Saving a majestic heritage tree
Last updated 4/6/2021 at Noon
It was a sapling when Cortez burned his ships and moved inland to take on the Aztec empire. It was a robust young tree when the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. As it grew, it likely shaded the seasonal migrations and camp sites of native peoples. And it was a towering, majestic lord of the forest when the Graham Family homesteaded nearby in the 1880s.
By 2021, the 180-foot tall, 64-inch-diameter ponderosa pine that looms over Graham Corral west of Sisters posed a potential danger. With a major codominant fork, and standing as it does amid a recreational area that serves the Sisters equestrian community, the Sisters Ranger District labeled the tree as a potential hazard.
That could have meant the end of this 500-year-old tree. The Forest Service sought a different alternative.
Jeremy Fields, a timber specialist with Sisters Ranger District, had become friends with local environmentalist Susan Prince. They brainstormed ideas for saving the tree. Fields consulted with arborist Nate Goodwin. They considered taking off one of the forks — but quickly rejected the idea.
“That thing’s been growing with that fork for hundreds of years,” Fields said.
They feared that removing a fork would unbalance the tree, and Goodwin believes it would “open up a portal for decay.” The specialists concurred that removing a fork would likely doom the tree.
“I would assume that that tree would just go into a tailspin,” Goodwin said.
The arborist, proprietor of Timber Stand Improvement, had a better idea. On Wednesday, March 31, his crew headed out to Graham Corral to stabilize the tree with a nylon harness. Climbers Eric Banderas and Kyle Grugan installed the harness, crafted by the climbers using 18,000-pound test, UV stabilized nylon, about two-thirds of the distance above the split where the fork starts.
Stabilizing a codominant forked tree with cables is nothing new — but usually arborists drill holes for anchor bolts and wrap steel cable around the forks. That process can open the tree up to disease or insect infestation. The noninvasive harness technique is a relatively new innovation in the trade, according to Goodwin.
Fields told The Nugget that the work would cost the District less than $1,300 — less than it would have cost to fell and buck the tree and haul off its remains. But cost wasn’t the primary mover of the project.
Sisters Ranger District Archaeologist Mike Boero was on site on Wednesday. He noted that there aren’t any carvings or markings on the tree that make it officially a tree of cultural significance. So there was no official mandate to save it.
“If there’s no cultural modifications to the tree, it can be murky as to what we’re mandated to do,” he said.
But for everyone involved, the old tree matters.
“I see it as being part of the site itself,” Boero said. “Taking that more holistic approach, I see it as a cultural resource for the site.”
And now it will preside over Graham Corral for many years to come.