Nooksack Giant. My estimates of height & volume.

I have just recently tallied up all the heights,  diameters, and estimated market board feet for 22 giant Douglas fir trees listed on page 11 of Dr. Al Carder’s excellent book, Forest Giants of the World, Past and Present. Of the 37 Doug-fir listed on pg 11, twenty two of them have a listed overall height, diameter at breast height, and volume of marketable board timber in cubic feet. These numbers I will illustrate below in bold text. With this data in hand, I decided to obtain my own rough estimate of the overall volume in cubic feet  per tree listed, and compare this overall volume to Dr. Carder’s listed “Volume Marketable Timber” to find approximately what percentage of the tree’s overall cubic volume was marketable board feet . The formula I used was Volume of a cone, or V = 1/3 x Pi x Radius Squared X Height at cut, or 5 feet subtracted from each total tree height. Furthermore, I subtracted 6 inches of bark from each radius at breast height diameter for trees less than 9 feet in total breast height diameter, and 12 inches from trees 11 feet or greater in breast height diameter.  Dr. Carder’s values are in bold text, my own values are to the right, and include my estimate of total cubic feet volume of each tree, and the percentage yield in market feet based on Carder’s numbers.

  • Mineral Tree 393′, 15.4′ dbh,  8,800 market cu ft. 18,237 total cu ft= 48% yield
  • Pe Ell Tree 340′, 13.4′ dbh. 5875 market cu ft. 11,399 total =   51% yield
  • Hoquiam Tree 318′ 13.5′ dbh. 5492 market cu ft. 10815 total =  50% yield
  • Darrington Tree 325′, 8.5′ dbh. 2617 market cu ft. 4690 total = 55% yield
  • Sauk River Tree  325′,  8.6′ dbh 2659 market cu ft. 4838 total  = 54% yield
  • Littlerock Tree 330′,  5.9′ dbh 1479 market cu ft.  2042 total   = 72% yield
  • Ryderwood Tree 324′ 11.8′ dbh 4484 market cu ft. 8016 total =  56% yield
  • Queets fir 221′ [350′ my est. of orig. ht] 14.5′ dbh 7578 market cu ft. 14088 total = 54% yield
  • Daisy fir 298′ 11.9′ dbh 6600 market cu ft.   7516 total   =  87% yield
  • Clatsop fir  200′ [300′ my est of orig. ht] 15.5′ dbh 6958 market cu ft. 14072 total = 49%  yield
  • Finnegan fir 302′ 13.2′ dbh 4724 market cu ft. 9752 total =  48% yield
  • Brummet Creek tree 329′ 4.4 ‘ dbh 889 market cu ft. 1225 total  =   73% yield
  • Brummet fir 329′ 11.7′ dbh 4362 market cu ft, 7980 total    =    55% yield
  • Clover Valley tree 358′ 11.5′ dbh 5487 market cu ft. 8338 total =  66% yield
  • Lynn Valley tree 415′ 14.2′ dbh 8211 market cu ft. 15974 total =    51% yield
  • Lynn Valley tree No. 2 352′  9.7′ dbh 3583 market cu ft. 6658 total =    54% yield
  • Cathedral Grove Tree 275′ 9.5′ dbh 2577 market cu ft. 4523 total =   57% yield
  • Koksilah tree 320′ 12.7′ dbh 5,000 market cu ft.  9432 total  =   53% yield
  • Red Creek tree 242′ [My est ht of orig. ht 320′] 13.1′ dbh 5264 market cu ft. 10158 total =   52% yield
  • Alex Russel Tree 310′ 11.7′ dbh 3579 market cu ft. 7511 total =    48% yield
  • Stanley Park tree 325′ 9.8′ dbh 3313 market cu ft. 5769 total = 57% yield
  • Woss Lake Tree 305′ 7′ dbh 1767 market cu ft.  2827 total =   63% yield

The statistical mean  of the above data (the sum of the values divided by the number of values) from these 22 extremely gigantic record Douglas-fir shows that the average example of an historic giant, was 329 ft tall, 11 ft 3 inches diameter with 57% of its cubic volume considered merchantable timber. Using my formula to extrapolate estimated total volume, I find that this 329 ft tall, 11 ft 3 inch diameter tree contains 7256 total cubic feet of wood, and there are 12 board feet in 1 cubic foot of wood. Therefore, 7256 x 12, = 87,072 total board feet, and if we apply a mean yield of 57%,  we arrive at 49,631 market board feet, which matches very well with historically reported board feet for trees felled within the 300 – 350 foot height range in the pacific NW. (See 350 ft tall Mossyrock tree in my “Tallest Douglas fir in America” page). Using the above 22 data points (and my additional estimates of total volume) as a reference, I propose the “Nooksack Giant”, the alleged 465 ft tall, 10.8 ft diameter (33 ft 11 in circ.) Douglas fir felled in 1896 near Maple Falls, Washington on the Alfred B. Loop ranch, very likely greatly exceeded 300 feet, and quite possibly 400 feet or more in height if the reported market board feet of “96,345” is a genuine yield of this enormous tree. I reason, if 96,345 board feet represents approx. 57 % of the entire tree’s volume, the total volume may have been as high as 169,027 board feet, which is equivalent to 14,085 cubic feet.

