Posted by admin on June 22, 2015
by Heather Campbell (with photo of mama and baby by Anthony Two Feathers Colegrove)
It is wonderful to live in one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world. The Klamath Mountains are home to a multitude of flora, fauna, and wildlife. MKWC is now operating within the confines of the Mid Klamath Restoration Partnership (a network of people working towards resiliency from rivers to ridges) to search for the species Strix Occidentalis Caurina, otherwise known as the Northern Spotted Owl (NSO). The NSO calls the Pacific Northwest home, where it is considered a keystone species and is currently listed under the Endangered Species Act as ‘threatened.’ Loss of habitat over the past century, and, more recently, the invasion of the Barred Owl (Strix varia) from the East have led to a sharp decline in the population of this splendid raptor.
No Holds Barred
We are nearing the end of the yearly breeding season for the Spotted Owl and are mid season for survey efforts. To date, in the search area, MKWC has come across one Spotted Owl. While the outlook for the NSO appears bleak, the future of the Barred Owl seems very bright in comparison - at last count, Barred Owls numbered six. (If you're curious, here is what a Northern Spotted Owl call sounds like. NSOmale4note2.mp3)
Barred owls have the evolutionary advantage over the Spotted. They are larger, more easily adaptable to inferior habitat and are more aggressive. As such, they are able to out-compete the Spotted and are pushing them out of what little prime habitat still exists. In an effort to reverse this trend, the USFWS is experimenting in small designated areas with the use of force to remove Barred owls. This method is still in the testing phase and its success, or not, is yet to be determined. I have spoken with a colleague in the Wildlife field who helps manage one of the areas selected for testing, and have been told that they’ve had good results; that is, after removal of the Barred Owls, some areas were reinhabited by Northern Spotted Owls.
Recovery At What Cost?
This is great news for the NSO; however, I am a bit ambivalent. While I agree with protecting the NSO from extinction and regret that we as humans played a major role in the decline of the species, I also understand evolution and survival of the fittest, though it is hard to say with certainty if it is in fact evolution at work here. One could argue that the Barred owl might not have flourished here had it not been for human encroachment and habitat modification. On the other hand, evolution has been a catalyst of change since the beginning of time. If it is in fact destined that the stronger of the species prevail, maybe further interference with nature isn’t the best course of action. At the end of the day it is harming one species to save another.
Heather Campbell is MKWC's invaluable Administrative/Grants Coordinator, and she also serves as our Wildlife Director in her spare time. Among other things, this means she orchestrates and participates in owl surveys, spearheads research about how to create more habitat for endangered monarch butterflies in disturbed areas on our landscape, and helps to educate the public about Pacific fishers and efforts to recover them in our area.
Posted by admin on May 31, 2015
by Mark Dupont
“…Most westerners are unaware of prehistoric extreme climate events that complete the regions long-term climate pattern. During millennia, climate has often varied by extremes in the American West. Close examination of the evidence suggests that the benign past century and half have not prepared us adequately for what could come in the future.“ So wrote B. Lynn Ingram and Frances Malamud in the book Roam, The West Without Water, What Past Droughts, Floods and other Climatic Clues Tell Us About Tomorrow.
The current way of life in the Klamath-Trinity Region rests on the assumption that there will always be an abundant supply of fresh water. We live in Northern California after all, the land of mountains and rivers, where the water originates that that is dammed and piped to the rest of the state. Meeting water needs has been pretty simple – you stick a pipe in a creek or spring, and you get all of the water you need, all year round, for your home and garden, and maybe power as well.
This situation, however, is changing. Now entering the fourth year of drought with zero snowpack, creeks and springs that were once reliable are now precipitously low, long before the dry summer months. California has experienced extended drought before, but never after 100 years of fire suppression, with a burgeoning, semi-legal marijuana industry, salmon on the brink of extinction, and a population of 32 million people using more water, spread across the landscape in fire’s path. California’s paleoclimate records show that the entire West has experienced megadroughts many times over the millennia, so we have no way of knowing how long this drought will last. While the past reveals that droughts can be long term and recurring; future climate models indicate we may now be entering a “new normal”, where increasing temperatures mean the loss of snowpack that feeds our creeks and rivers.
