMUNITY OF PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT ADIRONDACK JOURNALISM
After pursuing unusually large trees for more than a decade, Danielson has gathered enough expertise to lead others to treasure in New York’s forests. He doesn’t partake in the activity solely for the trees but for the immersive experience of a quiet forest and the plants he finds along the way.
He said people interested in the hobby can begin the way he did: Through online research and resources from the Native Tree Society. Tree-measuring enthusiasts are welcoming people, he said.
“There’s not a huge number of us out here doing this kind of thing, so anyone who shows up and takes an interest and starts doing it is going to get a lot of encouragement,” Danielson said.