Category Archives: Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest

In the News: ‘Fire and smoke – we’re in it together’

Fire & Smoke. . . Chris Chambers, City of Ashland, Ore. and Merv George Jr., Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, speak at a TEDxAshland event in Talent, Ore. May 20, 2019. (Screen capture via YouTube, Aug. 20, 2019).

Last year, we had 300,000 acres on fire on and near the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. We welcomed 15,000 firefighters from all over the country, and actually from New Zealand and Australia as well, to come here, to help keep you safe. I spent over 200 million dollars last year, making sure that we got these fires out. In the past 2 years on the Rogue River -Siskiyou National Forest, 500,000 acres have burned.

So, what’s changed? Has it always been this way?

Merv George, forest supervisor for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, joined Chris Chambers, city forestland manager, author of the Ashland Community Wildfire Protection Plan, Jackson County Integrated Fire Plan, and creator of Ashland, Ore’s FireWise Communities and Fire Adapted Communities programs, to present a 20-minute talk at TEDxAshland in May. A video of their presentation was posted to YouTube last month.

The city and federal officials teamed up to explain why wildland fires have become landscape-scale challenge in many U.S> communities, and how the City of Ashland and the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest are answering that challenge by collaborating with each other and their entire community on creative solutions that have been demonstrated to reduce risk and save homes (and possibly lives), right in their own backyard.

You can view the complete presentation on YouTube, or watch it below.

Watch:

TEDxAshland in Talent, Ore., recorded May 20, 2019 (link via YouTube).

Old-growth forests may shelter pockets of biodiversity after severe fires

A northern spotted owl perches on a tree limb.

CORVALLIS, Ore. (July 2, 2019) New findings show that old-growth forests, a critical nesting habitat for threatened northern spotted owls, are less likely to experience high-severity fire than young-growth forests during wildfires.

This suggests that old-growth forest could be leveraged to provide valuable fire refuges that support forest biodiversity and buffer the extreme effects of climate change on fire regimes in the Pacific Northwest.

A recent study published in the journal Ecosphere examined the impact of the Douglas Complex and Big Windy fires, which burned in the Klamath-Siskiyou region of Oregon during July 2013, a drought year.

The fires burned through a long-term study area for northern spotted owls.

Using information on forest vegetation before and after the fires, along with known spotted owl nesting areas, researchers had an unprecedented chance to compare the impact of wildfire on critical old-growth nesting habitat.

“On federally managed lands, spotted owl nesting habitat is largely protected from timber harvest under the Northwest Forest Plan, but wildfire is still a primary threat to the old-growth forest that spotted owls rely on for nesting habitat,” Damon Lesmeister, a research wildlife biologist for the USDA Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station, said. “The loss of spotted owl nesting habitat as a result of severe fire damage could have significant negative impacts on the remaining spotted owl populations as well as a large number of other wildlife species that rely on these old forests.”

Old-growth forests have more vegetation than younger forests. Researchers expected that this meant more fuel would be available for wildfires, increasing the susceptibility of old-growth forests to severe fire, high tree mortality, and resulting loss of critical spotted owl nesting habitat.

However, the data suggested a different effect.

Lesmeister and his colleagues classified fire severity based on the percentage of trees lost in a fire, considering forest that lost less than 20% of its trees to fire as subject to low-severity fire and those with more than 90% tree loss as subject to high-severity fire.

They found that old-growth forest was up to three times more likely to burn at low severity — a level that avoided loss of spotted owl nesting habitat and is generally considered to be part of a healthy forest ecosystem. 

“Somewhat to our surprise, we found that, compared to other forest types within the burned area, old-growth forests burned on average much cooler than younger forests, which were more likely to experience high-severity fire. How this actually plays out during a mixed-severity wildfire makes sense when you consider the qualities of old-growth forest that can limit severe wildfire ignitions and burn temperatures, like shading from multilayer canopies, cooler temperatures, moist air and soil as well as larger, hardier trees,” Lesmeister said.

Because old-growth forests may be refuges for low-severity fire on a landscape that experiences moderate to high-severity fires frequently, they could be integral as biodiversity refuges in an increasingly fire-prone region.

Leveraging the potential of old-growth forests to act as refuges may be an effective tool for forest managers as they deal with worsening fire seasons in the Pacific Northwest.

The study was a collaboration between researchers Damon Lesmeister and David Bell, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station; Stan Sovern and Matthew Gregory, Oregon State University; Raymond Davis, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Region; and Jody Vogeler, Colorado State University. 