These changes demand a more nuanced approach to how we view and use water, but is our mindset changing as quickly as our hydrology and climate?
California’s weather is considered largely a result of conditions in the Pacific Ocean, which contains half the water on earth and covers a quarter of the globe. Two large-scale atmospheric patterns, the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) interact to determine the weather in the West. For a thorough description of these patterns (known as “teleconnections”) and how they affect our weather see Daniel Swain’s Weather West blog.
The present dry period is a result of a persistent, high-pressure, atmospheric ridge off the West Coast that has blocked moisture-bearing storms for the past four winters. Dubbed the “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge” by Swain, Atmospheric Scientist at Stanford University, this is the same pattern that forms in a normal summer, giving us months of blue skies and dry weather typical of a Mediterranean climate like the one where we live.
In most winters this system breaks up and the “storm door” opens, allowing moisture-bearing storms from the North and South Pacific to bring Fall and Winter rains to the West Coast. However, the high-pressure system has been particularly stubborn, and has persisted through many of the past several winters, as a result. Meteorologists see the formation of a strong El Niño as the best chance of breaking up the persistent high-pressure ridge and restoring more consistent rain to California.
Tree ring-sediment studies reveal recurring droughts in California’s climate history lasting from 10 to 200 years. 1987 – 1992 was the most recent dry spell, but before that an extended drought caused the Dust Bowl, one of the most dramatic disasters of the century. In the Middle Ages there were two droughts lasting over 200 years each.
The century starting in the late 1800s was one of the wetter periods in the West’s paleoclimate record. This also happens to have been the time when the massive water infrastructure of the West was made; dams were built, reservoirs filled, pipes and aqueduct laid, and far more water was promised than now exists.
Thus the climate that shaped early European settlement and mindset may well have been uncharacteristically moist, and it’s possible that we are now returning to dryer times.
But lack of rain is not the only factor in the current drought. In fact, rain gauges in the Mid Klamath are averaging about 80% of normal rainfall this year, so why are we still in a drought? A few important factors stand out: rainfall patterns have been erratic; we are experiencing the cumulative effect of several dry years in a row; and, most importantly, temperatures are increasing dramatically. Temperatures have been climbing the last few decades, and recent years have shattered records. The year 2014 was the hottest over recorded in California by a wide margin, and the first four-month period of 2015 was even hotter.
The heat is increasing evapotranspiration, drying out vegetation earlier, extending the fire season, and, most importantly, reducing snowpack to little or none. The pattern of rainfall has also been extremely erratic, falling in bursts punctuated by long, warm, dry spells. This season, most of precipitation came from warm pineapple express storms in November and December that left no snow on the mountains and flushed quickly through the watershed, followed by unusually warm and dry weather from January through April. With this year’s rainfall levels close to normal, but little snow, it will be interesting to note how this year plays out as it may well be a sign of things to come.
Cumulative effects play a large role in droughts, and 13 of the past 15 years have been below normal precipitation. It takes a lot of rainfall to replace moisture lost in soil and groundwater, which explains why it took so long for some ephemeral streams to start flowing when the rains came last year, and many gardeners found themselves irrigating their beds this February despite a wet Fall. Meteorologists look at three-year periods of data to determine drought status, and 30-year periods to determine climate. Data from the past three years puts us squarely within drought status. (As of May we are doing slightly better than the rest of the state, but that’s not saying much.) The USDA recently changed the climate zones for the entire country to reflect the change in temperatures across North America.
This same pattern of increasing temperatures and decreasing snowpack is reflected in global climate trends. Worldwide, 2014 was the hottest year on record, and the 10 hottest years on record have all occurred since 1998. The majority of the world’s freshwater is held in snow and glaciers, and snowpack is diminishing worldwide.
A report published in 2010 by the National Center for Conservation Science and Policy synthesizes the best climate models available and projects that within 70 years the Klamath snowpack will be virtually gone.
Mark Dupont is the Director of the Mid Klamath Watershed Council (MKWC) Foodsheds Program which works to ensure that people of the Middle Klamath have access to healthy, sustainable, locally produced foods. Mark and his partner Blythe also own and operate Sandy Bar Ranch in Orleans, which accommodates guests with riverside cabin rentals and a host of permaculture practices and educational opportunities on site.
