Oregon Sitka spruce allowed a natural death

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SEASIDE, Ore. -- Put away the chain saw.

Clatsop County officials will let the nation's largest Sitka spruce fall to its death, according to The Oregonian. But officials also said they would keep visitors from getting too close to the 200-foot tree.

"It could last another 10 or 20 years, or it could fall over tomorrow," Steve Meshke, Clatsop County Parks director said. "It is at the end of its life cycle; that is the one thing we have all agreed upon. There is not much we can do at this stage, except keep everyone away from it and monitor it."

The tree shares co-champion status with a tree in Olympic National Park in Washington as the nation's largest Sitka spruce based on height, trunk circumference and crown spread.

The tree has survived a lightning-induced scar for four decades but a recent windstorm knocked loose a large chunk and revealed a rotting interior.

An icon in Oregon, the tree draws about 100,000 visitors each year.

Now those visitors will have to admire the majestic tree from 165 feet away.

To prevent people from getting injured or killed by a falling limb, barriers will be placed in part of the parking lot off U.S. 26 southeast of Seaside. Sheriff's deputies may fine people if they cross, county officials said.

The 165 feet may not be far enough, said Terrence Flanagan, a Lake Oswego arborist consulting with the county.

"There are two ways this tree is going to fall: entirely in a sudden event or it will continue to shed branches at a greater rate than it has in the past," Flanagan said.

The distance is safe enough if limbs are falling but may not be if the entire tree topples, he said.

Foresters will be looking at ways to cable the tree so that when it does tumble, they can direct the fall, said Paul Ries, urban forester with the Oregon Department of Forestry.

Ideally, it will fall away from the parking lot, he said.



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