Source information: USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station (press release). The research station – headquartered in Portland, Ore. – generates and communicates scientific knowledge to help people make informed choices about natural resources and the environment. The station has 11 laboratories and centers located in Alaska, Washington, and Oregon and about 300 employees. Learn more at https://www.fs.usda.gov/pnw/

In the News: Portrait of a Fire Camp

firefighters study a map laid on the hood of a wildland fire truck

“Essentially, for every major fire that is fought in this country, a small city needs to be set up — often on the edge of the wilderness — to support the effort. It is a huge logistical challenge…”

Oregon Public Radio’s “Think Out Loud” spent a few days this summer in one such “tent city” near Grants Pass, Ore., where USDA Forest Service  – Pacific Northwest Incident Management Team 3 was set up, managing firefighting efforts on the Natchez and Klondike Fires on the Rogue River-Siskiyou and Klamath National Forests.

The result is a detailed exploration of life inside a fire camp, with the people who spend their summers supporting wildland firefighters out on the line. (The audio story is nearly a full hour, but its worth the time to listen all the way through).

Listen, at OPB.comhttps://www.opb.org/radio/programs/thinkoutloud/segment/fire-camp-firefighters-incident-command/

More information: For more information about the Klondike and Taylor Creek fires, visit Inciweb: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/5998/. For the Natchez Fire, visit https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/5948

A child's artwork, depicting a wildfire on a hill above a town, signed "Malin, Age. 10." The note reads: "Thank you firefighters! Keep it up! Know you're loved! We're so grateful! Thanks for keeping us safe!"

A thank you note to wildland fire crews working on the Klondike Fire, from a child in Cave Junction, Ore. The note reads: “Thank you firefighters! Keep it up! Know you’re loved! We’re so grateful! Thanks for keeping us safe!” and is signed by “Malin, Age. 10.” Photographed Aug. 11, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo.

Caging cones: Investing in a future for whitebark pine

A cross-section of an immature pine cone reveals the seeds developing inside.

A small vault, filled with neatly-ordered rows of seeds, with the potential to repopulate a forest — that could be a description for a pine cone, but it also describes the Dorena Genetic Research Center on the Umpqua National Forest.

“People have no idea,” Haley Smith, seed program coordinator for the research center, said. “We have a really valuable resource on the Umpqua, our seed bank, that’s been here for 50 years.”

For Smith, the Dorena Genetic Research Center is a place where suiting up to saving a tree species could mean donning a snowsuit rated to resist the freezer’s subzero chill, or strapping into a harness to scale trees in search of the cones that have given rise to a catalog that’s now 250 million seeds strong, and counting.

An employee wears a snowsuit and gloves to retrieve a drawer from a large storage freezer

Haley Smith retrieves seeds stored in a specialized seed-storage freezer at the Dorena Genetic Research Center on the Umpqua National Forest, Oregon, in an undated photo. This freezer stores 250 million seeds, collected from 35 species. The center also stores seeds for dozens of additional species in a separate cooler. USDA Forest Service photo (provided by Haley Smith).

In July, Smith was among a small team of Forest Service employees collecting seed for the bank from a stand of whitebark pines, Pinus albicaulus, perched high on the Umpqua National Forest’s Tipsoo Peak July 26.

Several of the trees had proved resistant in previous testing against White pine blister rust, an invasive fungus that has blighted stands of five-needle pines for more than a century.

The fungus, Cronartium ribicola, originated in China and arrived in the continental U.S. at the turn of the last century, where it quickly established itself on both coasts and began to spread. It reached in southern Oregon by the 1950s, and arrived in Colorado a decade ago.

“It’s still on the move,” Joshua Bronson, a plant pathologist for the Southwest Oregon Forest Insect & Disease Service Center, stationed on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, said.

Bronson helped organize the Tipsoo Peak cone-caging expedition.

“All of the high-altitude species are a concern to scientists, as we monitor the effects of the warming climate,” he said. “But with the disease, this one is especially urgent.”

A view of a climber in a tree, placing hardware cloth cages on developing pine cones.

An unidentified USDA Forest Service employee places cone cages on a whitebark pine tree on the Fremont-Winema National Forest July 18, 2015. The cages are used to protect cones from wildlife until harvesters return to collect their seeds later in the season. USDA Forest Service photo by Haley Smith.

A half-century ago, initial investments into research into white pine blister rust resistance often focused on Western white pine and sugar pine, species important to the region’s timber industry, Robin Darbyshire, a silviculturist for the USDA Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest regional office, said.

In contrast, whitebark pine is found in alpine environments that are often too steep or environmentally-sensitive to log. Yet it brings extraordinary value to the forest in other ways.

The tree is considered a “nursery species” because it creates shade and shelter for other plants at those high elevations, Darbyshire said.

Its seeds are high in fat and protein, a prize for any creature trying to survive in the wild.

“It’s really the iconic tree at higher elevations, like around Timberline Lodge. There’s also a bird, Clark’s nutcracker, that’s dependent on the seeds,” she said.

