In The Field: Vegetation Mapping in the Klamath Mountains
Recording the area’s abundant biodiversity
By Michael Kauffmann and Julie Evens
The Klamath Mountains contain some of the most exceptional temperate plant communities in North America. Representative plants from the Cascades, North Coast Range, Sierra Nevada, and Great Basin all call the Klamath Mountains home. Botanical work within its geographic boundaries has recorded over 3,500 taxa (species, subspecies, and varieties) of vascular plants; 35 conifer species, and 20 species of oak occur in the Klamath Mountains ecoregion. These diverse communities manifest themselves in many ways—from the foothill forests of the western Klamath Mountains, which receive over 80 inches (200 cm) of precipitation per year and nurture some of the tallest trees in the world—to the very eastern edge of the range, which is characterized by western junipers and the grasses of the Great Basin Desert.
Why Map California’s Vegetation?
Vegetation maps provide essential information for managers and stewards of the land. People use a map’s thematic and geographic information to guide restoration and management decisions for recreation, forestry, conservation, and climate-change adaptation. California’s ecologists and geographers have made recent advances in developing accurate and efficient mapping methods, and CNPS—along with state agencies and geospatial partners—has played a role in the evolution of these mapping efforts from the beginning.
CNPS formed a vegetation sampling team with funding from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. It includes CNPS staff, Michael Kauffmann from the Bigfoot Trail Alliance, Lucy Kerhoulas, Rosemary Sherriff, Erik Jules, and many students from Cal Poly Humboldt. In the summer of 2023, we began exploring the Klamath Mountains, collecting over 425 data points in a wide range of vegetation assemblages across the region.
This was a powerful collaboration on many levels. One of the most rewarding aspects was the development of early career experiences for the team members. Mixing undergraduates, graduates, and natural resource professionals established a strong foundation where mentors taught plant identification and data collection skills to the next generation. This model was of utmost importance to everyone involved in this project.
As the season progressed, we planned a week of collaborative vegetation sampling. The group was offered a unique opportunity to stay at a private cabin along the Pacific Crest Trail, west of Mount Shasta in the Trinity Mountains (a sub-range of the Klamath Mountains). The Picayune Lake Preserve, owned by Hank Magnuski, formed the perfect base camp for the week’s collaboration. Over the course of our stay, we were visited by rare plant botanists, California Academy of Science researchers, and retired Forest Service botanists. The team collected plant specimens, documented rare plants, and mapped unique vegetation communities across the area. Jordan Collins, a CNPS rare plant botanist, documented the following gems in his time at the lake:
- Howellanthus dalesianus, CRPR 4.3
- Darlingtonia californica, CRPR 4.2
- Potamogeton praelongus, CRPR 2B.2
- Raillardella pringlei, CRPR 1B.2
- Parnassia cf. cirrata var. intermedia, CRPR 2B.2, CRPR 2B.2
The team also made numerous plant collections of both common and rare species. Collections are important because they provide us with information about plant diversity and distribution, which serves as evidence of a plant’s existence in time and space. If specimens are properly preserved and maintained, they can last for well over 200 years. In a time of rapid habitat loss, plant collections in herbaria provide important repositories and ensure availability for future research. We hope you’ve enjoyed this snapshot of our work. In 2024 and 2025, the team will continue its explorations. Plans include more veg-a-thons and well over 1,600 surveys, so stay tuned for future updates!