Champion Tree

An urban champion Douglas Fir, recently measured by "big tree hunter" Mark Lewing, stands 100 feet tall near the between the Jeanette Rankin building and the Don Anderson Hall. The tree has a circumference just over nine and a half feet and is the largest of its species in an urban center. 

Multiple University of Montana campus trees are being crowned champions and co-champions of the Montana Big Tree Register. 

A ginkgo, northern red oak, European large, bristlecone pine and eastern white pine were among several trees measured for championship at UM on Thursday, Sept. 5. The man behind the measuring tape? Mark Lewing.

Lewing, self-titled "big tree hunter," is a volunteer for the Montana Big Tree Register. He also describes himself as the “unofficial-official volunteer tree remeasurement agent.”

“I think I may actually have more trees to my credit as a BTH than anyone else in this country,” Lewing said. “But I don’t know that for sure.”

Lewing was contacted by Kelly Chadwick, the UC Gardens manager, to measure some of the campus trees. Chadwick wanted to know if they qualified for the registry.

“An important thing to note is that the University of Montana campus is the State of Montana Arboretum,” Chadwick said. “So we wanted to see how our trees matched against the register.”

Chadwick also mentioned there were long-term plans for construction in the area where some of these trees stand, so it was important to get them champion status.

To gain this status, a tree is judged on height, circumference and average crown spread, or the horizontal and vertical widths of its foliage. It is then given a point value, submitted to the Big Tree Register and compared to the existing trees.

Lewing has been working as a volunteer for the register since 2003. He previously worked for the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) as the Hamilton unit manager.

He explained that the tree register was set up by the Forest Service in the 1940s and was recently passed on to the DNRC. He volunteered to catalog and recatalog trees on the list.

“It started off as a fun hobby for me. I just started looking for trees around the state,” Lewing said. “And you guys have some pretty big trees.” 

A total of 18 UM trees will be added to the register, with seven clocking in as 2020 champions.