Yup, that’s right. Best. Business trip. Ever. If you need any other reason to get involved in conservation, restoration, or other related natural resources fields, look no further. You get to backpack while you work. For the past week, I went out into the backcountry to do some surveying in areas that are hard to reach when you have a daily commute. Although it didn’t snow like it did last week, the temperatures reached 27°! Myself and one other went out into the 74% of the park that is designated wilderness and were able to cover a lot of previously unsurveyed ground. Opportunities such as this one serve as a constant reminder of how grateful I am to be working in this field.
On Tuesday, the 19th of September, it snowed. I remember waking up and feeling a difference in the air- a crispness that only comes with snow. And, lo and behold, the snow came. Less than two months after the park road had officially opened it was closed once more. It has been so fascinating seeing how quickly things change here in Lassen. When I first arrived, there was too much snow for me to reach my survey plots. With haste the snow melted to reveal corn lily’s, mule’s ears, lupines, and innumerable ponds and lakes. Too quickly, it seems, the plants senesced, and a few days before the first day of Fall, came Winter.
This week I took a new approach to my sampling. Instead of following a protocol devised by an I&M network which sampled 50x50m plots, I decided I would get a better grasp on Whitebark Pine growing conditions and White Pine Blister Rust by walking along transects where they populate. In doing this, I collected a lot of quantitative data that I did not have before, and was able to hike along the ridgelines of several mountains in Lassen Park- double win!
Having the freedom to choose how to go about my project has led me to some ideas that allow me to use my creativity, which is how I best thrive! In three days, I traversed three peaks/ ridgelines, and gathered extremely useful information- no case of the Monday Blues here!
This week consisted of sampling my plots, as per usual. As I increase my sampling size, there are several realizations that I’ve come to have about the decline of Whitebark Pine. Whereas before I knew that they were being impacted by climate change, drought, mountain pine beetle, and blister rust, I stumbled upon another presumable factor that I noticed in the field. As global temperature increases, the areas where plants best grow and animals reside shift. As a result, Whitebark Pine trees, which grow in very high elevations and rocky soils that do not usually exhibit a lot of diversity, start to receive competition by other tree species moving to higher elevations– notably Mountain Hemlock.
Mountain Hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana) is tolerant of most forms of competition by other species. It grows in areas similar to that of Whitebark Pine, however, it grows in dense, tall stands that exceed the growth rates of Whitebark Pine. Subsequently, the Whitebark Pines are being pushed out or having trouble succeeding in areas where dense hemlock stands are present.
Noticing this reminded me that it’s always good to keep an open mind. When you become too focused on what you think the outcome should be, you ignore the truth.
This week I had the pleasure of working with the Klamath Inventory and Monitoring Network again. Aiding them with their plots helps me make sure that I am following the protocol correctly when working on my own plots. When travelling to our sites we see some of the most breathtaking views of Lassen– most of which many visitors do not have the opportunity to see. It’s a constant reminder of how grateful I am to work here and do what I do.
Not everyday is sight-seeing and tree-hugging, however. The advantage the Klamath Network has is that all of their sites have been visited before, monumented, and are known to be safe and viable sampling areas. With my sites, I determined points of interest based off information on where Whitebark Pine grows best and hoped they would be viable when I sought them out in the field. This isn’t always the case, I’ve come to realize. After we hiked for nearly 4 miles, we reached as close to our site as possible and decided that the terrain would be too risky to to be able to set up a sampling plot. Heartbroken, we took a break on a plateau and I looked around me. I saw several volcanic peaks, beautiful topography, and Mt. Shasta in the distance. Taking in the view I realized that it’s okay for situations like this to happen, and that there’s a positive side to everything if you just take a moment to look.