Klamath Mountain Wilderness

In 1964 Congress passed The Wilderness Act in a nearly unanimous vote. Though the idea of wilderness was nothing new, its legalized preservation was. The act was meant to acknowledge and define the immediate and lasting benefits of protecting wild places—stating that land shall be set aside for “preservation and protection…so as to remain untrammeled…to retain primeval character…to only be affected by forces of nature…and to guarantee solitude…devoted to un-mechanized public purposes.” I quickly discovered these places were for me—a freedom-loving environmentalist who enjoys unconfined primeval recreation.

Conifer Country (2012)


Since first exploring the Siskiyou Wilderness in February of 2003, I became convinced that the Klamath Mountain wilderness areas contain some of the wildest and most rugged terrain in the contiguous United States. This is country that is often so steep, and thus spatially isolated, that there are places that have rarely–if ever–been visited by humans. The Klamath Mountains also hold one of the most species-rich temperate forest in North America–with nearly 3,500 taxa documented. The diversity is due to many factors, but in essence it represents a means to appreciate the wildness that has maintained across the numerous sub-ranges in the region. The variable topography, relatively stable climate, and varied soil types have offered (and continue to do so) a refuge for plants to persist or speciate. This is a phenomenon which I am cautiously optimistic will persist into the future, even as climates rapidly change to to human activity–I also beleive this to be true do to the wilderness that is preserved that will help to promote biodiversity. September 3rd, 2014 is the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act – wilderness is a part of me as are these mountains.

The eleven wilderness areas within the Klamath Mountain Province

The eleven wilderness areas within the Klamath Mountain Province

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A Connecticut Migration

North America holds two of the most species-rich temperate forests in the world: those of the southern Appalachian and Klamath mountains. What do these locations have in common? Glaciers and seas did not completely cover them during the Cenozoic and the mountains were monadnocks, or islands above the plains, offering temperate refuges to plants and animals over time. Both locations have historically maintained a moderated climate. These areas are beyond the southern terminus of the enormous continental ice sheets of the Pleistocene. Some plants undoubtedly remained in these regions through historic climatic change, while other species repeatedly moved in as climate cooled and glaciers pushed southward and then moved out following glaciers northward. These dynamic fluctuations have cradled plant diversity in these two unique regions.

The current consequences of these historical patterns are that the Klamaths and southern Appalachians have grand floristic diversity, a concentration of endemic plants, and a fundamental importance to the forest floras of nearby regions (Whittaker 1960). Per unit area, the Klamath Mountains and the southern Appalachian Mountains hold more plant taxa than any others in North America. Plant genera such as Cornus (dogwoods), Asarum (wild ginger), and various conifers (Pinus, Abies, Thuja, Chamaecyparis) grow a continent apart while providing a comparative glimpse of an ancient flora.

-From Conifer Country

The Atlantic white-cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides) and the Chester Cedar Swamp

My family and I made a Connecticut “migration” in July of 2014 to visit family near New York city. While I was looking forward to family time, I wondered if there could possibly be and natural, wild space anywhere near the largest population center in the country. A google search revealed that Connecticut does indeed have a few Natural Landmarks that preserve and celebrate the states geological and ecological heritage. I picked one to visit that was relatively close to our “home” as well as one that celebrates one of the most ancient lineages of plants on Earth – a conifer!

Chamaecyparis in North America.

Chamaecyparis in North America. Atlantic white cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides) is geographically restricted to freshwater wetlands along the eastern coastal United States.

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Cory Peak Botanical and Geological Area

Original Publication DATE: 6/17/2014

There are celebrated regions of the Klamath Mountain–preserved and maintained for our enjoyment as monuments or wilderness–and there are others with little or no designation beyond National Forest land. How does the outdoor enthusiast find these little-known places? In the case of the isolated botanical areas of the Scott Mountain Crest, the main route in and out is on the Pacific Crest Trail.

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The Pacific Crest Trail contours the eastern ridgeline through the Cory Peak Botanical Area – shown here by Bull Lake – with the Trinity Alps in the background.

