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Warren: Learn the history, heritage of Arizona’s magnificent trees


Arizona is home to many natural wonders but one of the least recognized and often overlooked is our trees and forests.

From our sprawling Ponderosa pine forests, to the largest Fremont Cottonwood in the nation found in Skull Valley, to the very important trees found in our urban areas — trees are rooted in Arizona’s history and heritage.

The Arizona Magnificent Trees Program, sponsored by the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management, seeks to create a living record of magnificent and majestic trees in our state’s forests and communities.

Trees play an important role in the ecosystem and human health and well-being, including environmental benefits (improved air quality; cooling the air; wildlife habitat), economic benefits (lower crime rates, increased property values, moderating heating and cooling costs), and aesthetic and psychological benefits (beautification, reduced stress and community restoration).

Trees contribute to healthy ecosystems in both open spaces and for people and wildlife living in urban areas and built environments.

The Arizona Magnificent Tree Program connects us to trees, increases awareness of the field of forestry and urban forestry, and encourages people to pay attention to trees as critical ecosystem species.

Specifically, the Arizona Magnificent Tree Program is an award program designed to publicly recognize trees that are the largest of their species (champion trees), trees that have cultural significance and a direct connection to people (heritage trees), and trees that are proven to have been in their same location before Arizona Statehood in 1912 (witness trees).

The Arizona Magnificent Tree Program operates in conjunction with the American Forests National Champion Trees Program which, since 1940, has been campaigning to locate the largest living specimens of American trees. The American Forests National Register of Champion Trees started out as a competition, a national hunt to discover the largest specimens of American tree species and is now a list of the many large trees found across many biomes and ecosystems.

Community members, public lands staff, outdoor adventurers, and people of all ages are invited to find trees to submit to the Arizona Magnificent Tree Program. Large trees are only one category of tree the program recognizes.

Participants can provide us information about trees that are part of their community’s heritage, the site of a historical event, or planted by a notable persons. We want to celebrate trees that are, and have been, cornerstones of our communities as much as those found deep in our forests.

Champion trees are given a score based on their height, trunk circumference, and average crown spread. Those scoring the highest are contenders for recognition as a champion in their species category.

At this time, trees of any species can be submitted to the Arizona Magnificent Tree Program. If the tree species is one that American Forests recognizes and is scored higher than any existing champion in their database, the Arizona Magnificent Tree Program will submit the nomination for inclusion and review at the national level.

The Arizona Magnificent Tree Program accepts nominations for trees in all three categories on a rolling basis between Dec. 1 and May 31 each year. The tree verification period runs from June 1 through Sept. 15. This period is when our volunteers and staff verify the characteristics of the nominations, confer with the advisory board, and create the list of trees to be awarded recognition status.

Award winners are announced on Oct. 15, and tree nominators and tree owners are presented with certificates of recognition. On Nov. 1 each year, the Arizona Magnificent Tree Program releases the final list of Magnificent Trees to the public. DFFM also highlights the “Magnificent 7,” the most notable seven trees submitted in the prior year, each Arbor Day.

Nominations can be submitted online via the Arizona Magnificent Trees Program website.

If you are interested in serving as a trained and certified Arizona Magnificent Tree Program Tree Verifier, contact lbarnett@dffm.az.gov to let us know you would like to attend an upcoming training. Trainings are held twice yearly, in the spring (southern Arizona) and fall (northern Arizona).

Tree hunting and measuring is a fantastic way to introduce members of our communities to the importance of trees and green space, cultural heritage related to trees, the field of forestry, and the value of trees as part of our rich natural history.

The Arizona Magnificent Trees program recognizes trees within the state of Arizona that are … simply put … Magnificent!

Editor’s note: LoriAnne Barnett Warren is an urban forestry specialist at the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management.