Posted by admin on May 24, 2015
by Tanya Chapple
Did you know that the Orleans Iris or Ishi-Pishi Iris - Iris tenax klamathensis - is a rare plant? It is!
This special yellow blooming iris is only found here, nowhere else in California or Oregon, or the entire world. In fact it is commonly seen only on the west side of the Klamath River between Orleans and Somes Bar. In the past few weeks the sides of Ishi Pishi Road have been bejeweled by this iris. But the irises you see up the Salmon River, or toward Weitchpec or Happy Camp are different species.
Iris tenax ssp. klamathensis is an example of an endemic plant. Endemism is when an organism has a restricted range, found in only one region and not outside of that location. The Klamath Siskiyou biogregion is home to many endemic species because of its unique geography. And to me, the Orleans Iris is the flower shaped shining star that reminds me how special this place we live really is.
Learn more about the work the Middle Klamath Watershed Council (MKWC) is doing to protect native species and prevent invasive species from moving in, and how you can help. Visit our webpages about Restoration Friday volunteer workdays to pull weeds and reseed natives, our collaborative partnership with the Karuk Tribe to create an educational Native Plant Garden in Orleans, and ongoing Native Plant Walks. Also coming up June 18 in Orleans: a workshop on the rapid spread of Sudden Oak Death and what to look for.
MKWC Plants Program Director Tanya Chapple got her formal botany training at UC Berkeley, and has spent nearly a decade since applying that training on the ground in the Klamath-Siskiyou bioregion, to the benefit of communities and ecosystems.
Posted by admin on April 19, 2015
by Charles Wickman
Yesterday, this is what I knew about the foam on this river or any river: it’s a good place to fish.
Fishing Meaning From the Foam
Foam collects in eddies and along seams in the current, and collected with it are bugs, usually spent (mated and dead) aquatic insects like mayflies, stoneflies, caddis flies, midges, and drowned terrestrial insects like ants, beetles, grasshoppers, and myriad other dead and floating fish food.
If you’re fishing unfamiliar water and looking for a place to throw a fly, fishing the foam line is a solid place to start. Foam also provides cover for fish, allowing them to take advantage of slower currents under the foam mat while food rides a conveyor belt of faster current alongside them.
I grew up on a slow, warm, carp infested river in the Midwest, and bow hunting for ten pound carp, dorsal fins sticking out of billowy carpets of foam, was a favorite past time and the only reason to use a smoker. But that’s not really what I’m writing about.
What Rivers Eat
Every year, I hear people asking and concerned about the foam they see on the Klamath. They want to know if it’s toxic, something to stay away from, why don’t they see it on other local rivers, will it kill my dog? As it turns out, these are pretty good questions. And they’re probably questions I can’t answer – completely.
First, I think it’s important to understand that the presence of foam on lakes and rivers, all over the world, is almost ubiquitous. It’s naturally occurring in almost every water body and can be considered a natural byproduct of a lake or river’s “metabolism,” its digestion of organic matter in the water.
The Klamath River, and especially the mid Klamath River, happens to have a lot of this organic matter due to its unique course (and a few impoundments and agricultural run-off), from high desert through coastal mountains to the ocean. It starts out warm and cools down as it picks up cold-running tributaries from the Red Buttes, Siskiyous, and the Marbles, as opposed to most Pacific Northwest rivers which originate in snow melt of the Cascade Range and warm as they’re herded through ranchlands and agricultural valleys to the coast. The Klamath runs warm, even hot, through its upper reaches, more akin to the carp waters of my youth, and with warmth comes eutrophication, life, death, and foam.
When (Not) To Worry
The foam you see on the river is not unlike the foam you see in your kitchen sink when washing your dishes. Or, at least, the mechanism for producing the foam is the same, if the source of ingredients differ.
Foam is born of the breakdown of water’s surface tension by surfactants, or surface acting agents, which, in turn, are born of decomposing algae, plant and animal matter which release fatty acids into the water. Surfactant molecules are interesting in that one end of the molecule attracts water while the other repels it and this bit of molecular indecision is what breaks up the water’s surface tension, allowing bubbles to form and persist when water is agitated by wind, waves, riffles or jet boats.
