My other side of the Mountain

Exploring upper Copper and Indian creeks for yellow-cedar

I have been mapping and inventorying yellow-cedar (Callitropsis nootkatensis) in California for the past four years. This process could have been much more efficient if it wasn’t for the 2018 Eclipse Complex and the 2019 Natchez Fire (more below) that virtually closed the Siskiyou Wilderness for the past two summers.

Successful surveys before this year have doubled the previously known area of this rare conifer from approximately 5 hectares in 2015 to 11 hectares by 2018. One of the largest gaps in surveys was within upper Indian and Copper creeks in the Klamath River watershed. I predicted this is where the largest stands of the species would be–little did I know how large an area I would find.

Camping with yellow-cedar.
El Capitan (6670′) looms above Copper Creek.

When I finally descended into a little visited basin in the upper reaches of Copper Creek, I knew I had hit the yellow-cedar jackpot. The species was so thick in this basin that it was with luck that I made it across the numerous drainages to find a place to camp. A series of three surveys across the basin mapped approximately 4 hectares. This took the 11 known hectares to 15 in one day!

There are 11 conifer species in and around the upper Copper Creek cirque with yellow-cedar dominant in the drainages.

From here, I jumped up on the ridge to conduct a visual survey of upper Indian Creek with binoculars. On the north facing slopes of Preston Peak (7244′) and Little Preston (6381′) I estimated that there are 5 more hectares of trees, bringing the new California total to approximately 20 hectares. We will have all the data finalized soon, but the surveys in this area almost doubled the known populations of yellow-cedar in California.

Copper Creek (left) and Indian Creek (right).

Natchez Fire Impacts

The Natchez Fire began on July 15, 2018, due to lightning, and burned a total of 38,134 acres before it was fully contained on October 30, 2018. The fact that it burned for over 3 months is quite impressive because for most of the summer it was low-intensity only “blowing up” in September on the south-slopes of Preston Peak. While yellow-cedar does not handle fire well, there are now several instances in the past few years where parts of stands have burned. This was the case with the Natchez in both upper Copper Creek and upper Indian Creek. Read more about the Natchez HERE.

In the upper Copper Creek cirque a 1 hectare section burned at high intensity, with 70% mortality in trees species including yellow-cedar.
Where high intensity meets no burn in the middle of a Brewer spruce – Noble fir stand.
View down Clear Creek from above Cyclone Gap shows the impacts of both the Natchez and Eclipse fires.

More nature

This wonderful peatland in upper Copper Creek was still in full flower splendor. Inset is California bog asphodel (Narthecium californicum).

2 Replies to “My other side of the Mountain”

  1. thanks Michael for the work, info, and photos…I’m so glad you are checking these stands. I saw the Copper cirque go up from my house during the Natchez fire and was concerned for the Alaska yellow cedar. A huge spruce (56″) was burned and cut just below Poker Flat. It still had some green. We need a “heritage” or “legacy” tree program to track and protect these special individuals…Dean

    1. Hi Dean- Good to hear from you and thanks for the comment. Overall, the cedar are doing well and it was great to see so many more hectares of trees than had been yet-documented. I heard about the Douglas-fir in Poker Flat and was sad to learn that the firefighters felt it was their decision to cut “for the joy of it.”

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