In fact, the tree is also dependent on the birds. To reduce competition, the pine has evolved a tough cone that keeps most critters away – but also prevents its seeds from sprouting, without an assist from the outside.

“(The nutcrackers) have these long bills that can get in there to get at the seeds,” Darbyshire said. “They’re the only species that can get in there. Maybe a bear could crack them open, but, that’s about it.”

And if the cones aren’t opened, the seeds inside won’t germinate, she said

This symbiotic relationship is just one of the intricate ecological dependencies threatened by white pine blister rust.

A pine tree, with a single branch blighted by White pine blister rust, is visible in the foreground against a panoramic view of mountain peaks and a lake.

Mount Thielsen and Diamond Lake are visible in this view from Tipsoo Peak on the Umpqua National Forest, taken during a cone-caging expedition, July 26, 2018, in preparation for harvesting seed later this year. A single branch of whitebark pine tree in the foreground has been damaged by white pine blister rust, a fungus that has blighted stands of several five-needle pine species since it was introduced to North America about a century ago. Researchers are working to identify and collect seed from trees with disease-resistant characteristics in an effort to help repopulate lost stands and prevent the species’ extinction. USDA Forest Service photo by Joshua Bronson.

The fungus bores into the tree’s twigs and needles, developing spores that erupt from blisters on its bark and spreading to low-growing carrier plants, which carry it between stands and make the disease difficult to contain or eradicate when it enters a new area.

The infections leave scars, or “cankers,” that cut-off the flow of water and nutrients in a branch. Eventually, enough branches die to kill the tree, or the tree is weakened enough that it falls victim to insects, drought, or other stresses that finish the job.

In 1966, Forest Service researchers at the Dorena Genetic Research Center began collecting seeds and genetic material from five-leafed of pines, in an effort to test individual trees for disease-resistance, and clone or breed the most disease-resistant trees.

Today, the lab’s staff continues that work. They also breed Port Orford cedar for resistance to a root disease, and manage the USDA Forest Service’s National Tree Climbing program.

The systematic cultivation, testing, and breeding for disease-resistance is painstaking work.

A hand holds an individually potted, labeled seedling, lifted from a larger batch of seedlings on a tree nursery table

Whitebark pine seedlings, in a July 25, 2018 photo taken at the Dorena Seed Research Center nursery. Seeds are pre-treated to convince they’re going through winter, a process called “stratification,” then germinated under controlled conditions. White bark pine’s stratification process takes 120-140 days. “That has the tag for a tree that I climbed on, it’s a tree on Mt. Bailey,” Haley Smith, Seed Program Coordinator for the center, said. The seeds underwent stratification in November, 2017, and planted in April, 2018. If grown for testing, they will be exposed to clouds of white pine blister rust spores and monitored for disease-resistance to assign the parent tree a “letter grade” to determine whether the tree should be tracked for future harvests, which may occur every seven to ten years. If the seed is from a previously-tested tree, they could also be used to replant when tree stands lost to disease or fire. “Clones” grown from clippings taken from disease resistant trees can also be grafted to mature root stock and used to establish an “orchard” for future seed harvests. USDA Forest Service photo by Haley Smith.

“We have (seeds) that have been collected since the sixties. And for each of those trees, we know exactly which one it is, where it’s located, where the ‘mom’ tree is – or was, it may not even be there anymore,” Smith said. “If it’s one we bred in our nursery, we might even know which ‘dad’ the pollen came from.”

But before any of that can happen, someone has to collect those seeds.

A woman in a hard hat smiles in a

Haley Smith shoots a selfie while caging pine cones for later seed harvest in a stand of White bark pine being monitored for White pine blister rust-resistance on Tipsoo Peak, Umpqua National Forest, Oregon July 26, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo by Haley Smith.

At Tipsoo Peak, Bronson and Smith were joined by Kayla Herriman, manager of the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region seed extractory on Deschutes National Forest; Russell Oakes, silviculturalist for the Umpqua National Forest; Zachary Dimare, a Forestry Technician on the Umpqua; and Skylar Hamilton, an intern at Dorena.

The team hiked to the peak, a climb of approximately 1,500 feet, each carrying up to 80 pounds of outdoor essentials, climbing gear, and wire cages to protect selected cones from hungry nutcrackers until they return for the harvest.

“Whitebark pine is one of my favorite trees to climb. It’s got wide open branches, and it grows in places that tend to have incredible views,” Smith said.

Dimare said the long hike, heavy pack, and climb into the treetops at Tipsoo Peak was almost worth it, just for that view.

“It’s really dramatic up there. You can imagine you’re at the top of the world,” he said.

It’s hard to put a price tag on those drawers of seeds in storage at Dorena, but one measure is the labor cost that goes into collecting the seeds — seeds which are perishable, and must be constantly replenished.

