On BFS 060 you heard Daryl Colyer and I discuss an event that occurred during the second week of this year’s NAWAC continuous field operation. That week, being the second, was designated Bravo and the research operation, the group’s fourth annual, is called Tenacity. The event in question centered on a large tree that broke and fell during daylight hours not far from the Bravo team and the cabin in which we were staying.
There has been a great deal of discussion of this event and other tree-break events on internet forums. As is often the case on forums, most of this conversation seems to be based on misunderstandings of the events discussed recursively until they bear no resemblance to the actual facts. Errors and misperceptions are automatically assumed to be flaws in my or the NAWAC’s thinking or reporting of what happened. In an effort to clear up any confusion, I’m posting more details of the notable tree-break events we’ve observed so far along with some of our interpretations and hypotheses.
Here’s a (slightly redacted) excerpt from the Tenacity Bravo team field notes:
18:00 – McAndrews and Burrows returned to base camp. While Brown and the others had sat at base camp, it had been quiet. As McAndrews closed the door on his truck, the team heard a rock rip through the foliage behind the cabin and strike the trunk of a tree.
18:10 – Another rock was seemingly thrown from the mountain slope. Mizejewski turned to look and observed a leaf falling from the upper canopy as if broken by a thrown object.
18:15 – Sievert, Eltringham, and Burrows use a giant slingshot provided by Tod Pinkerton to launch rocks up onto the mountain slope north of the cabin. The men launched about ten rocks from golf ball- to near baseball-size, with some hitting trees and others hitting the ground up on the slope. There seemed to be no immediate response to the men’s “harassing fire.”
18:20 – Intent on zeroing at least one of the Overwatch weapons so that OW could be provided that night, McAndrews began firing the first shots from the Marlin 1895GBL .45-70 with just the ATN ThoR mounted. (Note: We had originally configured the weapons with red dot scopes in front of the thermal scopes but had decided to remove the red dot to improve field of view. This necessitated re-zeroing of the scopes’ reticles.)
18:35 – The team heard a rock impact on the west cabin.
18:36 – The team heard another rock impact to the northwest of the cabin on the mountain slope. McAndrews continued to work on zeroing the .45-70 using the internal reticle of the ATN thermal scope.
18:45 – The team began to hear cracking noises from a tree to the northwest of the cabin. Burrows and Brown could see the tree leaning to the south from their positions; W. and Mizejewski could see the tree sway from their vantage point. In anticipation of a falling tree, Brown dashed around the cabin to get a better view. There was no wind and the woods were otherwise extremely calm.
18:47 – Brown ran around to the northwest corner of the cabin. Burrows yelled, “There issomething in the tree!” Almost before Burrows could finish, Brown said loudly, “There’s something up in the tree…”
The tree partially fell and Brown said loudly, “It just jumped out of the tree!” The tree fell with an extremely loud crash.
Eltringham, who was with McAndrews, called out to Brown and Burrows, “How big was it?”
Brown replied emphatically and loudly, “It was f’n big!”
All the while, McAndrews seemed focused on zeroing the .45-70 to the exclusion of a possible ape display.
Brown heard something land with a thud—presumably a large animal of some kind—and then he heard prominent movement off to the west away from the tree.
19:35 – In the aftermath of the tree incident, Brown led the team in recording a video interview. Brown, Burrows, Mizejewski, and W. all stood together while Sievert recorded them. Burrows stated, “Two different times, I saw something up there, uh, jumping…or swinging…”
The team was uncertain regarding the meaning or significance of the incident. Was it a display of power meant as a counter to McAndrews’ loud .45-70 discharge reports? Did the apes equate loud noise with prowess and power? Did the apes perceive Bravo’s calculated use of Pinkerton’s giant slingshot to be provocative? Or was the tree incident an accident entirely caused by an overly zealous ape bent on observing the team from high in the tree, only to find that the tree could not support its weight? (Upon later examination, the team would determine that the tree was probably 70 feet in height and perhaps six feet in circumference.) Finally, was a wood ape even involved in the incident at all? The rock-throwing incidents that preceded the tree incident and the observations made by team members during the incident certainly made it reasonable to assume the incident was based in ape behavior. At any rate, the men remained puzzled. Mizejewski found the incident, “Very interesting…”
(Of note: This was the second close tree-break incident in two weeks that NAWAC teams had associated with possible ape behavior.)
