I 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.
On average, air temperatures decrease 500 times faster over altitudinal gradients than latitudinal gradients in North America (MacAuthor 1972). So, for example, traveling 150 miles north in North America approximates a decrease in temperature comparable to gaining 1600 feet of altitude. (O’Donnell 2003). This also means that altitudinal vegetation zones in the mountains of North America are 500 times narrower than latitudinal zones–what is created in this climatic scenario are the quentessential microsites. But there are other factors at play in the temperate coastal environments of the Klamath Mountains. Altitudinal generalizations are often exaggerated to the untrained eye because as one climbs skyward a stark landscape appears as ancient ultramafic and mafic rocks become more common, and restrict plant growth. This nurtures the feeling of subalpine–even below 7,000′ at a latitude of 42o N.
The northern portion of the Siskiyou Wilderness represents an area of great botanical diversity resulting from its unique geographic position (proximity to the coast and extreme vertical relief) and complex and diverse geologic composition. Chester A. Ground (1972) identified 343 species of plants in 3 square miles around the mountain my college buddies and I decided to climb in late July 2012. Just like my childhood fictional hero Sam Gribley, we escaped to a place near and dear to my heart, and–though not for an entire winter–for enough time to share space and time with the unique and diverse biota of the Klamath Mountans. We were in for a treat as the weather was cool and clear, plants were in bloom, and wildlife was active.
“Wilderness has a deceptive concreteness at first glance. The difficulty is that while the word is a noun it acts like an adjective. There is no specific material object that is wilderness. The term designates a quality ( as the ‘-ness’ suggests) that produces a certain mood or feeling in a given individual and, as a consequence, may be assigned by that person to specific place. Because of this subjectivity a universally acceptable definition of wilderness is elusive. One man’s wilderness may be another’s roadside picnic… Wilderness, in short, is so heavily freighted with meaning of a personal, symbolic, and changing kind as to resist easy definition.” —Wilderness and the American Mind, Roderick Nash, third edition; pub. Yale Univ. Press, 1967.
Siskiyou Wilderness | fall 2012
My expectations for wilderness wavers too. As I sit at home with my creature comforts I hope that others are out enjoying the majesty of the wilds–connecting with the natural world and progressing as stewards. When my turn comes to plan a wilderness adventure, destinations are chosen based on where I will find solitude. This was the original, anthropocentric idea behind wilderness–a place that would retain primeval character and guarantee solitude. I am a proponent for more people visiting wilderness (walking in under their own power) so that they might have more authentic experiences in nature, care more, and develop a closer connection to the Earth.
The winds were blowing across southern California and the skies were clear in the north. This unseasonal weather, cultivated by a high pressure system sitting over most of the West coast, motivated a 24 hour whirlwind into the Siskiyou Wilderness. My goal was to search for an unusual population of Alaska yellow-cedar documented and collected by Overton and Butler in 1979. I had discredited this report for several years because it did not fit within the parameters of my expectations for the species’ regional ecological amplitude–reported at a mere 3115 feet. If true, this would be over 2000 feet lower than any other regional population. In the fall I made it to the HSU Herbarium to look at the specimen and, sure enough, it was properly identified by the duo. I had to find this unusual place. The high pressure was the excuse to escape the stress of the end of 2011, get into the mountains, and attempt to find another outlier in the Siskiyou Wilderness.
Our adventure began in the heavy rain of late June. We waved farewell to Allison from the Canyon Creek Trailhead to walk the Bigfoot Trail–in search of wild plants and places–for two weeks. As we climbed into the Trinity Alps it was doubtful we would be able to hike very far because of heavy snow and high water. On our second day, as the rain cleared, we approached the dangerously swift Stuarts Fork and were, for a moment, stopped by Mountains and Water.
With the threat of our second significant storm of the season looming, I packed the truck and headed into a mysterious and isolated region of the Siskiyou Mountains to find two rare groves of trees and enjoy the transition toward winter. The roads are long and lonely leading south from Oregon’s Applegate Valley into the high peaks of extreme southern Oregon and northern California. This region drains the headwaters of the Applegate River where nebulous state borders are crisscrossed by wild mountains, rivers, and the occasional road. This is surely the quintessential ancient meeting ground where rare plants have hidden out for millenia–optimal environmental conditions are fostered with a unique balance of sun, soil, and water. In addition to the rare conifers under discussion one might also encounter Pacific silver-fir, subalpine fir , Brewer spruce, and Port Orford-cedar close by–not to mention the other more common species.
This map shows the only region in the world where the northern-most native cypress (C. bakeri) overlaps with Alaska yellow-cedar (C. nootkatensis) in its southern range extension.
One quick side note with respect to the genera I present here (without getting overly detailed)–several classification schemes currently exist for these species. Alaska-cedars have been placed in one of five genera by various sources: Cupressus, Chamaecyparis, Xanthocyparis, Hesperocyparis, and Callitropsis. Needless to say, things are a bit up in the air. While these names have yet to be worked out what has transpired, for now, is one of three scenerios: