I could not be more proud of our new book. It is, in reality, a project 10-years in the making. I first started cooking up the idea when I finished Conifer Country in 2012 based on the fact that a natural history had never been written for the Klamath Mountains. Around 2015, during a winter gathering, I proposed an outline to a group of friends and asked who wanted to help write the book with me. Justin Garwood raised his hand and the rest is now history!
Why Natural History?
Writing a natural history happens with definable landscapes. For it to be comprehensive, regional boundaries defined by geology, ecology, and climatic patterns—or realistically all three—create a space wherein a natural history emerges. The Sierra Nevada’s granitic boundaries have produced numerous natural histories. Other regions of the West that have their own natural histories include Daniel Matthew’s Natural History of the Pacific Northwest Mountains that weaves climate and ecology. A new tome, Mountains of Nevada, by David Charlet, uses political boundaries to define an entire state’s flora by way of 300+ mountain ranges. Lawrence R. Walker and Frederick H. Landau use climate to tell A Natural History of the Mojave Desert. The list goes on. These books are exciting because natural history is foundational in building and maintaining the human relationship with nature. The written relationship of natural history in the western world started with Charles Darwin and Alexander von Humboldt. Aldo Leopold, John Muir, Annie Dillard, Peter Matthiessen, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and others have continued these traditions—today, I believe we are experiencing a natural history renaissance.
Our Natural History
With the help of 34 co-authors we are now better connected to the natural history of the Klamath Mountains. Climate, soils, fire, and geology connect all living things across space and time. From those connections to the land, interpreted by the First People in the beginning and built upon by western scientists who followed, the deep knowledge for this place is helping to reinvigorate relationships to the land and with each other. In this bond, we all have something to offer—and even more to the mountains and rivers and forests. We will continue to share our current knowledge and better understand what those before us have done and thought. Through these connections, we can only hope that some of our old approaches and understandings fade away and a better path for place-based connection and stewardship continue to grow.
The Natural History Institute defines natural history as the “…practice of intentional, focused attentiveness and receptivity to the more-than-human world, guided by honesty and accuracy.” Justin and I present our honest and accurate work for the Klamath Mountains.
The first comprehensive regional natural history is here!
Edited by Michael Kauffmann & Justin Garwood with 34 contributing authors, all experts in their fields.
In the Tertiary, beginning around 65 million years ago [Ma], a temperate forest prevailed unlike any other in Earth’s history. Referred to as the Arcto-Tertiary forest—existing on a landmass that would soon become North America, Europe, and Asia—a blending of conifers and broad-leaved trees dominated the landscape. With continental drift and climate change, the offspring of these great forests were fragmented. Over time, ice ages came and went, causing a change in flora as increasingly dry conditions became more common. The descendants of the Arcto-Tertiary forest became less extensive and more isolated. These progenitors have remained, finding refuge in the higher and cooler regions which maintained a climate more similar to that of the early Tertiary and creating, today, a strong Klamath-Appalachian Connection (see R. H. Whittaker 1961).
I am slowly learning about some of the shortfalls my training as a western scientist has had on my ability to interpret vegetation communities of the Klamath Mountains. What I am learning, that was never properly taught in my schooling, is that everything we see today in the Klamath Mountains was affected, to some degree, by long-term human habitation over the past ~9,000 years. For example, up north in British Columbia’s coastal temperate rainforest Fisher et al. (2019) found that the plant communities around village sites had different plant assemblages than control sites and were dominated by plants with higher nutrient requirements and a cultural significance. Consider this next time you look at an oak woodland on a river bench
Another major misconception taught in western science is the description of the assumed wild and wilderness as absent of human impact–when this is far from the truth. Much of what we have designated as wilderness was sculpted by Native People’s stewardship. For example, numerous travel routes were maintained for securing basketry, medicine, food resources, or reaching ceremonial sites (see map below).
I am excited to announce we are approaching the publication of a book 5 years in the making. As the co-editor and author of several of the chapters I am more excited for this book than any other I have written or published. To launch the approach to publication, we are offering a winter webinar series where chapter authors will present some of the highlights from their work.
I recently came upon resource created in 1907 during a trans-Klamath adventure to explore the region and document its plants. Willis Jepson’s Siskiyou Expedition began in Yreka on July 1st and ended back in Etna on July 25th. Over that time the expedition team traveled from the eastern Klamath to the coast—and back again—using a combination of routes including poorly developed roads, the Kelsey Trail, river corridors, and portage boats guided by Karuk men. I encourage you to read more of Jepson’s journal and his colorful descriptions of the plants and places along the way. The journal offers an ecologist’s view, 110 years back, to a northwest California vastly different than today.
The slow movement of water through a fen builds, over long periods of time, to the formation of peatlands. The formation of peatlands requires a combination of processes that most commonly occur in flat areas in both tropical and boreal regions. Because of variable topography, geology, and even water chemistry in the mountains, peatlands are generally rare.
In temperate mountains, rare peatlands form over mellennia if perennial soil saturation, low mineral soil deposition, erosion rates, and net storage of soil carbon resulting from plant productivity complement each other perfectly. In arctic and alpine environments, the formation of peat is often associated with peat moss (Sphagnum spp.). In the temperate regions peatlands are usually dominated and formed by sedges (Carex spp.).
