Majestic monarch clings to life in Eagle Cap

Majestic monarch clings to life in Eagle Cap

High on the south face of Cusick Mountain in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, an ancient giant clings to life. The immense limber pine, nearly seven feet thick, has been enduring for thousands of years. Most of the tree, 90 percent, is now dead, but the one root that still draws water feeds a burst of green that reaches for the skies.

Now, after more than 2,000 years alone, the pine is being recognized for its strength and beauty.

The tree was discovered by Baker County historian and longtime mountain climber Gary Dielman, 70, during an off-trail hike in the Wallowas back in 1998.

"It was pure luck that I found that tree," he said. "No human being would be there except by accident."

Dielman found the tree because he had decided to "take a shortcut" home after the nearly two-day hike to the top of 9,500-foot Mount Cusick. The area where the tree stands is steep limestone screen, and in an effort to find the best passage at the 8,000-foot elevation, Dielman crisscrossed the landscape and simply climbed into the big pine's zone.

Astonished and awed, Dielman immediately knew he had found something amazing, but he was out of film in his camera. He vowed then and there to come back.

Upon returning to Baker, Dielman began to ask forest ecologists and dendrochoronoligists about the tree. The late U.S. Forest Service ecologist Charles Johnson at Wallowa-Whitman National Forest headquarters in Baker City, was excited about the find. He had cored another limber pine one drainage north of Dielman's pine on a fork of the Imnaha and estimated it at 2030 years old. Dielman's pine began watching over the Eagle Cap before Genghis Khan began is attempt at world conquest, before the Anaszi began building their civilization in Canyon de Chelly and Mesa Verde.

In fact, the pine may have begun its life far earlier. It is not possible to know the age of these trees exactly, Dielman said, because most are rotten at the core and also because most corers do not measure more than three feet. Trees this age are normally rotten most of the way through, he said, because limber pines, adapted for hard living, have a compartmentalized root system. When one part of the root dies because it cannot get enough water, the part of the tree that is fed by that root dies. In Dielman's pine, one root is still drinking and one compartment of the tree is still very much alive.

Two more trips to the tree followed Dielman's initial discover, both made with experts, and now, Oregon Public Broadcasting is bringing the glory of the tree to viewers.

Accompanied by both a USFS silviculturist and ecologist, a dendrochoronologist (tree ring expert) from Minnesota, and the OPB crew, Deilman took what may be his final trip to the home of the squat giant in the summer of 2009. The film OPB made will be shown Feb. 11at 8:30 p.m. n OREGON FIELD GUIDE, and will repeat Sunday at 6:30 p.m. Full episodes of FIELD GUIDE are also available at watch.opb.org. Videos of the stories featured on the program are available at opb.org/programs/ofg/.

Boone and Crocket-style measurements of the tree prove that the tree that Dr. Chris Earle has named "Dielman's Monarch" ranks third in the limber pine category in the United States. It measures more than 80 inches in circumference, stands over 30 feet high, and has an average spread of 27 feet. The tree enthusiasts at Ascending the Giants recorded the ranking. More of Dielman's story and more about great trees across the nation can be read at (Ascendingthegiants.com).

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