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Walker Ridge • McNab cypress

Original Publication DATE: 3/23/2014

Walker Ridge has been on my plant exploration list for many years–having repeatedly heard about the rare plants, serpentine landscape, and epic wildflower displays–it has also been proposed for designation as Serpentine National Park, as a radical approach to try to halt a major wind turbine project slated for the ridgeline. While I was excited to finally explore this place, my main motivation was to locate what has been called the largest stand of McNab cypress in the world. What I found was something entirely different.

Walker-Ridge

Looking north toward Walker Ridge from the access road.

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Foster and Lion Lake – Trinity Alps Wilderness

Original Publication DATE: 1/19/2014

Part two of whitebark pine negative reports in the Trinity Alps Wilderness

As mentioned in my last post, part of last summer’s whitebark pine conservation assessment and mapping project involved predicting location where the species might occur but was not yet documented. While I found success with some predictions, others turned into negative reports with “ground-truthing.” One negative report was in the Trinity Alps Wilderness around Stonewall Pass, another was in the Foster and Lion lakes region where I based my prediction on the significant landmass above 7,500′.

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Foxtail pine on granite, high above Coffee Creek in a summer thunderstorm.

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Stonewall Pass – the Red Alps

Original Publication DATE: 1/2/2014

Part of last summer’s whitebark pine conservation assessment and mapping project involved predicting location where the species might occur but had not yet been documented. While I found success with some predictions, others turned into negative reports with “ground-truthing.” One of these areas was in the Trinity Alps Wilderness around Stonewall Pass where I predicted WBP would occur because there is significant landmass above 7,500′.

The geology of the Stonewall Pass region is built from a majority of mafic and ultramafic rocks. Granite and Gibson peaks are themselves granite, but the remainder of the landscape is composed of serpentine, which makes survival difficult for many species. Interestingly, whitebark pine are found on the serpentine of the Scott-Trinity Mountains around China Peak and Mount Eddy, but it turns out they are absent from the Stonewall Pass serpentines. Whitebark’s absence on the granite of Gibson and Granite peak is most likely due to the size of the inhabitable area offered by the small granite plutons here as well as the increased competition from granite-loving species like mountain hemlock and Shasta fir.

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Foxtail pine on Middle Peak looking southeast toward Granite Peak.

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Timbered Crater – Lassen National Forest

Original Publication DATE: 8/13/2013

This place has been on my list to visit for some time now. Exploring the Medicine Lake Highlands at the end of a week of field work searching for whitebark pine (more coming soon on this one), I found myself close enough to justify a stop here on my return to HWY 299 and ultimately the coast. It is a difficult place to find in many ways, since signs are all but non-existent, but the extent of the Baker cypress groves (7,000+ acres!) make the trees easy enough to find with a small amount of adventure.

Timbered Crater is the type-locality for Baker cypress, an exotic location for relict vernal pools, and ultimately a crossroads for Cascade and Great Basin species. Read more by Todd Keeler-Wolf  in his Research Natural Area report. It is also recommended as a wilderness study area–probably because of the lava flows make penetrating road-building nearly impossible. Hopefully wilderness designation will come to fruition, especially since there aren’t too many topographically flat wilderness areas–anywhere.

What follows are a few pictures, tinged by drifting smoke from the Salmon River and Oregon fires.
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Two Baker cypress recolonizing a recent (<20 years) burn area in the Timbered Crater.

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Looking across the patchwork of vegetation types sculpted by frequent fire return intervals.

—–
COMMENT:
AUTHOR: Joyce Mary Mary
DATE: 8/13/2013 4:12:43 PM
Michael,
These pictures are great. You have chosen to live such an interesting life. You mother must be very proud of you!
With love and admiration, Mom
—–
COMMENT:
AUTHOR: Michael E. Kauffmann
DATE: 8/14/2013 2:18:41 PM
Aw, geez, thanks Mom.

Serpentines of the Salmon Creek-Mattole River Divide

Original Publication DATE: 1/19/2013

On the divide between the South Fork of the Eel River and Mattole River exists a place I had repeatedly mapped while creating the images for for Conifer Country. I knew there was a small patch of serpentine in this isolated location because of the occurrance of two tree species that are uncommmon on the North Coast outside of the Klamath Mountains proper. In the past I had asked regional ecologists about this location and the common response was “its is somewhere out near the Mattole River.” I knew that already, but how could I find the exact location?