It takes at least three trips to a stand of trees to harvest their seeds. Bronson’s first hike to scout the site is an annual requirement, to ensure if the stand’s cone and seed production is on track to produce enough seeds for a harvest.

It’s a trip that is repeated many times each year, often without results. For the whitebark pine, an individual stand of trees produce a crop sufficient to be harvested for seed only about once in every seven-to-ten years. If successful, a cone-caging trip follows, and then a third trip to collect the harvest — hopefully, before the snow falls.

Once collected, the supply of stored seed must constantly replenished. Conifer seeds keep five to fifteen years in storage, but it takes ten to fifteen years for seeds, once germinated, to grow into a tree capable of producing seeds of its own; even if they are grafted to mature root stock to accelerate the process.

Hardware cloth bags cover pine cones in a tree on a mountainside.

Hardware cloth bags protect White bark pine cones identified for later seed harvesting on Umpqua National Forest, Oregon July 26, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo by Haley Smith.

Participants in the Tipsoo Peak expedition caged cones on five whitebark pines; four that had been previously tested for white pine blister rust disease-resistance. The fifth tree’s seeds, when gathered, will be tested — a process that entails germinating trays of seedlings, isolating them, and then inoculating them in a cloud of white pine blister rust spores, and watching to see how quickly they succumb to the disease

“The major limiting factor, besides access to the trees, is how many of the cages we can carry,” Bronson said. “We can’t cage everything… I’m hoping we can get at least 30 cones from each of these, and by the looks of it we may have up to 50 from some of them.”

With similar expeditions taking place on forests across the Pacific Northwest, the region’s seed program  is on track to harvest 700 bushels of cones from various species, or approximately 550 pounds of seeds, this year, Darbyshire said.

A yellow sign nailed to a blazed tree reads:

Durable signage marks a tree being monitored for disease-resistant characteristics on the Fremont-Winema National Forest July 18, 2018. Some forests have “orchards” of trees, grown from seeds or clones of trees that have previously proved to be disease-resistant, to increase the supply of seed stock available for re-planting and future survivability of at-risk species. USDA Forest Service photo by Haley Smith.

While the work is arduous, the need for seeds is critical. Forest seed program managers try to keep a 10-year supply of seed in stock at any time. Many are used to restore areas impacted by severe wildfire, and a bad season can easily reduce those stores to just a 1-2 year supply.

The loss of trees to fungus and the race to establish more disease-resistant stands only adds to that urgency when it comes to replacing White bark pines. While it was one of the first trees studied, it took researchers years just to figure out how to germinate its seeds.

“These trees grow in such a harsh environment. You really have to convince them that conditions are just right for them to grow,” Smith said.

Once a tree’s seeds are collected and it’s seeds germinated and tested for disease-resistance in a lab, scientists must to wait years until the parent tree again produces enough seeds to collect, plant, and raise into trees that are again ready to harvest seeds from.

The entire process can take decades, if it can be completed at all.

Darbyshire said she has helped harvest seeds from trees she planted at the beginning of her career. “I never thought that would happen, it’s an incredible feeling,” she said.

On the other hand, she’s also seen trees planted in hope of future harvests consumed by wildfires.

“If we lose orchard, that’s a really hard loss. We’ve invested so many years in those trees,” she said.

While the research investment represented by any single tree enrolled in the genetics program is enormous, the work required to collect even a single seed is probably more than most people would imagine, Smith said.

“When you think about how long it takes for us to climb those trees… that was days of preparation, that was several people in the field all day, and then we come back, and clean the seed,” she said. Seed is stored in an envelopes, each organized by tree and by year.

“There are 20 little envelopes in each one of the drawers. It’s a ton of work, in each one of those little envelopes. And I’ll produce about eight of those drawers in one year,” she said.

A person in a climbing harness places a metal mesh bag in a White bark pine tree.

Zachary Dimare, a forestry technician on the Umpqua National Forests, places a hardware cloth cage over a whitebark pine cone to protect it for later collection during a seed-caging expedition on the forest’s Tipsoo Peak July 26, 2018. The seed is the primary food source for Clark’s nutcracker, one of the few species that can penetrate its cones’ tough exterior. USDA Forest Service photo by Joshua Bronson.

A climber, sitting on a tree limb, places a metal mesh bag on a pine cone

Russell Oakes, a silviculturist for the Umpqua National Forest, places a hardware cloth cage over a whitebark pine cone to protect it for later collection during a seed-caging expedition on the forest’s Tipsoo Peak July 26, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo by Haley Smith.

After more than fifty years, these efforts – and many more like them – add up to an  investment that could decide the future of the species.

Whitebark pine is not currently listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act, though it remains a candidate for future listing.

Scientists have said without intervention, it could become extinct in its native range within the next 100 years.

Dimare said that knowing he is helping make a difference in the species’ chances for survival is one reason he volunteered to become certified as a climber.

