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Cornell Tree Climbing Institute aids in National Geo grant

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Melissa Osgood
Mark Holton
David Katz
Mark Holton hangs from a giant sequoia at University of California - Berkeley's Whitaker's Forest Research Station on the western slope of the High Sierra Mountains.

When biologist and science filmmaker Charles Engelman won National Geographic’s $50,000 Expedition Granted 2014 to make an educational nature film on forests and trees, he enlisted Cornell Outdoor Education’s Tree Climbing Institute as a partner.

On Oct. 10, Engelman and colleagues visited Cornell to start their technical tree climbing training and to begin filming.

Engelman proposed to produce an Internet-based educational nature film series that will visit forests all over the country. The videos will explore trees of all varieties through extreme climbing and paramotoring. Engelman also will include a video blog during the expedition, according to National Geographic. The $50,000 will go toward travel and equipment expenses.

“We will support his tree climbing expedition with gear, staff and training, and access to the largest trees in the world,” namely giant sequoias in California, said Mark Holton, Ph.D. ’99, director of outdoor programs and risk management for Cornell Outdoor Education and director and a co-founder of the Cornell Tree Climbing Institute.

In 2005 Holton, tree climbing instructor David Katz and former student Keith Luscinski ’07 founded the institute, which offers physical education credit courses for Cornell students, special tree climbing programs for children in the community, and tree-climbing training for scientists and community members. The institute also takes Cornell students to the Sierra Nevada Mountains annually to teach them to climb giant sequoias. Students sleep in the trees in hammocks, Holton said.

The institute also has a long-standing collaboration with the Department of Forest Ecology at the University of California, Berkeley, and during that annual trip, the institute staff members spend a week working with giant sequoia researchers, collecting samples of cones for seeds used in reforestation projects and studying how cone age affects reproduction rates, for example.

Cornell Tree Climbing Institute instructors expect to start filming with Engelman high up in the sequoias sometime next year.

In addition to Cornell, Engelman has partnered with BlackHawk Powermotors USA.

Correction: This article incorrectly stated that the Cornell Tree Climbing Institute was the only program in the world that teaches people to climb a big tree. This statement is inaccurate and has been removed from the story.

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Krishna Ramanujan