Point of view – climbing the big trees

Point of view – climbing the big trees

From Cosmos (10./11/23) This is off our usual beat but worth looking at – even if just for the pictures…


Point of view

In 2022, The Tree Projects – a volunteer-run organisation founded by canopy ecologist Jen Sanger and her husband Steve Pearce – brought a dozen skilled climbers into the Grove of Giants for a frenzied week of surveys. To measure the area’s total carbon, team members scaled the massive eucalypts to wrap measuring tapes around every trunk and branch. Turns about 60% of the grove’s carbon is stored in just 20 of its largest trees.

To learn all she could about tall trees, Lauren Fuge talked to a range of experts – then strapped on a harness and scaled an 80 metre blue gum.

I’m standing at the base of Lathamus Keep, watching tree climber and photographer Steve Pearce attach my harness to an orange rope no thicker than my finger. It’s one of four climbing lines he and his crew have set, using light lines attached to weighted throw bags – an impressive mission when the first branch is 25 metres up. The tree’s moss-patterned trunk is a wall of wood before me, twice as wide as my outstretched arms. I squint into the January-bright canopy.

“How far up are we going?” I ask.

“The line’s set at 70 metres,” Pearce says, with the casual tone of a person who has spent thousands of hours aloft.

“And how tall’s the tree?”

“Eighty metres. Biggest blue gum in the universe.”

Biggest blue gum (Eucalyptus globulus) in the universe, roughly the size of the launch structure of NASA’s Artemis Moon mission, and it’s just an hour and a half from nipaluna/Hobart.

“This forest is called the Grove of Giants,” explained the endlessly enthusiastic canopy ecologist Dr Jen Sanger, as she led me through the dappled dreamscape of wet eucalypt forest that morning. “There’s about 150 trees here over four metres in diameter, so it’s just jam packed with giant old trees.”

The forests of lutruwita/Tasmania are one of just three places in the world where trees grow above 80m. In the teeming rainforests of Borneo, yellow meranti trees soar up to 100m; the fog-shrouded west coast of North America creates the perfect conditions for temperate rainforest species to reach even more epic proportions; here, five species of eucalypt shoot up above the smaller rainforest trees to become islands in the sky.


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