Kitsap man speaks for the trees, for the trees have no tongues

Community forester Jim Trainer points out one of the coolest sites along the Ty-Jo trail. “It’s the mother of all root wads,” he said. - Kelly Joines/Staff Photo
Community forester Jim Trainer points out one of the coolest sites along the Ty-Jo trail. “It’s the mother of all root wads,” he said.
— image credit: Kelly Joines/Staff Photo

Certified arborist is always on the lookout for state’s biggest trees.

PORT GAMBLE – Jim Trainer tromps through stinging nettles, crawls into hibernating bear dens and sniffs cougar scat to find what he’s looking for — trees.

OK, he doesn’t always track animals to find trees but it happens anyway — out of habit.

Trainer, 62, who calls himself a community forester, is a certified arborist of more than 35 years and according to his Web site,, is a self-proclaimed hunter of the trees.

Not just any trees, we’re talking national and state champion trees — the biggest ones in Washington. Some are the biggest in the United States.

Trainer knows his trees are the biggest by comparing them to books in his personal library on the state’s and the nation’s champion trees, he said.

In addition to the five national and 25 state champion trees he’s found so far in Kitsap, he’s discovered three more state champion-size in Port Gamble: a Camperdown elm, a holly and a pear tree.

And, he said, they all have stories to tell.

“It’s very rare to have three state champions in such a small town,” he said. “Bremerton only has two and it is a lot bigger than Port Gamble.”

The Camperdown elm is located behind the Port Gamble General Store next to the museum, while the pear and holly trees are located on the Babcock Homestead, southwest of the town’s center and behind the Hood Canal Nursery, he said.

They were all planted in the 1800s, as people settled in the area, probably prior to the mill being built, he said.

Qualifying as a state or national champion size tree, however, doesn’t guarantee mandated protection. Rather, people like Trainer create awareness about the trees, spreading knowledge and the reasons why they are historically and often culturally significant.

It’s important to note Trainer loves his work and in sharing his work, tangents are many, leading conversation to a close-call survival story or down a new path altogether.

On Tuesday, as Trainer led The Herald through the Port Gamble forest, that new path was the Ty-Jo trail. It’s named for his grandchildren, Tyler and Jordan, who helped to clear the trail, designed for locals to witness little-seen historical, cultural and animal sites (think abandoned bear dens). Eventually the trail will lead 13 miles to Indianola.

Walking through the ferns, Trainer keeps his head high, eyes up scanning the mossy covered branches.

Trainer explains that while the saying moss only grows on the north side of trees is true in some forests, it’s not true in the Northwest.

“It’s an old saying from back East. Here it grows on all sides,” he said. “It’ll even grow on people if they stay outside long enough.”

At one particular tree he stops and points to a split high in the tree.

“Who Whooo Who Who,” he calls to the potential owl hole, explaining the call sounds a lot like ‘who cooks for you.’

Trainer knows all about animal calls. From a bear, which according to trainer, “sounds like flatulence,” to a cougar closing in on its prey.

Shrinkwrap trees and bear feed

Just like people, trees shrink naturally when they get old. Trainer is stopped at a tree trunk decorated with history.

“It used to be much bigger,” he said. “Trees shrink, just think of what water does to wood.”

To the untrained eye, the trunk does looks a bit wrinkly and it has two rectangle slat cuts. Those, Trainer said, show where loggers inserted springboards to saw down the top. Around the back, charred bark tells of a fire that flashed through the area more than 100 years ago.

“It’s too bad trees can’t talk, they are a witness to history,” he said. “They can’t speak but they show it in different ways.”

He points to a garbage can with a ply-board cover attached to a tall alder tree.

It’s a bear feeder.

“Bears don’t hibernate here,” he said. “It just doesn’t get cold enough. They just get lethargic and I can tell by the tracks that their gait is really slow.”

In the spring, Trainer explains, bears eat the flowers of the skunk cabbage plant, “a bear laxative,” he said.

After eating the cabbage, bears get hungry and eat anything, including the soft hairy parts at the base of new trees, which kill the tree.

“It used to mean that if 10 to 15 percent of the trees were red or dead, it meant there was a high bear population,” he said.

Bears apparently look forward to their annual feed of molasses pellets, which stops June 1 at the onset of salmon berries season, and neglect the trees.

It’s just another way Trainer protects his life’s love — other than his wife, Alice, of course.

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