“I’m a forestry tech. I spend most of my time cruising timber and marking trees (for cutting). But these trees need our help to survive,” he said.

Cover photo: Seed collectors perform a “cut-face test” cones to determine if a tree is producing cones with sufficient, healthy seeds to harvest. For white bark pine, the standard is least eight viable seeds on the cut face, which means the cone contains an estimated 40 to 75 healthy seeds. USDA Forest Service photo by Joshua Bronson.

For more photos from the Dorena Genetic Resource Center, visit the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Forest Health Flickr album:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/151887236@N05/albums/72157670761346628


Source information: Catherine “Cat” Caruso is the strategic communication lead for the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region’s Office of Communications and Community Engagement, and edits the “Your Northwest Forests” blog. You can reach her at ccaruso@fs.fed.us.

VIDEO: Drones are changing how wildland fire is fought

A firefighter loads plastic sphere dispensers into an unmanned aerial system, or drone, that will be used to deliver the payload

Drones are changing the way we scout and manage wildland fires; getting eyes on backcountry and steep terrain without additional “boots on the ground,” providing real-time information about terrain, conditions and fire intensity – even in zero-visibility smoke – using thermal and infrared cameras, and even allowing firefighters to light backfires, used to encircle and contain a larger fire, remotely in terrain that can’t be safely accessed by firefighters.

In this video, Incident Commander Tom Kurth with the Alaska Interagency Incident Management Team introduces four applications for unmanned aerial systems, or drones, for use in fire management: aerial survey; heat location; aerial firing; and mapping. The Alaska Interagency Incident Management Team was assigned to incidents in southwest Oregon during the summer of 2018.

 

Unauthorized drones are a serious hazard to aviators, aircraft and firefighters during wildland fires. Not only do they place aircraft, passengers and crews at risk, but dection of unauthorized flights grounds dozens of emergency air resource flights supporting wildland firefighting efforts every year.

Unmanned Aerial Systems, or drones, are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration.  Never use a personal drone to fly over an emergency response area, and check for temporary flight restrictions every time you fly.

All drones are aircraft - even the ones at the toy store. When you fly a drone, you're a pilot. Use your pre-flight checklist - stay below 400 ft., stay within your visual line of sight, don't fly within 5 miles of an airport without first contacting air traffic control and airport authorities, and always check for temporary flight restrictions before you fly. For more info, visit faa.gov/uas or knowbeforeyoufly.org

All drones are aircraft – even the ones at the toy store. When you fly a drone, you’re a pilot. Use your pre-flight checklist – stay below 400 ft., stay within your visual line of sight, don’t fly within 5 miles of an airport without first contacting air traffic control and airport authorities, and always check for temporary flight restrictions before you fly. For more info, visit faa.gov/uas or knowbeforeyoufly.org


Source information: Alaska Interagency Incident Management Team, via Northwest Interagency Fire Information Center – Pacific Northwest Fire Information, on YouTube

NIFC reports 1,300 lightning strikes in S. Oregon overnight

Map depicting heavy lightning in southern Oregon

PORTLAND, Ore. – June 16, 2018 –The Northwest Interagency Fire Information Center reports higher-than-average temperatures, low humidity, and lack of rain are contributing to new fire starts in southern Oregon following thunderstorms that brought more than 13,000 lightning strikes in the past 24 hours.

The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, located in southwest Oregon, reported more than 100 new fire starts today, following the storms, and is implementing seasonal restrictions on potentially fire-causing activities on the forest.

The Umpqua National Forest also announced seasonal fire restrictions are in effect on that forest, beginning today, due to the hot, dry weather and rising wildland fire risk.

The Klamathon Fire, which has been burning in north-central California just south of the Oregon border, is 90 percent contained as of this morning, according to Inciweb. a federal and state inter-agency wildland fire incident information system.

The National Weather Service in Pendleton, Ore. has issued a red flag warning for southern Oregon from Tuesday, July 17 at 1 p.m. through Wednesday, July 18 at 8 p.m. due to forecasted wind gusts and continuing dry weather creating elevated fire risk and potential for extreme fire behavior.

Read more Pacific NW wildland fire-related news and weather info on the Northwest Fire Information Center blog: http://nwccinfo.blogspot.com/.

For more information about specific, large (named) fires, visit InciWeb: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/.

Map depicting heavy lightning in southern Oregon

The Northwest Interagency Fire Coordination Center in Portland, OR reported 1336 lightning strikes in 24 hours in southern Oregon, from 8 a.m. July 15 to 8 a.m. July 16, 2018.


Source Information: Northwest Fire Information Center, InciWeb, Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, Umpqua National Forest (staff reports)

Glide Wildflower Show, April 27-28

Close-up of a drawing of purple Kalimopsis fragans flowers by Jennifer Curtis, from the 2018 Glide Wildflower Show poster.

