Mill Creek Wilderness

Mill Creek Wilderness The main event has been on the calendar for the past eight years. I have heard stories from friends who have actually traveled around the world to see the phenomenon–and from that alone I knew if there was and eclipse practically in our backyard, we needed to go. We selected a spot in the heart of the Ochoco National Forest and literally on the edge of the Mill Creek Wilderness in a meadow complex. The Mill Creek Wilderness Twin Pillars Trail was our hiking destination the day before the eclipse event. The wilderness protects a harsh environment typified by ancient lava flows, fire-prone conifer forests, and the Mill Creek Drainage itself. We found wonderful views across central Oregon and a fire-scared landscape on our way to the Twin Pillars. In addition, western larch (Larix occidentalis), was the conifer highlight on this adventure.

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Shining Rock Wilderness

Quick Facts: The Shining Rock Wilderness is in Haywood County, North Carolina and is 18,483 acres.

Old Knob Butte – Shining Rock Creek loop

Southern Appalachian Mountain Ecology

Most botanists are familiar with the ecological similarities between the southern Appalachians and the Klamath Mountains. These two regions are the two most bio-diverse temperate regions in North America. Here is as excerpt from Conifer Country:

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Yellow-cedar in the Siskiyous

Yellow-cedar range in northwest California.

I have begun a collaborative mapping and inventorying project for yellow-cedar in California this summer. The species is a CNPS Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants on list 4.3 (limited distribution) in the state, with only a handful of known locations. The majority of the stands are on the Klamath National Forest but a few are also on the Six Rivers. Over the course of the summer I will be visiting a number of these populations and collecting data on stand health, reproduction, and plant associates. I made the first stop of the summer at the Bear Peak Botanical Area.

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Torrey Pine Forest

Santa Rosa Island Torrey pine (Pinus torreyana ssp. insularis)

Torrey pine range map from Conifers of the Pacific Slope.

The first time Santa Rosa Island landed on my plant exploring radar screen was when I learned about the Torrey pine some time in the early 2000s. I had never even seen this tree until I took a trip to Torrey Pines State Reserve north of San Diego in early 2012. It is the rarest pine in North America with several thousand “mature” trees on both the mainland and island. My bucket list for understanding the ecology of this species is complete now that I have visited the island.

As mentioned in an early post, pigs were first introduced on Santa Rosa in the mid 1800s. By 1888 it is estimated, based on historical records, that there were only 100 Torrey pines on the island. Today, all  herbivorous megafauna have been removed (minus 5 sterile horses from the old ranch) and the Torrey pine are thriving–with an estimated 12,300 trees–one-quarter of which are saplings!

Researchers debate the arrival time of the Santa Rosa Torrey pine, estimating anywhere from 6,000 to over 1 million years. Disagreement also exists as to whether these two population represent subspecies or varieties of each other. Some argue the two populations are  genetically different enough to be considered a subspecies, others prefer distinction at the variety level. Regardless, it is a beautiful species and well worth seeing in the wild.

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The Cloud Forest

The cloud forest on Santa Rosa Island.

Santa Rosa Island

We passed five Orcas (Orcinus orca) on the passage to Santa Rosa Island

After a two hour boat ride from Ventura Harbor that included sightings of gray and killer whales, passengers disembarked onto a newly-built pier and subjacent white sand beaches. We had arrived. Once unloaded, the park ranger offered an orientation rejoicing in our good fortunes. The high winds and thick fog which had typified the previous few weeks had now subsided. The forecast for the coming days included sun, low winds, and perfect temperatures.

Fog and wind are omnipresent on Santa Rosa Island and play a major role in shaping the landscape. Any plants with a propensity for upward growth are restricted to canyons, particularly north sloping ones. Here they find refuge from the wind and often more available moisture provided by the meager 15-20 inches of annual rain. However near the highest island peaks–like Black Mountain at 1,300 feet plants have adapted to wind and fog in different ways.

