- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 9, 2007


Michael Taylor — equipped with a laser range finder, a head for numbers and an explorer’s zeal — has made a sport of finding and sizing up the tallest species on the planet: California’s ancient coast redwoods.

“It’s a frontier, one of the last frontiers,” said Mr. Taylor, 40, greeting individual trees like old friends as he scouted a sheltered creek bed where he found record-setting redwoods in the past.

In the space of eight weeks last summer, he and fellow amateur naturalist Chris Atkins, 44, discovered what are thought to be the three tallest trees in the world, all of them taller than 370 feet and as old as 2,200 years. The discoverers christened them Helios, after the Greek sun god; Hyperion, his father; and Icarus, the mythological youth whose wings melted when he flew too close to the sun.

The two men are credited with cataloging more extreme trees — those measuring 350 feet and taller — than anyone else. Yet until they located the new champions in Redwood National Park, their achievement was unappreciated outside a tiny fraternity of similarly obsessed scientists and enthusiasts.

Now, after years of tracking trees as a hobby and at their own expense, the men are months away from completing their quest to measure all the loftiest redwoods.

Coast redwoods grow in a 470-mile ribbon from southern Oregon to Big Sur, and routinely top 300 feet. (The giant sequoia, the redwood’s inland cousin, have massive trunks that make them the world’s biggest trees by volume.)

Only 36 coast redwoods taller than 360 feet have been recorded. Mr. Atkins or Mr. Taylor had a hand in locating 28 of them. In the 370-feet-and-up category, there are only four. Mr. Atkins and Mr. Taylor found them all.

For members of the Tall Trees Club, founded by Mr. Taylor and a botanist named Steve Sillett, systematically exploring redwood groves was made much easier in 1995, when a hand-held laser range finder originally developed for the military was marketed to the public. With a few clicks, the device can calculate an object’s height based on readings of its distance and the angle to the top. It accomplishes in seconds what had taken all day using old-fashioned surveying instruments and skill in trigonometry.

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