2006-11-02 / News

Largess offers honor, fame and long life to trees

By Michaela Kennedy

Matt Largess Matt Largess Matthew "Twig" Largess of Davit Avenue has reached rock star status, or rather tree star status, throughout New England and across the country. His love of trees and the environment has taken him far beyond the island in his life as a licensed arborist, and has earned him the title "Tree Preservationist of the Decade" from Yankee Magazine.

Acknowledging his mission of arbor preservation, Largess, a certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture, sees himself as part of a larger vision to protect the environment. Largess' accomplishments are many, including the preservation efforts of Oakland Forest, a rare old-growth beech forest over 300 years old in Portsmouth, and the saving of the Nathanial Hawthorne sycamore, an endangered species, in Warwick.

Largess is so well-known in environmental preservationists' circles that he is honored with the name "Twig," dubbed by Julia "Butterfly" Hill, a famous activist for tree safeguarding. "Every forest tree preservationist has a nickname," Largess noted.

The recognition came when Largess worked with a team from the American Society of Consulting Arborists to save Luna, a 1,000- year-old redwood in California, which had been nearly destroyed by vandals. "I like to be known as the tree hugger," he added.

As a boy growing up in Jamestown, Largess cultivated a relationship with the outdoors. A neighbor invited him to grab an axe and saw and work with him in the woods near the Great Creek. "I was probably in seventh or eighth grade at the time. I was hooked," Largess recalled.

He graduated from Paul Smith's College in the Adirondacks, N. Y., in 1975, and went on to the

Oregon Society of American Foresters, working in clear-cutting, the removal of trees within limited areas for the purpose of regenerating new forests.

Obtaining his arborist's license in the early '80s, Largess now has over 35 years experience in forestry.

Largess received a call last June from Friends of Robinson State Park, whose call was a plea for help to save the unique forest environment slated for timber sale, only five miles outside of Springfield in Feeding Hills. The park is the third major forest preservation project that Largess has taken part in, and he says it is by far the most significant. "This project has turned out to be the biggest highlight of my career," he said, adding that he has become "the voice of the forest."

At first, Largess suspected the urban forest contained 17 to 22 species of fauna. But to date, naturalists have detected over 50 species of plants in the 3,000-tree environment. "It's a tree museum," he noted, calling Robinson one of the rarest forests in New England, if not the nation. In addition, the park is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including fisher cats, bears, box turtles, and pileated woodpeckers, the largest woodpecker found in most of North America. "It's a major flyway, with 232 species of birds identified in the park," Largess said. "My goal is to make this forest a natural history classroom, not just for the state, but for the nation." Largess' love of the environment

does not stop at land's end. He is a dedicated Laser sailboat racer and coach of the North Kingstown High School sailing team. To learn more about Largess and the environmental work he is involved in, visit online: www.largessforestry. com or www.friendsofrobinsonstatepark. org.

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