The Glide Wildflower Show is April 28 and 29, 2018 at the Glide Community Center in Glide, Ore.

Forest Service botanists will be among those helping identify more than 600 flowering plants gathered from local forests and fields by volunteers for display.

Local businesses and organizations organize a variety of wildflower-themed community events during the show weekend.

Find news about the exhibition and related events on the show’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Glide-Wildflower-Show-377053879003054/.

Website: http://www.glidewildflowershow.org/.

2018

Further afield: Spring wildflower preview

There’s a saying, April showers bring May flowers. But even in March, any color that punctures winter’s gloom makes us wonder “when will the wildflowers arrive?”

Wildflower season brings big crowds to the region’s most accessible mountain meadows, which are renowned for producing dense displays of short-lived summer blooms.

Beginning March 31, 2018, Skamania County will provide shuttle service on busy weekends at Dog Mountain in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area to help alleviate traffic that created parking and safety issues, and visitors who don’t use the shuttle on those dates will need a Forest Service permit before they go.

More information: https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/crgnsa/fire/?cid=FSEPRD572962.

Mark Skinner, regional botanist for the Forest Service – Pacific Northwest region spring, 2018 seems like a relatively typical wildflower season so far, in that the first spring flowers don’t seem to be significantly ahead or behind schedule in most areas.

But it’s notoriously difficult to predict when flower displays will “peak,” he said.

“Any place you go there are things that bloom early and there are things that bloom late. There are irises blooming the second week of April on the Umpqua (National Forest), but the lilies aren’t going to bloom until early July,” Skinner said.

Some of the first spring flowers in the northwest arrive as early as late winter, such as the blossoms on native cherries and other fruit-bearing bushes and shrubs.

The glacier lily, Erythronium grandiflorum, is among of the first flowers that emerges at higher elevations, appearing as snowbanks retreat in sub-alpine areas.

A Pacific Dotted Blue butterfly perches on a bluehead gilia blossom

A Pacific Dotted Blue butterfly perches on a bluehead gilia blossom at Marys Peak on the Siuslaw National Forest in this undated Bureau of Land Management photo.

One such area, Mary’s Peak, on the Siuslaw National Forest, is known to be an excellent site for spring flower spotting.

The area is a Forest Service-designated special botanical area.

“It’s a little earlier of a season than other spots in the Cascades, on higher peaks, and it’s also easy to access,” Lisa Romano, the forest’s Public Affairs Officer, said.

The Marys Peak day use area and parking lot are located alongside the largest of the mountain’s five sub-alpine fields, with a dirt road a path around the summit’s other meadows, a rock garden and a streambed, where a variety of other flowers can be found.

If you’re up for a more of a challenge, Tatoosh Ridge on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington, offers views spectacular views of Mount Rainier beyond exuberant summer flower displays in July.

Longtime northwest hiker Jay Stern filed trip reports from the trail on nwhikers.net in 2016 and 2017.

meadow filled with wildflowers

Bands of colored flowers dominate the landscape in this Tatoosh Ridge meadow, photographed by hiker Jay Stern during a July 16, 2017 trip to Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Originally published on nwhikers.net by the photographer (used with permission).

He recommends waiting until the July snow melt is well underway, bringing hiking poles, plenty of water, and watching other hiker’s trip reports if you are trying to time your trip around “peak color.”

“It’s worth the effort,” Stern said. “But that first section, the first two miles are going to be steep… you’re going to work for it.”

For a less intense hike, Willamette National Forest botanist Ryan Murdoff suggests the Tire Mountain trail, where visitors can find Washington lily (Lilium washingtonianum), wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca), vanilla leaf (Achlys triphylla), field chickweed (Cerastium arvense), Oregon Sunshine (Eriophyllum quamash), broadleaf lupine (Lupinus latifolius), and other wildflowers. The trail leads into the Pacific Crest Trail system and is also open to horseback riders and mountain bikes.

For access to a variety of hikes and an expansive assortment of wildflowers, public affairs specialist Chiara Cipriano suggests the Iron Mountain, also located on Willamette National Forest.

More than 300 species of wildflowers grow in the area, and nearby trailheads offer several hiking options.

Two popular routes include the short summit hike, which leads to a viewing platform, and the Cone Peak trail, a longer trail but at a a gentler grade that takes hikers through several meadows.

Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest botanist Helen Lau likes to send flower-seekers on a scenic driving tour: from Reecer Creek Rd. in Ellensburg, Wash., to Forest Service Rd. 3500 on the forest, and then follow the road up Table Mountain.

“The diversity of habitats within this drive are wonderful,” Lau said.

