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Northwest California

Northwest California: A Natural History

John O. Sawyer
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Northwest California
    Book Description:

    Northwestern California is mainly known for its majestic redwood forests and incomparable coastline, but there is much more in its rich biota and scenery. The forests are part of the most diverse temperate coniferous forest in the world. Rugged mountains, numerous lakes, wilderness areas, and wild rivers attract outdoor enthusiasts and geologists came here to refine the theory of plate tectonics. Distilling a vast amount of knowledge, this book is the starting point for anyone who wants to explore the biological and geographical richness of northwestern California. John O. Sawyer describes the famous forests and varied landscapes from a geographic perspective. He explains its long geological history and the changing roles of fire and land use. The result of a lifetime of work, his rich narrative illustrates how the region, in many ways the least modified portion of the state, is a place where plants and animals have been shielded from extinction. Sawyer documents the restoration of dunes and forests, the control of nonnative plant invasions, and innovative approaches to restoring rivers so they can support thriving fisheries.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92836-7
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Prologue The Green Prison
    (pp. xi-xvi)

    Jedediah Strong Smith was one of the famous mountain men who traveled the west in search of beaver in the decades before the California gold rush. In 1826, he reached the Mexican province that was to become California, and two years later, he traveled through northwest California on his second expedition. While in the Sacramento Valley, he and his party of 20 men and 300 horses and mules turned west off the Great Indian Trail near Red Bluff and headed for an inviting gap in the mountains. He reasoned that the mountains to the west held the river that would...

  5. The Klamath: Land of Mountains and Canyons
    (pp. 1-27)

    The Klamath Mountains are the home of one of the most exceptional temperate coniferous forest regions in the world. The area’s rich plant and animal life draws naturalists from all over the world. Outdoor enthusiasts enjoy its rugged mountains, its many lakes, its wildernesses, and its wild rivers. Geologists come here to refine the theory of plate tectonics. Yet, the Klamath Mountains are one of the least-known parts of the state.

    The region’s complex pattern of mountains and rivers creates a bewildering set of landscapes. Its mountains have a geological history similar to those of the ancient Appalachians in the...

  6. The North Coast: Land of Towering Trees
    (pp. 28-50)

    The North Coast offers another aspect of the most exceptional temperate coniferous forest region in the world. Naturalists know primarily of its majestic redwood forests, with the tallest trees in the world, and its incomparable coastline, but the region offers much more with its rich biota and scenery. As with the rest of northwest California, the North Coast is one of the least-known parts of the state.

    The North Coast’s patterns are as bewildering as those of the Klamath Mountains. Today’s landscapes are mainly the result of mountain building that began in the late Pleistocene. South of the Mendocino Triple...

  7. High and Low: Looking for Patterns in Vegetation
    (pp. 51-84)

    We might best understand the region’s diverse forests by first considering only the major types that occur commonly in northwest California. These forests have closed canopies and occur on well-developed soils, and the dominant tree species have high colonizing abilities, long life, and wide ecological tolerances to environmental conditions. For example, Douglasfir is common throughout northwest California; redwood grows near the coast; mountain hemlock exists at the highest elevations. Trees with low colonizing abilities, short lives, or narrower ecological tolerances add little to the broad pattern, but they do greatly enhance the region’s species diversity. For example, Jeffrey pine grows...

  8. Beyond the Ancient Meeting Ground
    (pp. 85-105)

    The answer lies in the geological record. For example, fossils ofSequoiago back to the Jurassic, and other conifer and angiosperm genera go back only to the early Cenozoic. How long have Douglas-fir or tanoak been part of the redwood forest? Fortunately, there are several fossil locations in and around northwest California.

    California’s fossil localities from the early Cenozoic suggest tropical forests with evergreen, broad-leaved trees growing in warm and humid climates. Forests along the coast at low elevations contained relatives of trees that we now call avocados, cycads, figs, palms, and tree ferns. These plant groups exist today...

  9. Regimes of Fire
    (pp. 106-124)

    Fire ecologists describe a forest’s fire regime in terms of frequency, intensity, and severity.Fire frequencyrefers to the number of years between one fire and the next in a defined area of a particular size. Fires may have a seasonal pattern and may involve a single tree or many acres.Intensityrefers to the energy released by the fire, andseverityrefers to fuel consumed, the rate of spread of the fire, and the way the fire affects the dominant plants. Severity reflects the level of plant mortality from the fire. There are three levels of severity:


  10. Agents of Change
    (pp. 125-148)

    Pierson B. Reading discovered gold in 1848 on the banks of the Trinity River on what is now Readings Bar. Lindsay Applegate encountered the precious metal in 1849 at the head of the Scott River. Other strikes followed in 1850 on the Salmon River and along Greenhorn Creek. These finds meant that within months all of the Klamath Mountains were to change. Miners and other newcomers cleared the land, built towns, ripped up and rerouted streams, and decimated the native peoples, fish, forests, and wildlife. They brought new land management ideas with them and in the process introduced new animals...

  11. Plates
    (pp. None)
  12. The Status of Northwest California Today
    (pp. 149-186)

    The rich plant diversity in northwest California is paralleled by the rich animal diversity in the high number of salamanders, unique mammals, bountiful bird life, and once-plentiful fish. Biologists expect that butterflies, fungi, and snails, when better known, will match the high richness of the better-known vascular and vertebrate groups.

    However, we are losing this heritage through species decline and extinction. Three vascular plant, five mammal, one bird, and two fish species are now extinct. Dramatic population declines have been sufficient to warrant federal listing of several organisms as threatened or endangered, as in the case of the northern spotted...

  13. Northwest California’s Biological Future
    (pp. 187-196)

    A great biological treasure trove still exists in northwest California, even after nearly two centuries of mining, logging, grazing, changes in fire regimes, and dam building. Many aspects are not greatly different from those at the time of Jedediah Smith. Nearly all of the plant and animal species remain, as do the original patterns. Those that have been degraded can be restored. We can save not only fragments of natural tapestries but make them complete again.

    By “saving wildlands,” I mean that we can set aside areas where our cultural actions are insignificant and fleeting. Setting aside wildlands is as...

    (pp. 197-210)
    (pp. 211-228)
    (pp. 229-247)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 248-250)