The Union Democrat
Landmark tree under the longterm care of Mother Lode Land Trust
Tuolumne County’s landmark Bennett Juniper, south of Highway 108 in the Stanislaus National Forest, which predates the birth of Christ by centuries and is billed as the largest-known western juniper tree in the world, is now under the longterm care of the Mother Lode Land Trust.
The transfer of stewardship includes 3 acres of land that are also home to the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers juniper trees, named decades ago for their close proximity and the appearance that the two trees are dancing with each other.
The Save the Redwoods League, a conservation nonprofit founded in 1918, donated the property and its trees, including the Bennett Juniper, to the Mother Lode Land Trust. The trees and property had been under stewardship of the Save the Redwoods League since 1987.
The Bennett Juniper, estimated to be 3,000 to 4,000 years old or older, is among the oldest living trees in the world.
“The Bennett Juniper is an unrivaled specimen of western juniper,” Ellie Routt, executive director of Mother Lode Land Trust, said in remarks distributed by the Save the Redwoods League. “This gnarled and knotted tree has withstood drought, hard winters and lightning strikes for thousands of years.”
Going forward, Mother Lode Land Trust ownership of the Bennett Juniper property will ensure local oversight and permanent protection “so that everyone can have the chance to see this amazing tree,” Routt said.
According to scientists and the Save the Redwoods League, the Bennett Juniper tree, 86 feet tall and 39.9 feet around, is the largest known juniper tree in existence. Other western juniper trees average 50 to 70 feet in height.
The Bennett Juniper has been studied many times, yet scientists are unsure of the tree’s exact age.
In 1989, Peter Brown of the University of Arizona Tree Ring Lab, estimated the Bennett Juniper is approximately 3,000 years old. Brown also discovered decayed wood and a hollow section about 2 feet into the core samples. Because of
the missing space in the tree rings, the exact age of the Bennett Juniper may never be known.
The Bennett Juniper is named for naturalist Clarence Bennett, who studied western juniper trees from Oregon to Mexico decades ago.
Ed Burgeson, a sheep rancher, heard of Bennett’s studies and in 1932 led Bennett to the massive tree in the Stanislaus National Forest in Tuolumne County. It was the largest western juniper tree Bennett ever encountered.
Bennett began advocating for the tree’s protection, and in the 1950s the Forest Service named the tree after Bennett.
Nonprofit organizations have stewarded the Bennett Juniper property for more than 40 years. Land owner Joseph W. Martin Sr. donated the 3-acre Bennett Juniper property to The Nature Conservancy in 1978. Increasing numbers of visitors trampled the property in the 1980s. The Nature Conservancy restored and stewarded the land for about nine years, and conveyed it to the Save the Redwoods League in June 1987.
The Save the Redwoods League is best known for protecting coastal redwood and giant sequoia forests. During its 35 years of managing the Bennett Juniper property, the nonprofit installed protective fencing around the tree’s base and the boundary of the property, and installed interpretive panels to provide information and background about the tree and its history.
In 1988, the nonprofit hired Ken Brunges as caretaker. He lived on-site and protected the Bennett Juniper for three decades.
Effective Nov. 4, the Save the Redwoods League has donated the Bennett Juniper property and $40,000 in seed funding toward its longterm stewardship to the Mother Lode Land Trust.
“When Save the Redwoods League protects a forest, often, that’s just the beginning of the story, not the end,” Anthony Castaños, land stewardship manager for Save the Redwoods League, said in an announcement in early November. “After more than 30 years of stewarding the Bennett Juniper property, we’re pleased to convey this remarkable place to Mother Lode Land Trust. The organization has the capacity and local ties to ensure its future most readily.”
Scientists believe the oldest living thing on Earth is a Great Basin bristlecone pine named Methuselah, which, according to tree-ring data, is more than 4,850 years old, meaning the tree was alive before ancient Egyptians built the pyramids at Giza.
Methuselah is in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains of eastern California, about 315 miles east of Sonora when Sonora Pass is open. It’s about 450 miles one-way when Sonora Pass is closed.
Contact Guy Mccarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 770-0405. Follow him on Twitter at @Guymccarthy.