Many Americans of a certain age will recall an American radio commentator, called Paul Harvey, who ran ironic commentaries entitled "The End of the Story". They were short segments leading you to expect one answer and Harvey’s closing comment explaining what happened would reverse the field altogether. I once heard a commentary on dendrochronology, in which Harvey reported how a dendrochronologist had cut down and killed the oldest living tree in the world. In my pre-blog days, when I was researching bristlecones, I came across the academic account of this event – which I summarize here.
The cutting down of the oldest tree in the world has the following academic reference: Curry, D.R., 1965. "An Ancient Bristlecone Pine Stand in Eastern Nevada", Ecology, 46(4), 564-566. Curry, writing from the Department of Geography of the University of North Carolina, reported that, in 1963 and 1964, during studies of Little Ice Age glaciation and nivation in the mountains of southwestern U.S., a number of stands of bristlecone pine were encountered, including a previously unstudied stand at Wheeler Peak in east Nevada [gazetteeer location: 38.9861N; Longitude: -114.312].
Curry reported that the stand was located on the NE face of the mountain, at the mouth of a deep glacial cirque. It covered about 300 acres ranging in altitude from 9500′ to the upper tree limit of 11,000′. Bristlecone and Engelmann spruce were codominant in the stand, with limber pine an associate. Laterally it graded "abruptly" into the typical cubalpine forest of the Snake Range in which spruce and limber pine were codominant and bristlecone was conspicuously absent. The nearest neighboring bristlecone was 6 km to the south. Some of the uppermost bristlecones wre on quartzite bedrock, but most were on morainal deposits and talus derived from bedrock. The region was described as semiarid; the nearest weather station, Lehman Caves National Monument, about 4 miles east and 3000 ft lower, had a mean annual rainfall of 12.8 " (20 years to 1964).
Curry described the cutting down of the oldest living tree in the world as follows:
To facilitate compilation of a long-term tree-ring chronology for the Wheeler Peak area, one of the larger living bristlecone pines was sectioned. This tree, WPN-114, grew at an altitude of 10,750 feet on the gently sloping crest of a massive lateral moraine of Pleistocene age. The zite was relaitvely stable during the lifetime of the tree, the only appreciable change being an accumulation of avalanche-transported debris so that the present ground surface is about 2 ft above the original base of the tree.
WPN-114 had a dead crown 17 ft high, a living shoot 11 ft high and a 252-inch circumferfence 18 inches above the ground. The trunk was of the massive slab type (Schulman 1958). Bark was present along a single 14-inch wide north-facing strip. Lateral dieback had left 92% of the circumference devoid of bark. The south-facing (uphill) side of the tree had been so deeply eroded that the pith was missing below a point 76 inches above the ground (100 inches above the original base).
A horizontal slab from the interval 18-30 inches above the ground and a smaller piece including the pith 76 inches above the ground were cut from the tree and a smoothly finished 2-piece transverse section was prepared….The derived radius measured 2280 mm to the pith, 100 inches above the original base and encompasses 4844 measured rings…it may be tentatively concluded that WPN-114 begain growing about 4,900 years ago.
I’ve looked for the measurements from Wheeler Peak at the World Data Center for Paleoclimatology. While many of the early bristlecone measurements were archived and can be retrieved from WDCP (and I wish that Hughes would archive his updated bristlecone measurements), ironically the measurements from Wheeler Peak have never been archived. Perhaps the measurements are buried somewhere at the University of North Carolina. Otherwise, the oldest living tree in the world was cut down, measured and then the measurements were lost. (For good order’s sake, I will inquire further. Maybe Crowley’s "lost" data will turn up with them.) As Paul Harvey used to say: And that, my friends, is the end of the story.