Prince William County tree lovers are spearheading efforts to identify and save large or historic trees from destruction.

Prince William Forester Keith Hawkins has started a countywide listing of the championship -- or biggest -- trees of each species, and the Historical Commission is seeking to name a "bicentennial tree" in each magisterial district.

"We're just trying to protect the big, old trees from the bulldozers," said historical commission member Jane MacDonald.

The two tree lists will be turned over to the planning office, "so we'll know which trees to save" when developers come in with new plans, Hawkins said.

The championship tree project stems from the American Forestry Association's 50-year-old effort to find the biggest specimen for each of the 800 native and naturalized species of trees in America.

"In 1940, one of our members was concerned that we were taking the big trees out of the forest . . . . These trees are living legacies," said Deborah J. Gangloff, who runs the national program.

Volunteer "tree hunters" seek out and measure trees throughout the country. Championship trees are determined by combining the circumference, height and spread measurements, Gangloff said.

Each state also has a state champion program, and many counties, including Fairfax and Montgomery, have started similar registers.

Now Hawkins is starting a countywide list and has enlisted the help of members of Historic Prince William, a private, nonprofit group.

Hawkins said he also is looking for more volunteers.

Prince William already has two national champion trees: a 40-foot cockspur hawthorn outside of Manassas and a 34-foot hazel alder in Quantico.

Neither tree fits the image of an enormous championship tree, but each is a giant in its species.

Virginia is home to 57 national champions.

"The point of this program is to encourage people to appreciate trees everywhere," Gangloff said.

The bicentennial tree program stems from a 1987 effort to save an oak tree in Old Bridge Estates. "It'd take three people holding hands around it to surround it," MacDonald said.

The Carr Development Co. agreed to move a town house building planned for the site, and the county designated the oak a bicentennial tree in honor of the 200th anniversary of the writing of the U.S. Constitution.

Now, the Historical Commission has expanded its efforts to find six more trees. So far the search has turned up an enormous white oak in Leesylvania State Park and a tulip poplar about 25 feet off Spriggs Road.

The tulip poplar sits on land owned by NVLand, so it won't be formally designated a bicentennial tree unless the developer agrees, MacDonald said.

But Supervisor Hilda M. Barg (D-Woodbridge) last week nominated the white oak.