I learned about this project in 2014 and have been following it closely ever since. In late April, 2020 my friends Justin Garwood, Ken Lindke, and Mike Van Hattem (with other co-authors) published the first definitive paper on glaciers in the Klamath Mountains. While the news is bleak, their diligent research documents the changes in the Klamath for hundreds of years through the eyes of the highest peaks and watersheds in the range. Please enjoy the summary that follows.
BLURB FROM THE TALK: Humboldt County educator, author, and ecologist Michael Kauffmann has been tracking the status and distribution of Klamath Mountain conifers for over 15 years and his book, Conifer Country, if the definitive field guide to the region. Michael will take us from mountain summits to coastal river valleys and provide updates on the status and distribution of many of these charismatic conifers based on field work in the summer of 2019 with the California Native Plant Society Vegetation Team. He will also share photos and stories about exciting plants from the region.
I first visited this area in 2004 when my friend Jay and I attempted an ambitious loop starting from the Wooley Creek Trailhead, to the headwaters at Wooley Lake, back to Hancock Lake, and then laboring along the non-existent trail on Steinacher Ridge back to our car. This was the first major hike I took in the Marble Mountain Wilderness and my encounter with Pacific silver fir (Abies amabilis) around the Diamond Lake – English Peak region inspired the writing of my first book, Conifer Country.
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.
Castle Crags State Park is within the Klamath Mountains geomorphic province. The eastern Klamath Mountains are built from the oldest rock in the range with the newest to the west. This is due to the continued accretions of oceanic crust added on to the western edge of North American continent. Rocks surrounding Castle Crags are mostly of the Ordovician-aged (443–490 million year old) Trinity ultramafic sheet.
In 1883, August W. Eichler, the prominent plant taxonomist of the day, divided the plant kingdom into two groups: Cryptogams and Phanerogams. Cryptogamae are seedless and have inconspicuous reproductive structures while Phanerogamae produce seeds and have visible reproductive structures (like flowers and cones). Cryptogamae means hidden reproduction, referring to the fact that no seed is produced. Instead reproduction occurs by spores. Eichler only classified plants as cryptogams but the definition has since expanded to include, among others, mushrooms and blue-green algae. This collective group, while taxonomically incoherent because it includes species from more than one Kingdom, represents the most ancient lineages of land-dwelling species on Earth.
The coastal lowland forests receive the most annual rainfall of anywhere else in the Klamath Mountains. From the north in Oregon the Coquille, Rogue, and Illinois rivers drain southwest Oregon and the Smith River country is California’s only temperate rainforest. The rich soils, temperate year-round growing season, and high rainfall (often over 100 inches) nurture these impressive forests.
Klamath coastal lowland forests are typified by dense, closed canopies on well-developed soils (sometimes serpentines). The dominant tree species have high colonizing abilities, long life, and a wide ecological tolerances to environmental conditions, including dry summers with occasional persistent fog. These forest thrive below the snow belt on the extreme western slopes of the Siskiyou Mountains. Species like Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and Port Orford-cedar (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana) secure the highest place in the canopy, often approaching 300’. A second canopy forms one hundred feet below and includes species like tanoak (Notholithocarpus densiflorus) and madrone (Arbutus menziesii) where they share an understory with coastal specialists like salal (Gaultheria shallon) and evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum). With the high volumes of rain that falls each winter, banks of coastal rivers and streams are frequently disturbed and then repeatedly pioneered by red alder (Alnus rubra).
Botanizing the South Fork National Recreation Trail – Trinity County
Hell Gate highlights the lowland interior forest of the southern Klamath Mountains along the Trinity River on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. The Trinity is surely one of the most spectacular rivers in the state and this hike is along a roadless stretch in the upper reaches of the south fork. The old-growth Douglas-fir/mixed evergreen forest is top-notch, especially along the north-facing sections of trail. Oak woodlands are on benches above the river, with Oregon white oak mixing with picturesque grasslands–though the lack of fire is allowing extensive conifer encroachment. Some of the largest Pacific yew I have ever seen can be found along the trail as well.
The area is dotted with private in-holdings and these beautiful old homes appear at random intervals along the trail. The trail is open to biking and—for these home-owners—OHVs. Swimming opportunities abound and solitude can be easily found, especially in the winter (there are bridges on all major stream crossings). The hike, as written and drawn in Conifer Country, is 7 miles to Smokey Creek but the National Recreation Trail extends the length of this roadless stretch of river—for a total of 15 miles from Hells Gate to Wild Mad Road. The upper reaches of this trail is part of the Bigfoot Trail.
I am highlighting three species below that I found on our hike. One that is a regional endemic, one that reaches it coastal range extension here, and a third that is found across the northern hemisphere. These selections highlight the regional diversity with a biogeographical perspective.
Green plants are considered autotrophs because they photosynthesize—making sugar from water and carbon dioxide. The world of heterotrophic plants is complicated but all have moved away from total energy production from photosynthesis toward obtaining organic carbon either directly from other living beings or through a parasitic relationship with a fungus. Heterotrophic plants include directly parasitic and mycotrophic forms. The conifer forests of the western United States nurture an exceptional diversity of heterotrophic plants.
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.
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.
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.