The Big Pine Giant Sequoia “Roosevelt Tree” passes into history

This morning I watched along a couple of dozen other people from the town of Big Pine as The Roosevelt Tree, located in the Big Pine Veterans Memorial rest area, was cut down. On this beautiful, wildfire smoke-free Monday morning, Sept. 28, we watched as the giant sequoia was felled 107 years after it was planted. The tree had to be removed due to a combination of not enough water, soil compaction, stress, and disease.

If you would like to see the video of the tree coming down, taken by our videographer and Big Pine resident, Jesse Steele, CLICK HERE.

Considering that giant sequoias can live up to 3,000 years, this tree was a mere baby. Giant sequoias are the third longest-lived tree species. And to clear a common misconception up front, a sequoia is not a pine tree at all! Sequoiadendron giganteum is also called Sierra redwood, a coniferous evergreen tree of the cypress family (Cupressaceae), the largest of all trees in bulk and the most massive living things by volume.

The much-beloved Roosevelt Tree in Big Pine, Calif., in better days. (Photo from US Forest Service)

Another common misconception is that the town of Big Pine was named after the Roosevelt Tree. As already explained, first, a giant sequoia is not a pine tree at all. Second, the town was named in 1870…and was purportedly named after another tree in the town some forty-three years before the Roosevelt Tree was planted. The tree for which the town was named was a big pine tree. People had a lot of imagination in those days.

For those of us watching the tree’s removal, you could almost feel our spirits falling along with the tree as it began to tilt and then crash onto the pavement in cloud of dust, debris, and broken limbs flying into the air.  There was a communal sense of sadness…a sense of loss among those of us there. A lot of head shaking.

People can become extremely attached to a tree. It might have been a favorite tree that as a child, you first climbed from branch to branch, or one in which you and friends built a tree house, or the maybe the one that, whenever you played hide-and-seek, the first place everyone looked for you was somewhere in that tree, because everyone knew you had a “thing” about hiding in that tree. In the case of the Roosevelt Tree, “the thing” the town of Big Pine had for that tree was just the sheer beauty and majesty of it; a tree not normally found on the valley floor but higher up on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains between 5,000 and 7,000 feet in elevation.

And when the Roosevelt Tree was decorated for Christmas, well it became even more special and more beautiful.

As the tree fell, I remembered a poem that came to mind titled, “Trees,” a simple and gentle poem by American poet Joyce Kilmer. It was written in February 1913, the same year the giant sequoia, named in honor of President “Teddy” Roosevelt, was planted in Big Pine on July 23, 1913, when the Westgaard Pass was opened to automobiles.

The poem begins like this:

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

(and it ends)

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

The people of Big Pine would agree that, yes, “only God can make a tree,” but they would also tell you that a tree can make a lot of sweet memories.

[Many people are interested in what is going to happen to the wood from the tree. The Big Pine Civic Club has been taking suggestions and looking into making mementos from parts of the tree. Stay tuned to Sierra Wave for more information.]

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15 Responses to The Big Pine Giant Sequoia “Roosevelt Tree” passes into history

  1. John do October 1, 2020 at 12:51 am #

    Beauty will never pass away ….
    We will.

  2. Slater September 30, 2020 at 8:33 am #

    I suggest utilizing the trunk in a manner that will continue to allow children of all ages to climb the tree, albeit not in its customary form.

  3. Steve September 30, 2020 at 7:26 am #

    I hope the tree is used for study, it had over 100 years of environmental history stored in it’s tree rings. The same 100 plus years DWP was changing the natural flow of water in Owens Valley.

  4. Lois Stopple September 30, 2020 at 1:58 am #

    “I think that I shall never see, a poem as lovely as a tree, ~ A tree whose hungry mouth is pressed, against the earth’s sweet flowing breast.~ A tree that looks at God all day, and lifts her leafy arms to pray. ~ A tree that may in summer wear, a nest of robins in her hair.~ Upon whose bosom snow has lain, who intimately lives with rain.~ Poems were made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree” ~by Mr. Joyce Kilmer, 1886-1918, of New Brunswick New Jersey (that’s the whole poem)

  5. Pine September 29, 2020 at 2:04 pm #

    It seems silly they cut this tree down, unless: it was deemed hazardous, had internal rot, beetle bore holes, or was sapless as in dry under the bark (cambium).