Wildflowers paint a red and green swath along the rocky edge of Soda Creek

Wildflowers paint a red and green swath along the rocky edge of Soda Creek on Deschutes National Forest in this undated USDA Forest Service photo.

Visitors who time their trip right can see forested roads carpeted with yellow balsam root (Basamorhiza sagittatta), dotted with showy phlox (Phlox speciose), and brightly-colored penstemon species. At higher elevations, they’ll find rugged, rocky meadows studded with brightly colored blossoms.

Cheryl Bartlet, a botanist based on the Olympic National Forest, also suggested a forest drive; Forest Road 24 to Lake Cushman, outside Hoodsport, Wash.

“It’s accessible to everyone, and is very easy to get to,” she said.

On their way to the lake, travelers pass cliffs and rocky areas supporting a diverse mix of summer wildflowers, including harsh paintbrush (Castilleja hispida), Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum), blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia parviflora), seablush (Plectritis congesta), farewell-to-spring (Clarkia amoena), checker lily (Fritillaria affinis), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), columbine (Aquilegia formosa), and sticky cinquefoil (Drymocallis glandulosa).

“Every spring, there’s a pretty spectacular display of seep monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus) and chickweed monkeyflower (Erythranthe alsinoides) on the cliff faces,” Bartlet said.

Just watch out for the equally-bountiful poison oak along the roadway, she warned; wait to reach the lake before getting out to enjoy the scenery, or extend your trip by following trails from the Dry Creek, Mt. Rose or Mt. Ellinor trailheads.

Three Peaks Botanical Area, located in the upper Wynoochee River watershed along Forest Service Rd. 2270, is another top spot for wildflowers on the Olympic Peninsula.

The area was designated as a botanical area to protect ancient stands of Alaska yellow cedar (Callitropsis nootkatensis), but is also home to wet meadows that support a particularly diverse mix of species, such as the yellow-flowered sedge (Carex anthoxanthea) and northern Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia palustris), Bartlet said.

Yellow, red and blue wildflowers in a grassy field.

An array of primary colors make this grouping of wildflowers stand out at Starvation Ridge, Wallowa-Whitman National Forest in this undated USDA Forest Service photo.

Other species include elephant’s head (Pedicularis groenlandica), pale larkspur (Delphinium glaucum), sticky false asphodel (Tofieldia glutinosa), arrowleaf groundsel (Senicio triangularis), Canadian burnet (Sanguisorba canadensis), marsh violet (Viola palustris), broad-leaved Caltha (Caltha biflora), leatherleaf saxifrage (Leptarrhena pyrolifolia) and yellow willowherb (Epilobium luteum).

Visitors may even catch a glimpse of Bartlet’s favorite flower, the common butterwort; a small plant, with a purple flower rising from a bundle of yellow-green leaves and one of the Pacific Northwest’s few native carnivorous plants.

The leaves secrete a digestive enzyme that slowly dissolves small insects, and it’s scientific name, Pinguicula vulgaris, means “greasy little fat one.”

“What’s not to love?” Bartlet said.

For earlier blooms, Patrick Lair, public affairs officer for the Ochoco National Forest, suggests visiting the Big Summit Prairie, near Prineville, Ore.

Wildflowers on Big Summit Prairie

Wildflowers abound on Big Summit Prairie, Ochoco National Forest, in this undated USDA Forest Service photo.

As early as April, visitors can find pink desert shooting stars (Dodecatheon conjugens) and lavender grass widow flowers (Olsynium douglasii).

In May and June, yellow wooley mule’s ears (Wyethia mollis) and purple camas flowers (Camassia quamash) begin to bloom in the fields, while pink and white bitterroot blossoms (Lewisia rediviva) emerge on the dry, rocky flats.

In June and July, look for western blue flag (Iris missouriensis), coastal larkspur (Delphinium decorum), giant red paintbrush (Castilleja miniata), Oregon checkermallow (Sidalcea oregana), and arrow-leaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata), and Peck’s mariposa lily (Calochortus longebarbatus var. peckii) – a delicate blossom with round, blue-lavender petals that grows only in the Ochoco Mountains.

Fireweed bush grows on a rocky ridge above a lake

A cluster of fireweed grows on Harry’s Ridge, above Spirit Lake, at Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in an undated USDA Forest Service photo.

For a longer drive, the forest’s Paulina District created a “Scabland Tour” that maps an all-day trek through several forest habitats. The route includes juniper and pine forest, wet meadows, and rocky scabland, views of the Snow Mountains, and a spectacular array of wildflowers, including Arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamhoriza sagittata), mule-ears (Wyethia amplexicaulis), Sagebrush mariposa lily (Calochortus macrocarpus), lupine, and tapertip onion (Allium acuminatum).

In southwest Oregon, the T.J. Howell Botanical Drive through Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest offers several vantage points for viewing wildflowers and unusual plants, including Eight Dollar Mountain Botanical Wayside, Days Gulch Botanical Area, Josephine Camp, and Little Falls Trail.

