The World Discovers the
Jefferson Public Radio Listeners Guild
On a cool June day in 1884, the pioneering
The discovery of Brewer's Spruce illustrates two themes in the natural history of our region: and its great obscurity and extreme wealth. Only at the very end of the 20th century is this obscurity beginning to lift, as the world becomes aware that one of its greatest biological treasuries lies a few hours north of
Nature places life on the land in endlessly subtle and intermingled patterns. Humans, on the other hand, delight in boundaries. Both humanity and nature have given free rein to their pattern-making artistry in the Klamath-Siskiyou, resulting in a very complicated landscape. This provides plenty of room for individual opinion on exactly where the region begins and ends. Geologists give one answer, hydrologists another, botanists a third, while politicians have further complicated matters by adding the California-Oregon state line, among other things. But there is no question about the core of the region: it is the rugged mountains that stretch in a series of intermingled ranges from the Oregon Siskiyous through the
In the Beginning: Geology. The geological map of
Most of the rocks of the Klamath-Siskiyou are 200-400 million years old, and originated as offshore sediments that were repeatedly uplifted, folded, and mixed with the granites of the ancient seafloor bedrock. Intruding into this mixture are large geological masses formed under extreme pressure in the earth's interior: peridotite and serpentine. Due to the manner of their formation, these rocks are deficient in some minerals (including calcium and potassium) and are heavily laden with others (especially magnesium, iron, and nickel). The largest block of exposed peridotite in the world lies west of Cave Junction, and smaller outcrops occur throughout the Klamath-Siskiyou.
The strange mineral composition of serpentine and peridotite means that soils derived from them will often be very inhospitable to plant life. On a landscape scale, the open Jeffrey pine woodlands northwest of Cave Junction reveal the struggle of trees to grow on serpentine, a struggle that has been won in the unique Redrock Rainforest of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. On a more intimate scale, the tiny fens that dot serpentine sites like
A Fortress For Forests. As any hiker soon discovers, the Klamath-Siskiyou is not an easy, gentle, or welcoming wilderness. From its perpetually soggy coastal rainforest to the knife-edged ridges and sun-baked canyons of the interior, the region hardly seems like a sanctuary from the harsh realities of a changeable world. And yet that is exactly what it is: for millions of years, this difficult land has been the last refuge for an amazing array of unique trees and other plants.
For all its great antiquity, the Klamath-Siskiyou has never been subject to massive volcanism and glaciation, the sorts of cataclysms that rework entire regions. Its mountains and valleys have unfailingly offered a complex mosaic of habitats, allowing diverse species to survive countless environmental changes. It is hard to imagine two more different conifers than the gigantic redwoods of the coastal strip and the stunted foxtail pines of the alpine peaks, but our region provides pockets of habitat that meet the needs of both of these specialized trees.
The Klamath-Siskiyou has the highest diversity of conifer species in the world, with 30 species overall and an amazing 17 species within one square mile in the Russian Wilderness. This richness reflects the region's sanctuary role. Many of the conifers, as well as other plant species, reach their range limits here. For example, the region is home to the northernmost Coast Redwoods, the southernmost
Wildlife Wilderness. The biological wealth of our region is not limited to plants, of course. The case can also be illustrated with birds. The Klamath-Siskiyou is host to 392 bird species, 189 of which are confirmed to breed here. This great diversity is possible because of the variety of habitats and plant communities in the region. Birds of the oak woodland and chaparral communities, like the California Towhee and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, reach their northern limits here, while species of deep coniferous forest, such as the Blue Grouse and the Gray Jay, extend no further south along the Pacific coast. The
As recently as 150 years ago, the Klamath-Siskiyou was home to a spectacular assemblage of great wildlife species. Elk, deer, grizzly and black bears, cougars, and wolves roamed throughout the region. Herds of pronghorn raced through the
The World Takes Notice. Aside from a few intrepid botanists, the world of science sent few representatives into the Klamath-Siskiyou region during the first half of the 20th century. That changed in 1949, when a young plant ecologist named Robert Whittaker arrived in Cave Junction. Over the next three summers, he carefully documented Siskiyou plant distribution in relation to climate, elevation, soils, and fire history. In 1960, Whittaker published the results of his work, entitled Vegetation of the
While Whittaker's work put the Klamath-Siskiyou on the scientific map, the region remained little known to the general public. The mountains lacked a voice, but in 1983 they found one: a voice as unique, as surprising, and as great as they were; the voice of David Rains Wallace. His book, The Klamath Knot, combined geology, evolution, poetry, ecology, and mythology to create an unforgettable portrait of the Klamath-Siskiyou. The result is one of the classics of American nature writing, a book that introduced our region to the world.