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Santa Rosa Island

Santa Rosa Island

Channel Islands National Park

Santa Rosa Island overview.

In 1998 I first visited the Channel Islands. This was early in my naturalist career but I was struck,  none-the-less, by the beauty and isolation I found on Santa Cruz Island. On that trip I first saw the endemic island scrub jay (Aphelocoma insularis) and began to develop an understanding and interest in island biogeography. Twenty years later this experience brought me to Santa Rosa Island–in major part to see the Torrey pine grove–but also for the opportunity to explore one of the least visited places in Southern California.

Santa Rosa Island is separated from the mainland by over 25 miles of water. The next closest landmass is San Miguel, which is now isolated from Santa Rosa by three miles of water. Isolation has nurtured endemism on both a localized island level as well as on a unifying level between islands. Combined, all the Channel Islands are home to 150 species of unique plants and animals. Santa Rosa hosts 46 of those, including six endemic plants that grow nowhere else.

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Urban Wildlands of Los Angeles

The National Science Teachers Association conference brought me to Los Angeles and after two days, I needed to find some green space. Linking up MacArthur Park, Vista Hermosa Natural Park, and Whole Foods (to prep for a trip to Santa Rosa Island) defined a route for me to visit the urban wildlands of the city.

Stroll to the sparse urban wildlands near downtown Los Angeles .

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Obligate & Facultative Seeders

My elegant crossing Tule Creek. Photo by Josh Smith.

Last weekend, I hiked in Trinity County along a low-elevation, fire-prone section of the Bigfoot Trail between Highway 3 and Hayfork and was able to witness obligate & facultative seeding in action.

From Field Guide to Manzanitas, Backcountry Press, 2012

One-third of manzanita species are facultative seeders. These are species that regenerate post-fire by both seed and burl resprouting. The remainder are obligate seeders that lose their entire adult population in a fire and depend on a seed bank for regeneration. Obligate seeding is the current model in manzanita evolution.

To understand why, consider the climatic dynamics over thousands, or tens of thousands of years or more. In the case of the resprouting species, particular individuals can live for centuries, resprouting over and over, cloning new individuals as the burls expand with each fire cycle. But in that population, the rate of genetic change is limited, because most individuals live a long time by way of asexual reproduction. This suggests that populations may be unable to respond to rapid climatic changes that might occur in only hundreds of years. The obligate seeders, on the other hand, lose all adults in stand-replacing fires and new post-fire generations have to establish from more genetically diverse seeds. Those populations consequently have greater flexibility to shift and adjust as circumstances require; traits that might have been rare and less important in older generations can emerge through natural selection and become critical in the newer generations within the lifetime of resprouting manzanitas.

Much of this area burned in the summer of 2015. While evidence of the fires were everywhere, there are many signs of the next generation of plants returning to the landscape. This was particularly true on some of the south-facing slopes above Philpot Campground where two species of manzanitas were exploring different reproductive regimes– both obligate & facultative seeding.

Arctostaphylos manzanita is a  facultatative seeder. It can resprout by seed but also from dormant buds. When present, these structures are often prominent and are called burls (also ligno tubers)–seen in the middle of the sprouting leaves.
Arctostaphylos canescens is an obligate seeder and does not have a burl. Instead, genetically unique seedlings resprout from a well-stocked seed bank.

Nature Notes:

A large burned stand of the obligate-seeding hoary manzanita, above Philpot Campground on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve

Albino redwood.
Albino redwood.

Hot springs and tall trees, all hidden in a remote area of Mendocino County. This was the family destination for a pre-Thanksgiving celebration. Most or our time was spent at Orr Hotsprings but an day-hiking excursion treated us with a fabulous adventure in an isolated redwood grove at Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve.

The hike was punctuated with firsts: my son’s first multi-mile hike and my my first albino redwood.  The park previously held the tallest recorded redwood — at 367.5-foot it was once declared the world’s tallest. While the Montgomery tree is still alive, the new record  is in Humboldt County. Other exciting finds in the park included an excellent expanse of giant chain ferns in a lowland basin along the trail. Read more about Montgomery Woods from Save the Redwoods League.