The trouble is, not all surfactants are naturally occurring, and here’s the rub for the Klamath. No doubt, foam on this river predates synthetic surfactants like those in modern soaps, detergents, sewage treatments, agricultural fertilizers and other things that probably shouldn’t be put in our rivers. The Karuk Tribe language has a word for Klamath River foam: chánchaaf. Interestingly, this word can also mean “white,” which seems to be a “safe” color of river and lake foam. Excessive foam, off-colored foam, or off-smelling foam can indicate something else is going on, something the Clean Water Act was meant to protect against.
Get Answers or Go Fish!
Today, here is what I’m thinking: maybe this is another utility of foam (other than cover for fish); it’s one indicator of water quality, something that can point to something else. I am not the person, at least in this post, to interpret what that something else is, but those people are around and you should pester them. And if you’re not interested in pestering people or knowing more about the connection between our water quality and our foam, at least fish it.
Charles Wickman is the director of the Mid Klamath Watershed Council (MKWC) fisheries program, working to restore high-quality fish habitat for tough but beleaguered fish runs. He is also a resident of the Middle Klamath and a lifelong fisherman.
Posted by admin on March 22, 2015
by Luna Latimer
After another dry January, I felt giddy as the Klamath River started rising in February. I compared stories with friends about which house-sized rocks were quickly going underwater. I feel this excitement was warranted because when all was said and done, the flows were three times higher than the highest flows last year (which were dismal.)
What Watermarks Can Tell Us
I decided to do some comparison between this year and the 1964 flood that was 50 years ago, using US Geological Survey flow gauge data from the historical record. Here is what I found: The flows in Orleans on February 7, 2015 – the ones that made me giddy – were one quarter of the 1964 flows. I’ve been wanting to have a 50th Anniversary party for the 1964 flood. The lack of any type of flooding cooled my enthusiasm. Nonetheless, we made extra copies of a locally-produced 1964 Klamath Flood video and they are available in the Mid Klamath Watershed Council office in Orleans and on the MKWC YouTube page.
The 1964 footage is from Happy Camp and made available from Paula McCarthy. The video is shaky, but there are some real gems. Less than two minutes into the video a house washes downstream near Indian Creek. There is also about 30 seconds of archival footage of the greater North Coast from Caltrans. After the 1964 footage, Jock Sturges films the 1997 flood on the Salmon River. Will Harling and Charles Wickman provide footage of ishi Pishi Road and Camp Creek from the 1997 flood. There are also shots of Ishi Pishi Falls, the Salmon River confluence and Wooley Creek from Shawn Borque during the 2006 flood. Many thanks to the Klamath Salmon Media Collaborative for producing the video.
Our Unsure Flood Future
While the video of the '64 flood is great to have, what I really wish I had is a time-lapse photo of everything that happened after the flood. Log jams were cleared, houses were re-built, and people sured up against future floods.
This suring-up has had lasting impacts to the fishery in places like Seiad Creek where people have attempted to tame the unwieldy creek channel. MKWC will be working with the private landowners, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Karuk Tribe, and others to re-configure the channel that was created with bulldozers in the wake of the '64 flood, and subsequent floods in 1997 and 2006.
Putting It In Perspective
It is also notable what didn't change after the flood. Some creeks permanently left their original channel (like Bluff Creek). The 1964 flood is considered a 100-year flood. There is about a one percent chance of a flood like that happening in any given year. While I think that the 1964 flood is exceptional, by all accounts the "Great flood of 1862" was much larger. The 1862 flood is considered a 1,000-year flood. If you haven't had enough of flood videos yet, check out the ARkStorm Movie that the U.S. Geological Survey put together. It is about the 1862 flood and another future "ARkStorm" (a funny acronym for Atmospheric River 1000-year (k) storm).
Shown at left, a dip in the highway between the two stores in Orleans (one of which is now the Panamnik Building owned and operated as a community center by MKWC) went underwater in the 1964 flood. This picture helps us understand the reach of floods in our area and envision what a future flood could mean.
Luna Latimer is a Director of Mid Klamath Watershed Council (MKWC). Her keen observations and analysis in the field, the office and the region help us move in a good direction in our small, rural communities.