Howell’s saxifrage (Micranthes howellii) and Howell’s mariposa lily (Calochortus Howellii) can be seen at various locations. Both named for Thomas Jefferson Howell, one of the state’s earliest botanists.

Another of the Northwest’s few carnivorous species, the California pitcher plant (Daringtonia californica), is found in wetland areas.

The forest’s Rough and Ready Flat Botanical Area is another area known for unusual plants, including several rare, threatened and endangered species.

Three Fingered Jack rock formation with flowers in the foreground

Wildflowers pepper the field beneath Three Finger Jack at Canyon Creek, Deschutes National Forest in an undated USDA Forest Service photo.

McDonald’s rock-cress (Arabis macdonaldiana), a federally listed endangered species, Hooker’s Indian-pink (Silene hookerii), and the two-eyed violet (Viola ocellata) are among the more unusual blooms, and appear alongside more common species like nodding arnica (Arnica cordifolia), coast larkspur (delphinium decorum), and western buttercup (Ranunculus occidentalis). Flowers begin to emerge in March, with peak blooms in later April through May.

Further north, the Sauk Mountain day hike on Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest offers 1500 feet of elevation gain over two miles, with sweeping views of sub-alpine meadows, North Cascades mountain peaks, and the Skagit River valley.

Trailhead parking tends to fill up on weekends during peak wildflower season, so mid-week hikes are recommended. The mountain’s wildflower season is typically peaks in late July.

Wildflowers skirt the shore of Crescent Lake

Wildflowers skirt the shore of Crescent Lake on the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest in this undated USDA Forest Service photo.

And although Heather Meadows is better known as home to Mount Baker ski area, forest staff  say it’s also an excellent setting for wildflower hikes in late July, when the snow pack briefly recedes.

The Fire and Ice interpretive trail includes a 100 yard, accessible paved path with seating and an overlook, while Artist Ridge trail is a one mile loop featuring fields of Alaska bell-heather (Harrimanella stelleriana) and species like Avalanche Lilies (Erythronium montanum), broad-leaf lupine (Lupinus latifolius) and spreading phlox (Phlox diffusa).

The Bagley Lakes trail features a 3/4 mile path, with waterfalls and wildflowers along the route.

Green Mountain, accessible via Suiattle River Rd. (Forest Service Rd. 26) off State Route 530, is another popular hike on the forest. Its wildflower season peaks in mid to late July, and is best visited mid-week to avoid crowds.

Wildflowers along Kettle Crest trail

Wildflowers grow along the Kettle Crest Trail, Colville National Forest in an undated USDA Forest Service photo.

In northeast Washington, the 44-mile Kettle Crest – South trail, part of the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail on the Colville National Forest, offers numerous opportunities for wildflower seekers, as it follows the ridgeline over multiple peaks. One highlight is the White Mountain trailhead, located 30 miles outside Colville, Wash.

Kettle Crest – North also features numerous mountaintop meadows along the route.

For non-hikers, the portion of State Route 20 from Usk to Cusick, Wash., near Colville National Forest, features plentiful flowers along the roadway in mid-to-late May. The route is paved and passable by passenger vehicles.

If you have a vehicle capable of driving off-road (pick-up truck or SUV), consider entering the forest via Iron Mountain Rd. (Forest Service Rd. 9535) outside Addy, Wash. in late May or early June. Look for a rocky outcrop about 1 mile southwest of the junction with Forest Service Rd. 300, for “a stupendous view of the Colville Valley, north and south,” Franklin Pemberton, the forests’ public affairs officer, said.

Highlights include prairie stars (Lithophragma parviflora), desert parsley and biscuitroot species (Lomatium sp.), and shooting stars (Dodecatheon hendersonii), plus “a few surprises,” he said.

But while flowers are a great way to get people excited about the outdoors, regional botanist Skinner believes sometimes people focus too much on timing trips in search of peak blooms, and overlook the flowers blooming all around them, every day.

Glide Wildflower Show; April 28-29, 2018 in Glide, OR. Suggested donation is $3.

The Glide Wildflower Show is April 28-29 in Glide, Ore.

“We have one of the outstanding floras of the world, with plant diversity being especially rich. We’ve got hundreds of species found nowhere else, and some of the most spectacular forests in the world. It’s a fantastic place for plants.” Skinner said.

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One place visitors are guaranteed to see plenty of wildflowers is at the Glide Wildflower Show, April 28 and 29, at the Glide Community Center in Glide, Ore. Forest Service botanists will be among those helping identify more than 600 flowering plants gathered from local forests and fields by volunteers for display! Find news about the exhibition and related events on the show’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Glide-Wildflower-Show-377053879003054/

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