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Arctostaphylos nummularia

Arctostaphylos nummularia subsp. mendocinoensis

The pygmy manzanita (Arctostaphylos nummularia) is a species endemic to Mendocino County, California  where it is known from its occurrence in the pygmy forests along the coastline. I think this might just be the perfect northern coastal California shrub for a native plant garden. It has a perfectly rounded form, beautiful small leaves, and subtly hairy stems.

Arctostaphylos nummularia
Arctostaphylos nummularia subsp. mendocinoensis by Allison Poklemba

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Forest Pathogens

Select Forest Pathogens of California’s Klamath Mountains

Forest Pathogens often go unnoticed while exploring, but offer an exceptional window into the intricacies of forest ecology when better understood. I created the free document linked below in 2011 while in Grad School at Humboldt State. Forest Pathology was one of the more interesting classes I took while turning Conifer Country into my thesis for a Master’s Degree in Biology. Most of the information for this document was taken from Terry Henkel’s lecture notes as well as from internet and book sources–all cited within the document. I was recently reminded of this creation because of the October weather that has dropped unprecedented amounts of rain and nurtured fungal growth across Northwest California.

Fomitopsis pinicola
Fomitopsis pinicola

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Bear Peak Botanical Area

Citizen Science in the Siskiyous

img_4865I recently started a citizen science project with 5 classes of high school biology students from Fortuna, California. The plan is to combine their observation skills with the technology offered by iNaturalist. Each month they will visit Rohner Park and record data on a chosen spot in the forest–looking for plants and animals as well as  changes in canopy and ground cover. As they become more proficient in species ID, students will also upload observations to our iNatural Project ultimately creating a field guide to their local forest. We all know how much I like field guides…

My plan, over future visits to wilderness areas, is to start similar citizen science projects.  The first attempt at this wide-ranging project began this week on a visit to the Bear Peak Botanical Area on the Klamath National Forest. I originally wrote about this area in my book Conifer Country because it is unique in many ways, including the populations of yellow-cedar found  here. This species in common further north, but quite rare in California.

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My Favorite Fall Hikes

Quaking aspens (Populus tremuloides) in the Blackrock-High Rock Desert.
Quaking aspens (Populus tremuloides) in the Blackrock-High Rock Desert.

Fall is coming.

For me it is a time of rejuvenation and also my favorite season. With the shift of the California Current, rains begin to fall in California after a summer of drought. The high country along the Pacific Slope finds snow returning. While we retreat inside our homes, native plants and animals must adjust to the changes. Some birds migrate, mammals might hibernate, and some plants shed their leaves and “hibernate” for winter in their own way.

What follows is a journey across the Pacific Slope to four favorite fall hikes–excellent for colorful foliage. I’ve also included some of the plant species that will be found.
  1. Siskiyou Wilderness
  2. Pasayten Wilderness
  3. San Gabriel River National Monument
  4. Blackrock-High Rock Desert National Conservation Area

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Mount Linn Revisited

Northern California’s Coast Range

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A view from Mount Linn toward the Pacific Ocean and the distant King Range.

Mount Linn–also called South Yolla Bolly Mountain–is the highest point in the Coast Range of northern California. It is located to the west of Corning but the area might as well be a world away from the population centers of the state; it is rarely noticed by travelers as they drive Interstate 5. Once off the interstate, scenic forest service roads still take nearly 2 hours to wind to the trailhead. I revisited this fine mountain in July of 2016 to set up a photo-monitoring plot along the Bigfoot Trail and took the time to also map the vegetation on the mountain–particularly the grove of foxtail pines near the summit. This is one of the smallest (12 acres) and most isolated groves for the entire species and one that I am very much concerned about due to climate change. Shasta firs are encroaching upon the trees as snowpack declines and temperatures warm. I was happy to see the trees doing well and many young foxtails sprouting up–just not as many as there are young firs.

