When is a Christmas Tree not a Christmas Tree?

By Andrew Darby

HOBART, Tasmania, Australia, December 22, 2000 (ENS) - A bid by The Wilderness Society in Australia to register an endangered 78 metre (254 foot) tall eucalypt as the world's tallest Christmas Tree has failed to pass a species scrutiny.

The British Guinness World Records organization has offended some Australian sensibilities by proclaiming that to be a "proper" Christmas Tree, it had to be a spruce.

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Styx Valley eucalypt Christmas Tree (Photo courtesy The Wilderness Society)
The eucalyptus regnans in Tasmania's Styx Valley is lit up each night over this Christmas period with a four metre solar powered star. This is a remnant of extensive decorations, including giant baubles and 3,000 fairy lights that adorned the tree last year when the bid was first made.

Writing from Guinness's Euston Road, London, office recently, records researcher Jo Perl applauded the Australian effort, but said, "We are unable to acept your claim, as the record would have to be for a proper Christmas Tree (i.e. a spruce)."

The tallest recorded spruce Christmas Tree comes in well under the Tasmanian version, at 67.4 metres (219 feet), in Seattle, in 1952. But Australian Greens Senator Bob Brown disputes the spruce rule.

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Australian Greens Senator Bob Brown (Photo courtesy Australian Greens)
"Next they'll be telling Australians you can't have Christmas in summer," Brown said. "A Christmas Tree is an evergreen tree decorated for Christmas. That's that. I've written back asking them to think again."

Australians more usually decorate small radiata pines at Christmas, but will tackle many types of tree, including eucalypts, and even driftwood at the beach.

The Wilderness Society decorated the eucalypt to draw attention to its fate in an area of 300 to 400 year old forest slated for logging.

Since then the state government's Forestry Tasmania has pledged not to cut down trees over 85 metres (276 feet) in height. But Senator Brown said that reserves around such trees offer too little protection, particularly against the effects of winds.

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One of Tasmania's ten tallest trees (Two photos courtesy Forestry Tasmania)
"Because the adjacent forest will be logged, the bigger of these trees will be isolated in postage stamp reserves and subject to immense wind shear. Their tops will be blown out."

The society's focus on the Christmas tree spurred Forestry Tasmania this year to prepare a detailed inventory of exceptionally tall trees around the island state, which has some of the Earth's highest.

Forestry Tasmania's researcher Parry Kostoglou said the tallest tree known to exist on the planet today is the National Geographic tree, a Californian redwood currently 112 metres tall.

Tasmania's giant eucalypts come in lower than that, with a neighbour of the Christmas Tree in the Styx Valley Big Tree reserve topping out at 92 metres (299 feet). In his research, Kostoglou measured a series of trees slightly below that mark, and said there may be higher examples yet unfound.

"There are probably a number of unsurveyed trees exceeding this height and perhaps even the 100 metre mark," Kostoglou said."However, these appear to be very rare and finding them would be very time consuming."

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One of Tasmania's tallest trees
Forestry Tasmania argues that very tall trees remain well protected inside the state's reserves. "There are more than 192,000 hectares of tall old growth eucalypt forest communities on public land in Tasmania," said managing director Evan Rolley. "Sixty five percent of these are permanently reserved from harvesting."

Senator Brown described the pledge by Forestry Tasmania not to cut down trees over 85 metres high as being like leaving only humans above seven metres (23 feet) standing.

The Wilderness Society has launched a campaign to create a Valley of the Giants National Park in the Styx Valley.

The move to create a Valley of the Giants National Park in the Styx Valley has become a race against time, with Forestry Tasmania planning 22 logging areas and 17 kilometres (10.5 miles) of new roads in the area over the next three years.

"Tasmania should be proud of this valley and its statuesque trees," said Tasmanian campaign coordinator Geoff Law. "We should be selling this experience to the world, instead of carving it up for woodchips."

Though some old growth forests in Tasmania are still logged, Forestry Tasmania argues that maximum use is made of the sawlog and veneer wood resource.

The government agency has disclosed a 48 percent hike in woodchipping of native forests on public land in fiscal 1999-2000, rising to 2.2 million tonnes.