The mystery was solved when Kyle and Dana Keegan, offered a “visit to the Salmon Creek watershed which is a tributary of the South Fork Eel. We have an especially unique diversity of plants and trees here due to a complex melange of geologic features with what we believe to be the largest, most westerly stand of Jeffrey Pine in the state, as well as vast stands of Incense Cedar. Kinda like an isolated westerly chunk of the Klamath Siskiyous–with it comes a whole host of serpentine endemics.”

Yes please…

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Kyle and Dana Keegan looking across the headwaters of the Mattole River.

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Conifer Endemism along the Central California Coast

Original Publication DATE: 3/29/2013 

I have always been a fan of the opportunists. If I had to pick a favorite bird it would be the noble turkey vultures—who soar thermals from coast to coast, contemplating a smorgasbord of fetid and rotten treats for daily sustenance. Douglas-firs are one of the most ubiquitous western conifers—taking purchase on high mountain peaks, coastal sand dunes, temperate rainforests, and sterile serpentine soils. However, some species are so specialized that, without proper and specific biotic and abiotic interactions, they would have long-gone extinct or never evolved at all.

In ecology, the term endemism defines when an organism is unique to a certain region like an island or mountain range. Endemic species are either newly evolved to fit a changing landscape (neoendemic) or a relict of a once broader existence, now restricted to a smaller region (paleoendemic). Neoendemics are species that have adaptively radiated from an older one through vicariance–with an ecology sculpted by edaphic, climatic, and topographic isolation in “recent” history. Relative to other conifers, some of California’s cypresses are an examples of this type of endemism. Through microsite isolation new species have evolved from a common ancestor where new traits are selected through ecological release to fit specific environments. Paleoendemics, like the Redwoods, Monterey cypress, Monterey pine and Santa Lucia fir once had broader ranges but are now restricted, through climatic changes, to environments which mimic those of the ancient past.

California Central Coast Conifer Endemism

The central coast of California is home to numerous endemic plants, including 5 conifers. The following will take you on a journey into one of the endemic conifer hotspots along the Pacific Slope.

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18th Conifer in the Miracle Mile!

Original Post DATE: 2/10/2013

The internet is an amazing thing. It opens up lines of communication that were unheard of in the past. Case in point–I got an email from Richard Moore who lives in Callahan, California. He knows the Salmon-Trinity Mountains well, as he has been exploring them since he was a young boy in the early 50′s. It turns out that in the early 1980′s he discovered a small stand of western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) in the Russian Wilderness. He knew about the famous square mile wherein 17 conifers species had been found. He also figured the junipers he discovered were within–or at least very close to–that carefully shaped square mile. He had told John Sawyer in person about 2 years ago; but never relayed the location of the trees. John and I made the trek into Sugar Creek and I climbed to the ridge trying to predict where the juniper were – and missed them by a few hundred yards and a wall of granite.

Sugar Creek

I was within 200 yards (just around this granitic corner) of finding the junipers on my last visit to the miracle mile.

Turns out, in the summer of 2012 his brother bought him a copy of Conifer Country and he was re-inspired to try to get the word out about his discovery. He borrowed his son’s camera (which he readily admits to have taken some poor photos), put together a PDF with the pictures and GPS coordinates with the help of his son, and also got that file in an email to me. What we now have is the evidence (minus a specimen) of the newest addition to the botanical legacy of the Klamath Mountains. I plan to meet Richard this summer and collect some specimens for the Humboldt State University Herbarium. Below is the link to the file with photos and GPS coordinates that Richard sent to me.

Richard Moore collecting a specimen of Juniperus occidentalis in the Miracle Mile - the18th conifer!

Richard Moore collecting a specimen of Juniperus occidentalis in the Miracle Mile – the 18th conifer!

A list of conifers within the Miracle Mile:

  1. foxtail pine
  2. whitebark pine
  3. western white pine
  4. Jeffrey pine
  5. ponderosa pine
  6. lodgepole pine
  7. sugar pine
  8. white fir
  9. Shasta fir
  10. subalpine fir
  11. Engelmann spruce
  12. Brewer spruce
  13. mountain hemlock
  14. Douglas-fir
  15. Pacific yew
  16. incense-cedar
  17. common juniper
  18. western juniper