Steve Sillett’s Secrecy and the Virginia Round Leaf Birch
Over the winter, I read The Wild Trees and learned about the botanists and climbers who studied the diverse ecosystems in the canopies of the giant redwoods. I enjoyed the book and you can read my original thoughts in an earlier post.
Now, I do have to admit there was one section where I scoffed at scientist, Steve Sillett. Once his research started to take off and he was being interviewed for The New Yorker, he kept the locations of the trees guarded. He was worried about recreational climbers ascending the trees (you know, the same trees he climbed) and hurting the canopy.
“Oh, give me a break!” I thought.
Steve had started his tree climbing career recklessly in college without any ropes and just a few chapters earlier, he had to be reprimanded by arborists for climbing the redwoods using metal logging spikes. Was he really the one to be lecturing?
But now, I definitely have a new appreciation for Steve Sillett’s secrecy and I humbly recognize that one can change their mind over the years (or…a mere four months). In Steve’s case, I suppose as he became more familiar with the trees and the ample life at top, he developed a greater appreciation of their fragility. As for me, what changed my mind about Steve?
The Virginia Round Leaf Birch Tree.
Photo by Peter M. Mazzeo @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database
The Virginia Round Leaf Birch Tree only grows naturally in Smyth County, Virginia at an elevation of 2750 feet. The tree was discovered in the early 1900s and then it VANISHED for 60 years. It was assumed extinct until 1975, when a small patch was found growing near Cressy Creek. And so, the Virginia Round Leaf Birch became the very first tree protected under the Endangered Species Act.
What a delicate treasure these trees must have been! Surely, anyone who ran across such a rare tree would cherish and respect the moment. No one would want to hurt the precious few that remained, right?
What the–?!?! Who would do such a thing?
After that, the planting locations of the Virginia Round Leaf Birch were kept secret. Although less than 10 of the natural population remain, thanks to secrecy, there are more than 1000 artificially propogated trees out there and the species has successfully moved from “Endangered” to “Threatened”.
So, Steve Sillett, I believe you were right to be discrete about the redwoods, afterall.
Even the population of people who love trees still has its jerks.