From the Whatcom County Museum

From the Whatcom County Museum


The Morning Times, February 28, 1897.

Taking 10.8 feet diameter at the cut, if we subtract about 1 foot of bark from each radius of the breast height diameter, and subtract 5 feet of stump where the tree was hypothetically cut, how tall would the Douglas fir need to be to contain 14,085 total cubic feet of wood, and still 57% yield? A shocking 700 feet! Formula of a cone:

Volume = 1/3 x Pi x Radius squared x height at cut. (Note: Radius is = 10.8 feet / 2, or 5.4 feet. Then subtract 1 foot for bark = 4.4 ft, and Radius squared is 4.4 x 4.4  = 19.36 ft.) V = 1/3 x 3.1415 x 19.36 ft x 695 ft (Ht at cut) = 14,089 cubic ft

Obviously the tree was not 700 feet tall. However, for the sake of argument, suppose the tree yielded 100% of its entire volume (although very unlikely), and the 96,345 board feet (8,028 cu ft) represented the whole trunk. What is the absolute possible minimum height the Nooksack giant could have been if we still subtract a foot of bark from each breast height radius, using the volume of a of a cone?  400 feet!

V = 1/3 x 3.1415 x 19.36 ft x 395 ft (Ht at cut) = 8,007 cubic ft

If the tree were indeed 465 feet tall, and 460 feet at the cut we arrive at: Volume = 1/3 x 3.1415 x 19.36ft x 460 ft = 9324 cubic feet, or 111,888 total board feet of the tree.

This, however, would suggest the Nooksack Giant’s yield was 86% of the total tree’s volume, which is considerably higher than the statistical mean market yield of 57% for giant class Douglas fir of the same diameter. However, if the 33 feet 11 inches circumference of this tree was in fact the naked butt measurement, excluding bark, the 57% yield makes a lot more sense, and we need not subtract 1 foot of bark from the equation.

Radius is 10.8 / 2, or 5.4 feet. Radius squared is 5.4 x 5.4 = 29.16 ft. Volume = 1/3 x 3.1415 x 29.16 ft x 460 ft = 14044 cubic feet, or 168,528 total board feet.

And if we apply 57% yield, the market board feet becomes 96,060 which is remarkably close to the original 96,345 board feet recorded for the Nooksack Giant. However, perhaps the market board feet of the Nooksack tree was a much higher yield than generally cut from giant Douglas fir. Suppose it was indeed 86% yield (87% is the highest market yield I estimated out of Dr Carder’s list of 22 giants).  This would then bring the total board feet of the tree down to over 111,000 feet, which would require a tree of at least 310 feet tall. V = 1/3 x 3.1415 x 29.16 ft x 305 ft (at cut) = 9312 cubic feet, or 111,744 total board feet, and at 86% yield, 96,099 market board feet. (very near the 96,345 feet).

My Conclusions: Based on the highest yield probable of 86% (only representing 5% of the 22 marketable trees I extrapolated from Dr. Carder’s book) , and the most likely yield of 57%, I contend that the Nooksack Giant was almost definitely somewhere between 310 feet and 465 feet tall, assuming the purported board feet of the tree, “96,345 feet” is a genuine number, and also assuming the reported circumference of 33 ft 11 was measured exclusive of bark from the butt diameter. An average figure between these two estimates might be somewhere in the 350 -400 ft range if we assume the tree’s 33 ft 11 inch girth was measured excluding bark, and accept a market yield in the higher end, 66% to 75% range, which represented 14% of the 22 trees. However, if the yield of this tree was in the more typical median range of 50 -60%,  or if the measured circumference of 33 ft 11 inches actually included one foot of bark per each butt radius and we still apply a high yield, even an absolute yield, the tree, by sheer conical inference would have reached and exceeded 400 ft. In conclusion, I am 80% confident the tree was nearly 400 feet high,  to over 400 feet high. Of the 22 sampled trees, & additional market yield figures I extrapolated from Dr Carder’s book, 78% of these giant trees had market yields which ranged from 48% to 57%. The precise and detailed measurements of the tree listed on the placard nailed to a cross section of the tree while it was on display in New Whatcom read verbatim:

“From Loop’s Ranch, Forks, Whatcom Co WASHINGTON. The Tree was 465 ft. high, 220 ft. to first limb 33 ft. 11 in. in circumference at the base. If sawed into lumber would make 96,345 ft. would build 8 cottages, 2 stories high, 7 rooms each. The Tree is about 480 years old according to the rings. If sawed into inch square strips, would fill 10 ordinary cars. The  strips would reach from WHATCOM to CHINA.”

