by Jeanine Moy
Two mountain ranges abruptly intersect along the southern Oregon border; the melding of the north-south Cascades and the east-west Siskiyou Mountains create a region of transition, contrast, and renowned biodiversity. This area provides vital connectivity between the Cascade Mountains, the Siskiyou Mountains, the Coast Ranges of Oregon and California, the high deserts of eastern Oregon, and the interior valleys of southern Oregon and northern California. In essence, the Cascade-Siskiyou region ties together the major plant communities and ecoregions of the west. These low laying mountains contain interesting overlap and grasslands, oak woodlands, juniper scrub, chaparral, dry pine forests, moist fir forests, meadows, glades, wetlands, springs and volcanic rock outcrops.
In 2000 the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument was established as the first and only monument designated for the primary purpose of protecting biodiversity. In January 2016, President Obama expanded the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument to its present 113,000 acres.
The most iconic landmark in the monument is Pilot Rock, but the expansion adds areas to the south, including Scotch Creek in California. To the west are the Rogue Valley foothills. In the north are impressive stands of old growth forest at Moon Prairie and Hoxie Creek along with upper Jenny Creek and the highly visited Grizzly Peak area visible just north of Ashland. To the east is Surveyor Mountain and the beautiful Tunnel Creek wetlands. Together, the expansion represents 48,000 acres of public lands. Recognized as one of the most significant biological crossroads in western North American, protection of the Cascade-Siskiyou helps ensure a future for plants and wildlife far beyond the monument boundaries.
The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is one of 27 monuments across the U.S. under "review" by the Trump Administration with an eye toward reducing the Monument's size or eliminating protections.
Nature Nerds Take NoteCountless rare species reside in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, and here is a short sampling:
Rivaling one other location in the United State for butterfly diversity, the Monument is home to over 130 butterfly species, including the rare Mardon’s Skipper found in sub-alpine meadows in just a couple locations in Oregon.
One rare plant, officially listed as a federally endangered, is at the eastern-most extent of its range in the Monument. The gentner’s fritillary (Frittilaria genteri) is endemic to our region and only has about 35 known populations. Another rare lily family member is known in Oregon as a “species of concern,” though warrants further protection. The green’s mariposa lily, Calochortus greenei may be even more difficult to find at times, owing to the fact that it is capable of entering a dormancy phase and then reemerging at a later time.
Uncommon in the United States, great gray owls, Strix nebulosa, are thankful that the Monument expansion now includes several of their known roosting sites for protection. They spend their time quietly in dense evergreen pine and fir forests with small openings or meadows nearby.
After the Monument’s designation in the early 2000’s, Rostania quadrifida, a unique lichen with square-shaped spores that was discovered at lower elevations and subsequently listed as rare in Oregon, seldom found in the broader Pacific Northwest. Just last year, local biologists surveyed white oak habitats in the Monument and found a hefty 103 species of lichen living just on the oaks. True testament of the mixing ecoregions, the lichenologists observed patterns of species that represent the Cascade Mountain range, as well as species previously known only from the inter-mountain West. Three of the species are currently listed on the Oregon Natural Heritage Program list of rare lichens; Hypotrachyna revoluta (S3-vulnerable), Collema curtisporum (S1-critically imperiled), and Rostania quadrifida (S2-imperiled). Recent discoveries include many more species recorded for the first time in Oregon, such as Physcia subalbinea and Placidium fingens. Both should be recommended for conservation.
While on a field trip in the monument, students at Southern Oregon University (SOU) were fortunate to find the Oregon spotted frog, Rana pretiosa, which was largely though to have been extinct in southern Oregon. Faculty and students at SOU continue to monitor the special pond habitats that the frogs rely on to lay their eggs—though the eggs are now free from the threats of cattle trampling the pond edges, they are extremely sensitive to climate change.
Just last summer, a SOU biology professor was taken by surprise when hearing the chirps of the alpine rabbit-family species, pika, Ochotona sp.—previously not known to live near here. Research has shown pika to be sensitive to climate change, as they do not hibernate and rely on snow pack to insulate their winter dens.