At first, when the tree started to lean and crack, I was operating under the assumption that it was just a tree falling in the forest (which is, in itself, a rare event to witness). However, once I saw that the very top of the tree (which was sunlit as it broke the canopy) was swaying back and forth with some vigor while no other tree was moving at all and there was no wind to speak of, I recalled my previous tree break experience in X (during 2013’s Operation Relentless, Foxtrot team, which I’ll get to in a minute) and thought it was possibly ape-related. I couldn’t see the animal that was making the tree move, so I attempted to get into a better/closer position by running around to the other side of the cabin. That ended up being slightly worse in that I couldn’t see the tree as well anymore and had no view of its top at all.
As the notes indicate, shortly after getting into my new position (approximately 50 yards from the tree), it snapped about 20′ up from its base. It started to fall but got hung up in a neighboring tree and stopped. I saw something else continue to fall as the tree came to a halt. It was large and fell behind other branches and leaves so was obscured. I could feel it hit the ground, though. It was heavy. The distance it fell was about 30′, though it could have been slowed down by falling through other foliage (even trying to slow itself down proactively by grabbing branches). Note that during later inspection we found no large tree debris on the ground where this object fell. A few seconds after it landed (immediately after I said it was “f’n big”) I could hear it move off quickly and noisily in — generally speaking — the opposite direction of our team.
The diameter of the tree trunk at its base was 24″. It would have been narrower at the height it broke, but it could not be measured due to it being suspended in neighboring trees. The tree had obvious damage done to it on the side opposite my position that appeared to me to be from lightening (a long opening in the bark — the break near the bottom of the opening).
I believe this tree was felled by a wood ape for the following reasons. First, to me, it appeared as though the animal at the top was making it swing and sway with some force. I felt, intentionally. At that distance, I’d estimate that the sway was at least 5 to 10′ in either direction. It was not natural (wind, etc., as no other trees were moving) and doesn’t match any behavior of known animals that I’m aware of (bear, cougar, etc.). Second, I heard something big move noisily off at a great speed very shortly after it hit the ground. Third, this isn’t the first time I was present for an inexplicable tree falling in which I suspected ape involvement.
Later that same night, two other members and I heard what sounded like an older and more rotten tree fall to the south. Again, there was no wind and the woods were otherwise very quiet. Although we cannot say with certainty that this was ape-related, it is but one of a large number of tree falls we’ve heard or seen since starting Tenacity.
Regarding my “previous experience” in the area, this is from the field notes of last year’s Relentless Foxtrot team (also slightly redacted), of which I was part.
02:10 – With activity seemingly faltering, the team decided to try to retire to bed again.
Brown crawled inside his tent. Once inside, he remembered that he had left his sidearm on his chair back at the cabin. He exited the tent and proceeded to the east porch where all the chairs had been put up for the night. As he arrived at the porch, from directly north of the east porch, he heard the very loud and unnerving sound of a large tree coming down higher up the slope and crashing. Brown yelled out and instinctively pulled his sidearm. He then lit up the slope with his flashlight. The remaining team members assembled with bright lights and firearms. Brown and Kathy Strain saw “orange eye shine.” The team then heard movement to the east.
This was at the end of an otherwise eventful night. We had played aggressive vocalizations via call blaster, had many rocks thrown at us (some landing so close that we saw them come to rest and could go pick them up and throw them back), and I had heard whispered “samurai chatter” from about ten feet away in some dense foliage followed by the sound of retreating bipedal footsteps. The fallen tree, upon inspection, turned out to be unhealthy. It was dead about 15-20′ up and that’s the part that fell. I could not know and did not say then or later that it must have been ape-related since it happened out of sight in the dark, but it was circumstantially suspicious.
Now, in the light of the Tenacity Bravo event, I am more inclined to think the Relentless Foxtrot event was ape-related. There are several circumstantial similarities between the two. Regardless, I can’t say for certain that it was.