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Middle Tennessee Cedar Glades

Map adapted from William J. Wolfe, “Hydrology and Tree-Distribution Patterns of Karst Wetlands at Arnold engineering Development Center,” USGS

Edaphic islands have long-fascinated me–especially having grown to understand the serpentine barrens of the Klamath Mountains. So when we found ourselves visiting the Central Basin Region of middle Tennessee I discovered, through the help of the Tennessee Native Plant Society, that this area is botanically special for its limestone prairies, often called glades. While numerous state designated natural areas were recommended, I chose to learn about the Middle Tennessee Cedar Glades at Flat Rock Glades and Barrens State Natural Area.

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Choosing a Hike

How do you go about choosing a hike?

I have used various approaches which always involve careful map study, perusing the pages of hiking guides, and most importantly for me—studying field guides. As I get older, choosing a hiking destination is becoming more critical, with so much to see and even more to learn.

Hiking in the King Range.
King Range hiking.

Over time, I have gone about choosing a hike based more as a destination for discovery before any other factor. I think I first caught the hiking-for-natural-discovery bug while selecting a backpacking route exclusively to see condors in the Sespe Wilderness of southern California. When I moved to Humboldt in 2002, I graduated from bird destinations to plant exploring as I began searching out rare and unusual conifer species in our local mountains. This regular wilderness sideline blossomed into a Master’s Degree from Humboldt State University when I published my first book Conifer Country: A natural history and hiking guide to the conifers of northwest California in 2012. For 10 years I hiked to find and understand trees. These trees, and the places they grow, helped me develop a deeper passion for place and an understanding of the unique natural history of northwest California.

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Record Monterey pine (Pinus radiata)

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Circumference of Humboldt County’s record Pinus radiata

I have known about this Monterey pine (Pinus radiata) for years.

Pines in a redwood forest? Yep!
Pines in a redwood forest? Yep!

In 2004, I first took my 7th graders from Fortuna Middle School to make observations in their science journals in the forest surrounding this beauty. I always knew it was big, but did not know it could be the largest of its species.

Champion Pinus radiata
Champion Pinus radiata

The history of the forest at Rohner Park is not well documented, but as luck would have it I found a few answers while measuring the tree. With laser rangefinder in hand, an old-timer from Fortuna was coincidentally walking past me and asked what I was doing. His understanding was that Boy Scouts had planted a handful of pines in the area after the old-growth redwood forest was logged by cross-cut saw–in the years just before the invention of the chain saw in the 1920s. That would mean that these trees were, most likely, planted between 1900-1920. This makes the Monterey pines here, and the mature second-growth redwood forest, nearly 100 years old.

It is an impressive tree, competing with the forest giants of the North Coast like redwoods, Douglas-firs, and grand firs. Conditions must be right for this pine to survive among these other shade-tolerant trees. Pines, remember, are usually not shade-tolerant. That being said, if this tree was planted before the redwoods re-grew after logging in the early 1920s, then it got a head start and grew tall, in a race for light, against the other species in the park. Amazing stuff, to see a 160′ pine eking out an existence in the rainforest!

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San Gabriel Mountains Presentation

Plant Exploring in the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument

Wednesday, May 11, 2016 @7:30 p.m. at the Arcata Masonic Lodge

From the California Native Plant Society North Coast Chapter:

Explorer, writer, and educator Michael Kauffmann will lead us on a journey into the Transverse Ranges of southern California to explore the world of what John Muir called the steepest mountains in which he ever hiked. Michael’s explorations began because of a Bigcone Douglas-fir mapping and monitoring project he is leading in conjunction with California Native Plant Society, but these studies have allowed him to make more discoveries–from one of the world’s largest oaks to the most isolated grove of Sierra junipers in the world. Michael will take us on a photographic journey from the mountain tops to the river canyons across one of the nation’s newest national monuments.

San Gabriel Mountains