TOPEKA (KSNT) – Have you spotted a big tree in Kansas recently? It could be a current or future champion tree for the state.
The Champion Tree Program seeks to honor Kansas trees through receiving a place on a state and/or national list. The program is maintained through the efforts of volunteers and members of the Kansas Forest Service (KFS) who seek to draw attention to these woody residents of the Sunflower State.
KSNT 27 News spoke with Ariel Whitely-Knoll with the KFS about this special program. She said the Champion Tree Program is an extension of a national program hosted through American Forests. This organization’s history stretches back more than 150 years and it helped push for the creation of the U.S. Forest Service.
American Forests maintains a national list of Champion Trees. Two trees from Kansas have spots on this list: an Eastern Cottonwood from Sheridan County and a Common Juniper from Leavenworth County.
Anyone from park managers to local community members are encouraged to find the biggest trees in the state and nominate them for the program. A “small but mighty” team of volunteers will then verify if the tree is a candidate for a new champion tree.
Trees are measured based on their height, circumference and crown spread, according to Whitely-Knoll. The points from each category are tallied together for a final score with circumference being the most important factor. The size of the tree often means that it has some special significance to the area around it.
“A lot of our state champions have a lot of historical significance,” Whitely-Knoll said. “To get a tree to become a state champion, oftentimes you need an undisturbed site.”
Whitely-Knoll said a champion tree can be taken off the list if a larger tree of the same species is found or, in some cases, become a co-champion with a tree of the same species if the pair are close to the same size. Trees can also be removed from the list if they die.
The process for establishing a new champion tree is relatively easy. Whitely-Knoll said all someone has to do to nominate a new tree for the list is to visit the KFS’s website and fill out a short questionnaire. A tree doesn’t have to be native to Kansas to qualify and can be situated on public or private land.
There are 10 species currently unaccounted for as champion trees in Kansas:
- Ash, white
- Cypress, Arizona
- Dogwood, rough-leafed
- Juniper, Rocky Mountain
- Magnolia, umbrella
- Mesquite, honey
- Pine, longleaf
- Pine, pitch
- Plum, American
- Willow, coastal plains
“Our goal is really to provide some recognition for trees in Kansas and help people appreciate them more,” Whitely-Knoll said.
More information about the program and the current list of trees in Kansas recognized through it can be found below. A list of trees recognized at the national level can be found by clicking here.