    Like was said in the other articles, it could have been fluctuating groundwater levels that did it in. It did not look completely dead to me as I drive by often, but the top had died back, which is not unusual for many long lived trees. They usually hold onto their dead tops for many years, and they makes great insect and bird habitat.

    I believe, given the chance, the tree would have survived. It may not have been the same, but that’s what make old trees so great. I bet you’ve never seen a 2,000 year old tree that still has a Christmas tree shape. They all eventually lose limbs and the tops die back and break off.

    I also hope they initially consulted with more than one tree preservation expert, and maybe one closer to home.

    What a shame to lose such a landmark.

  6. carolegerber September 29, 2020 at 11:39 am #

    Eric – The reason the tree was cut is in the first paragraph: “The tree had to be removed due to a combination of not enough water, soil compaction, stress, and disease.”

    • Charles James September 29, 2020 at 1:57 pm #

      Carole, there was an editing error in the initial posting, which is what Eric noted in his initial comment to us. When copying and pasting the article from the word document to the web program, a sentence was left out which, thanks to Eric’s comment, we were able to fix pretty quickly. Often it’s very helpful to have our readers and listeners point out the occasional errors or point out something they feel was lacking in a story. We’re here to serve and inform our reader, but lay no claims to perfection. Comments, even in the form of criticism, can be helpful in that respect. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

  7. Leigh Shambo-Young September 29, 2020 at 11:10 am #

    This article brought my husband and I to tears! Good coverage,Charles.

  8. Patricia R Ogden September 29, 2020 at 7:54 am #

    Why was the tree taken down???

    • Charles James September 29, 2020 at 8:11 am #

      A combination of not enough water, soil compaction, stress, and disease killed the tree. A sentence was inadvertently cut out during the recording process and posting to the web. It’s been fixed. Thank you for noticing! We’re going to miss that tree!

      • Gjob September 29, 2020 at 4:57 pm #

        I believe it was a higher than normal water table that started it. Quite the opposite of what your claiming charles

  9. Eric September 29, 2020 at 1:27 am #

    A newsworthy event and better than average prose in the article. But… why? That fundamental question was not addressed. There may have been a good reason for felling the tree, but it was never mentioned in the story, and it was probably the most important piece of this account for many of us.

    • Charles James September 29, 2020 at 8:32 am #

      Eric, thanks for noticing the omission. It was in the original writing of the article, but in the cut and paste process, a sentence was lost: “A combination of not enough water, soil compaction, stress, and disease killed the tree.” Oh well.

      BTW, if you would like a little more detail, visit Deb Murphy’s post, Big Pine rallies around a peaked Roosevelt Pine, from September 2018 and her follow-up a month later, Update on Big Pine’s Roosevelt Pine. Had the tree actually been a pine, which it is not, it might have fared better. It’s unlikely the replacement will be another sequoia.

      • Tourbillon September 29, 2020 at 12:03 pm #

        Don’t doubt that this is what we’ve been told, but of those four factors, “not enough water” seems easily curable; “soil compaction” can be addressed, and “stress” without further information is useless to understanding why the tree had to go.

        That leaves disease. Which would make sense if the photo showed a diseased tree. My eye is untrained but the tree certainly doesn’t look like the ones I’ve seen that were clearly diseased. Too late now but I wonder if it was asked “if we water the tree and try to alleviate the soil compaction, can the disease factor be treated or at least held in check?”

    • mango September 30, 2020 at 2:44 pm #

      So its funny that everyone is blaming the not enough water on one agency. In 107 years the civic club couldn’t come up with a plan to take care of their own trees water.?
      Seems like it got forgotten.


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