The purported volume, and details of the tree is consistent with a tree in the range of about 400 feet or more in height.  A tree of only 480 years reaching or exceeding 400 feet may be hard to fathom, but there are records of trees such as the 347 foot Douglas fir felled near Astoria, Ore in 1915 which was only 300 years or so in age, and the Pe Ell Tree, 340 feet high, also of about the same age, or the 315 feet tall Douglas fir measured very precisely and listed in “The Washington Forest Reserve by Horace Beemer Ayres, Geological Survey (U.S.) 1899. pg 295” with 253 annual rings at 7 feet from the ground. The Nooksack tree was situated within yards of the North Fork of the Nooksack river, at about 585 feet above Sea Level, and approx.  48°55’34.04″N and 122° 2’52.25″W, in the middle of the Nooksack River Valley, surrounded by sloping hills on both North and South ends, which rise to 1,000 to 4,000 feet above Sea Level. Mt Baker looms to a prominence, some thirteen miles distant, as the crow flies. In some respects, this may have afforded better growing conditions than even Lynn valley, B.C. Certainly there was abundant water, and the valley in which it grew may have shared an equal low wind speed range as Lynn Valley. 67 kilometers per hour (41 mph) is the highest recorded wind speed for Maple Falls, WA.  and 0 – 28 Miles per hour is the historic range, compared to 1 to 25 Miles per hour as the historic range for North Vancouver (Lynn Valley). If such a tree 465 feet tall, really existed, certainly it would have stood out like a sore thumb. Yet, we have to remember the only recorded heights we have for the Lynn Valley giant trees are two: the 415 footer felled in 1902 at Argyle Rd, and Mt. Highway, and the 352 footer felled in 1907 in the same Valley. 415 feet would have stuck out of the forest canopy, even next to a 352 feet tall tree. The difference in height is about 18%. Timber cruiser and News paper reports along the Deming Trail in Whatcom Co. gives heights of up to 360 feet for some old Douglas fir, and if some stands had trees reaching into the 380 – 390 foot range, a 465 foot tall tree would stand 18% higher — About the Difference in height between the two Lynn Valley trees I mentioned above. Unlikely, yes.  Impossible? I think not.

***Update 7/16/15:  New Estimates of Market board foot yields tend to corroborate height claim of 400+ feet for this tree.

Using the standard log scales of the day, the Doyle, Scribner, and Spaulding rules, which were standard  to the lumbermen in Oregon, Washington, and British Colymbia, I have now found evidence that the yield of 96,345 feet compromised the section of prime logs cut from below the first branches, or 220 feet of the tree,  the “merchantable lumber, all of the finest quality”: The New York Times, TOPICS OF THE TIMES – Mar. 7, 1897

Prime lumber, or  number 1. Grade Douglas fir wood was the standard grade for flooring, and building,  and was cut from the clean, branch-less trunk of the tree, being free of knots, it was generally the purest and strongest wood the tree contained. Most Douglas fir and conifer trees harvested for their wood were cut to the branch level, everything below this was as a rule the finest and highest quality lumber in the tree. The Nooksack tree was reported to have been 220 feet to the first limb, so this helps give us a clue as to how the board feet calculation may have been arrived at. The Scribner Log scale was the standard for lumbermen in the Puget sound area around 1900: The Practical Lumberman: Short Methods of Figuring Lumber, Octagon Spars …

Using the Scribner rule, we find that the tree contained 96,345 feet of lumber in the first 215 feet of the tree’s trunk: The tree being cut 5 feet above ground level, + 215 feet of logs = 220 ft to first branch; this would yield 6 logs each of 32 feet long, and 1 log of 23 feet. This also comes out the same with 12 logs of 16 feet each, and one 20 – 24 foot log were furnished from the 215 feet below the branches. Similarly, 5 logs of 40 feet each plus 1 log of 20 foot gives similar results, approx. 96,000 – 97,000 feet Scribner, assuming the measurements of 33 ft 11 inches are exclusive of bark. This 215 feet of logs would be 5 ft 9 inches diameter at the top, and 10 feet 10 inches at the bottom — indicating a rise over run, which would necessitate a tree in the 350 – 450 ft tall range, assuming a full and intact crown. If we use the Doyle rule, 215 feet cut into similar log lengths would equal 115,952 board feet.

Conclusion: I now believe the Scribner log scale, (the standard scale of lumbermen in Puget sound and WA. State)  was used to calculate the 96,345 market board feet of this tree, and the butt measurement of 33 ft 11 inches was excluding the bark. Log scalers always subtracted the bark from the tree to arrive at the yield estimate.

To calculate board feet of logs using Doyle and Scribner methods: Log Volume Calculator at WOODWEB

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