The Klamath Knot became a sacred text for a new breed of pioneers that began to arrive in the region during the 1970's and '80's. Many of these were young people leaving their urban or suburban roots in search of a simpler, more natural life. Over the next 20 years, these new arrivals joined with concerned locals to create a grassroots environmental movement, challenging the land management practices that had dominated the region since the end of World War II.
Much of the forest land in the Klamath-Siskiyou is public, administered by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. For decades these federal agencies formed an efficient partnership with private timber and mining companies to exploit the resources of the region. This partnership fostered economic growth in timber towns like Happy Camp, Hayfork,
Except in the narrow coastal strip, many Klamath-Siskiyou forests grow under dry climatic conditions on relatively poor soils, and are unable to regenerate quickly. By the 1980's it was clear that excessive logging was compromising the ecological health of the region. Not only were the mountains covered with the scars of unregenerating clearcuts, but salmon streams were clogged with silt, populations of many wildlife species were plummeting, and the widespread use of herbicides on tree plantations was causing great public health concern.
The mid-1980's to mid-'90's was a time of sometimes wrenching transition in our relationship with the environment. Both scientists and the general public began to understand the value of ancient forests, and the Spotted Owl became a national symbol for the struggle between preservation and exploitation. As social conflicts grew, President Clinton ordered a thorough scientific review of forest management in the
Thanks to the tireless efforts of local environmentalists and the newfound interest of scientists around the world, the biological riches of the Klamath-Siskiyou are no longer a well-kept secret. The region has been suggested as a World Heritage Site and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and in 1992 the World Conservation Union declared the Klamath-Siskiyou to be an Area of Global Botanical Significance, one of only seven such areas in
The biggest media splash came in fall 1997, when the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) released its sweeping analysis of the ecosystems of the
On a local level, the long-term work of many grassroots groups to preserve the Klamath-Siskiyou came to a climax in May 1997, at a memorable conference sponsored by the Siskiyou Project in Kerby and Cave Junction. To its more than 300 participants, "The First Conference on Siskiyou Ecology" felt like an environmental
Threats and Opportunities. All this recognition comes not a moment too soon. Much damage has been done, and much has already been lost. Only about 25% of the forests of the Klamath-Siskiyou remain intact. Grizzly bears, wolves, and other species have been exterminated. The beautiful Port Orford Cedar is endangered by a deadly introduced disease, spread by vehicle traffic along logging roads. Thousands of mining claims menace rivers throughout the region, including Rough and Ready Creek, world-famous for its wealth of serpentine plants. Logging continues to shrink remaining areas of ancient forest, especially in low-elevation areas. Road-building threatens most areas of unprotected wilderness with fragmentation into smaller parcels that provide far less habitat benefits for wildlife. Wild salmon stocks continue to decline as bureaucrats and interest groups bicker over the obvious--but difficult--steps needed to protect them.
The good news is that so much remains to save. From north to south, the region is graced with magnificent wilderness strongholds that deserve immediate protection. Just east of
These magnificent wildlands provide us with all the benefits of whole, healthy ecosystems: clean, cold water for salmon, steelhead, and people; natural regulation of runoff; stabilization of steep slopes; absorption of excess carbon in the atmosphere; and habitat for uncountable life forms and the vital and often unknown relationships with which they maintain the balance of life. They provide all these services without requiring one penny of taxpayers' money. They do not need to be enhanced, mitigated, stabilized, recovered or restored They simply need to be protected.
As we enter an era in which global climate appears to be changing at an unprecedented rate, the Klamath-Siskiyou sanctuary may be needed more than at any time in its venerable history. Trees cannot respond to global warming by moving north hundreds of miles in a few decades. Even mobile animals will be hard-pressed to find their way to new homes across the fragmented landscape produced by our roads, fields, and cities. If many rare species and isolated populations are to survive, they will have to do it in place, and to do that they will need the shelter of large areas where the natural flows of life still remain intact: areas like the Klamath- Siskiyou.
There is a final value of the wild Klamath-Siskiyou. By learning about our region, living in it, protecting it, and allowing ourselves to be shaped by it, we preserve in our own selves an essential wildness, a connection to the land that we need to be fully human. In the words of the poet and essayist Gary Snyder, "We must consciously fully accept and recognize that this is where we live and grasp the fact that our descendents will be here for millennia to come. Then we must honor this land's great antiquity--its wildness--learn it--defend it--and work to hand it on to the children (of all beings) of the future with its biodiversity and health intact . . . Home--deeply, spiritually--must be here."
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Karl K. Nettgen
Century 21 Agate Realty
29642 S. Ellensburg Ave. P.O. Box 127
Gold Beach, Oregon 97444
Licensed in the state of Oregon
Live on the Southern Oregon Coast!