Many high alpine meadows in the Sierra Nevada are undergoing conversion to lodgepole pine woodland and forest. These pines are grand and beautiful in many ways, but its the meadows that are risking extinction since they have little ability to equilibrate with the pines given reduced wildfires. These vast meadows that are critical habitat for wildlife and wildflowers alike are losing out to marching pines that seem to particularly invade (and become established) on excessively dry years (see John Helms’ 1987 Madrono article). Notably, as with many climate mediated change, the changes aren’t necessarily gradual. They occur at distinct moment (punctuated equilibrium), when a system will transition suddenly from one state to another: e.g. wet meadow with running water becoming mesic pine stand. A ticking timebomb if you will. Once the conditions are right, and all the seeds are in place, the pines get through a critical 3-year growth cycle and become established even if conditions return to a wetter cycle.
One notable implication occurs at the pollinator level. Bumblebees, bees, butterflies, and other pollinators typically have fewer flowers available in a closed canopy pine forest vs. an alpine wildflower meadow. Where will Pooh get his honey when the pines come marching in? I’m not sure, but I know that big meadows certainly are important for pollinator services. Basically, we could start to see quick losses in pollinator habitat at high elevation if meadows are congested with pines.
With bittersweet timing, the government has closed its doors on Yosemite’s “birthday” as a national park (which should rightfully be called Ahwahneechee National Park had a historian been involved in determining the proper name of the local native peoples who lived here). This is a place very dear to my heart. A place where we as a family can experience excitement, being humble, and being alive.
The act of designating national parks and protected areas is arguably one of the greatest accomplishments of the US government. That said, these areas do need regular funding to maintain safe access, steward important resources, and provide user experiences that will increase ones interest in the park, its resources, and history. Staff and volunteers are an essential element of any park – whether you see them or not. Continue reading →
Yes, you read that right. One of the most iconic, magical places on earth will only be accessible by trespass. This is what we call Fortress Conservation in the ecology field: buy the land – then put a fence around it to limit human interaction.
Erecting fences is a short-sighted, privilege-driven way of doing conservation. It’s not a way to promote conservation, it’s the way to kill it.