In a terrific one-day Bioblitz, over a hundred members of the public found a grand total of 114 species of fungi. Ninety-nine of those species were not previously documented on the Monument. This includes 6 species that the BLM recognizes as special status species, along with others that deserve conservation status. Some of these beautiful fungi gems include: fairy clubs; Clavariadelphus ligula, Clavariadelphus sachalinesis, and Clavulinopsis fusiformus
Even rarer still, the Entoloma violaceonigrum was found. This is now the only known site in southern Oregon, and just one of eight locations where it is known to exist.
The Monument’s flagship fish species is its very own endemic Jenny Creek sucker, Catostomus rimiculus, spawning in Jenny Creek and other Klamath River tributaries. Studies of these fish began in the early 80’s and continue today. Biologists are still learning surprising facts about their life cycle, habitat preferences, and populations.
Go There and Do SomethingNot only is the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument area filled with an array of flora and fauna, but there is a wide variety of outdoor experiences one can embark on.
Around 20 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail rambles in and out of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Starting at the Green Springs Summit, you can either head north to Hyatt Reservoir or south to check out scenic vistas and early summer wildflowers at Soda Mountain. Looking for a short, scenic day hike? For the most bang for your buck, access spur trails off of the PCT that provide scenic vistas like Pilot Rock via the Mt. Ashland exit, Hobart Bluff via Soda Mountain Road, or Boccard’s point via Baldy Creek Road. For those would rather not go it alone, try a guided nature hike. Many local groups including the Siskiyou Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Oregon, Rogue Valley Audubon Society, KS Wild, Friends of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, and the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council host local experts who lead fantastic public hikes.
The most iconic feature of the Monument is the Devil’s Tower-esque Pilot Rock, the summit of which is 5,908 feet. It features a commonly used 3rd class route on the north side and a few mixed sport/trad routes on the south side. Caution should be exercised on southern technical routs regarding both summer heat and moderate rock quality. Read more about it in Greg Orton’s Southern Oregon Rock climbing guide.
Many locals organize social rides that are welcome to all. Typical routes up the winding and scenic Greensprings Highway provide stunning views of the southern Rogue Valley foothills. Take a mid-way break at the Greensprings Inn and Restaurant before completing the 40+ mile loop back down the northern side of the Monument via Dead Indian Memorial Road. (And yes, locals are working on
getting the road name changed!) Check out social rides such as the Ashland Up and Down on Facebook.
Cross Country Skiing
From the Dead Indian Memorial Road's summit at Buck Prairie, embark on rolling hills through big second growth forests with sneak peeks of Mt. McLaughlin or choose to go further down the road and find access via Buck Prairie II. This network of trails lies just to the north of another developing trail network around the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Enjoy the expanse of Howard Prairie, the varied woods by Table Mountain snow play area, or vistas from Chinquapin Mountain. A good snow-trail map for this area was release recently and can be picked up at the kiosk by the Greensprings Inn or accessed online at tinyurl.com/yb3kuane.
Head up to Hyatt Reservoir, Little Hyatt Reservoir, or Howard Prairie for a day on the water. Rent a stand paddle board from the Ashland Outdoor Store, or Southern Oregon University’s Outdoor program.
Friendly father-son duo runs the Greensprings Inn and Restaurant, makes a great brunch, and has a lovely porch to enjoy any meal. Indulge and stay in one of their cabins that were made tree-to-cabin on site, with options for outdoor tubs. And you can bring your fuzzy four-legged friend. For a well-rounded forest and cultural retreat, check out the annual West Coast Country Music festival that they host. Willow-Witt Ranch is nestled in the northern end of the Monument where you can enjoy a farm tour or stay in the Meadowhouse. You can also go primitive and opt for a yurt-stay. Check out some of the nation’s best agrotourism first hand and share your nature experience with well-mannered pigs, chickens, and sheep.
About the Author: Jeanine Moy is the Outreach Director and Adopt-a-Botanical Area Coordinator for Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center (KS Wild). Formed in 1997, KS Wild fights for protection and restoration of the incomparable ecological riches of southwest Oregon and northwest California. They monitor public lands in the Rogue River-Siskiyou, Klamath, Six Rivers and Shasta-Trinity National Forests, and the Medford and Coos Bay Districts of the Bureau of Land Management.