It appears as though much of the confusion on the internet regarding these various tree falls was caused by my relating another incident that occurred during the Tenacity Echo week. Discussion of the two seems to have merged in the minds of enthusiast and critic alike. Echo team documented four separate loud tree break events and found two of the four, including the biggest and most dramatic.
From the Tenacity Echo field notes:
20:35 – While K. Stewart was talking to Brian Brown via cell phone, providing a status report, a very large, live, apparently healthy, black walnut tree, approximately two feet in diameter, fell with great noise. The men were quite startled by the sudden explosive noise created by the felled tree. K. Stewart exclaimed, “What…the…hell…..”
The tree was in the west woods only about 40 yards or so from the cabin. The tree was in line with the wide north-south trail/clearing that exists across from the northeast corner of the fence around the west cabin. The air was calm.
The team went to investigate the fallen tree. While the team was checking out the tree, a rock loudly struck the cabin.
What’s unique about this event is the fact that I was on the phone with Ken when the tree fell. He has some bad-ass cell phone booster and, when standing in exactly the right spot with his head in just the right position, he was able to call out. This is highly unusual and is, as far as I can remember, the first time anyone’s been able to call out during the summer from the cabin. I was speaking to him when this tree snapped and, to me, it sounded like either a gunshot or extremely loud impact to the cabin’s metal roof.
Immediately after it happened, Ken, whose family owns a tree farm in East Texas, related to me that he heard a “secondary impact” following the tree falling but didn’t hear anything run away. This tree actually did fall all the way to the ground and made a terrific racket in the process so the secondary impact sound could have been a branch or other tree falling. Their initial investigation found the tree was a black walnut and at the very base of the slope right were the flat flood plane started to climb the mountain. They described it as “yellow and wet” and saw no outward signs of stress or trauma. None of the members present heard anything before the loud report of the snapping (the rest of the team was on the opposite side of the cabin from Ken and the tree).
Ken’s original estimate based on this cursory investigation was that the tree was 20-24″ in diameter and 60′ tall. It turned out to be closer to 80′ in height and 19″ in diameter at chest height. The break was about five feet from the ground. There was still no indication of trauma or disease on the tree, but when I was on-site the following week we saw that the trunk had settled and noticed the trunk was hollow. The trunk “wall” was about 2-3″ wide at the opening. It was too dark inside to see how deep the cavity went. Interestingly, based on our research, it’s actually possible for a hollow tree to be stronger than a solid one.
In any event, since nothing was seen, we can’t say for sure this tree was brought down by a wood ape, though we believe it was. If not, there is no other apparent plausible reason it should have fallen at that time.
In total, most of this year’s nine teams has experienced at least one loud and substantial tree break (either entire trees or large branches) all seemingly well within 500 feet of the cabin. While we’ve recorded such events in the past (i.e., Relentless Foxtrot), we haven’t experience as many as this in such a short period. Probably at least a dozen so far. Most if not all have occurred with little to no wind or any obvious reasons a tree would fall at that particular time. We know for a fact there are apes in the valley. We believe the Tenacity Bravo tree was almost certainly brought down by an ape. It’s not a big stretch, it you’re operating under the same assumptions we are, to conclude that many if not all of the subsequent breaks and falls are ape-related.
We do not have enough information to draw conclusions as to why these trees are being felled. Some think it’s accidental while others speculate they’re intentional displays. Personally, I’m in the “intentional display” camp as it seems unlikely an intelligent primate that grew up in the forest surrounded by trees would make that same kind of mistake so often. However, admittedly, it’s just as possible that these are accidental events or some combination of the two. Since we don’t have insight into the animals’ minds, we can’t know for certain.
Some people will boggle at these conclusions. There’s nothing I can do about that. We’re reporting the facts as they happened and sharing our subsequent hypothesis based on our experience. All this experience and thinking is supplied to the public on an as-is basis as part of our organization’s educational mandate. Facts are subject to change or be further illuminated as investigations advance. I’m personally very happy to answer questions or listen to alternate hypothesis assuming these are posited in a respectful manner. I will not be participating in any further conversion on any internet forums.