Masthead: Kaweah Range

Sierra Nature Notes Archive: Page 1

Twentieth Century Glacier Change in the Sierra Nevada, California
Hassan Basagic
Graduate Student
Geography Department
Portland State University

Several hundred permanent ice fields and glaciers dot the Sierra Nevada. All of them began to form during the Little Ice Age when the Sierra's climate began to cool in the 1300s. They reached their maximum in the 1850s. In the last few decades most have begun to shrink rapidly. Researcher Hassan Basagic introduces us to the Sierra's glaciers and the direction his research will take.

Lyell Glacier

With Recovery Efforts Underway, Danger still exists for the frogs
by Peter Stekel

But now the bad news: while efforts to restore habitat in some lakes and streams is meeting with great success, a new disease is emerging which threatens those tenuous gains. The Chytrid fungus is wiping out populations throughout the Sierra and not much is known about how it's killing frogs.





Map: Frog Decline in Sierra

2007 Report on Analysis of Water Quality of Lakes and Streams in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park
Robert W. Derlet, M.D.
University of California, Davis

Dr. Derlet has now accumulated over a decade of extensive water quality sampling of both Yosemite and Sequoia Kings National Parks. Increasingly, he's looking at patterns emerging from his data showing significant differences in water quality depending on whether it receives little or no visitor use; heavy visitor use and use by stock (horses and mules). He's also noting the relative prevalence of algae in lakes and streams and speculates on its causes in otherwise pristine Sierra water.


Lake near Mt. Whitney

Twentieth Century Glacier Change in the Sierra Nevada, California
Hassan Basagic
Graduate Student
Geography Department
Portland State University

Several hundred permanent ice fields and glaciers dot the Sierra Nevada. All of them began to form during the Little Ice Age when the Sierra's climate began to cool in the 1300s. They reached their maximum in the 1850s. In the last few decades most have begun to shrink rapidly. Researcher Hassan Basagic introduces us to the Sierra's glaciers and the direction his research will take.




Lyell Glacier

Sierra Nevada Climate

Scott Stine
Department of Geography and
Environmental Studies
California State University
Hayward, California

With recent news reports of pikas disappearing from their former range and lower elevation critters moving up in elevation, what does it mean relative to long-term climatic change in the Sierra? Scott Stine compares then and now.



Satellite photo: Sierra in winter

2006 Report on Analysis of Lakes and Streams in Kings Canyon National Park for Coliform Bacteria and other Microorganisms
Robert W. Derlet, M.D.
University of California, Davis

What's that foam hikers see at some lake outlets? Although Dr. Derlet again reports good news about Sierra water in tests he conducted in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, he expresses concern about algae growth and foam on some lakes and streams.




Waterfall, Bubbs Creek

The Mountain Yellow-legged Frog is Recovering in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
by Peter Stekel

Another in our series about efforts to reestablish critical habitat for the endangered Mountain Yellow-legged frog. Fish and disease continue to cause populations to crash throughout the Sierra, but efforts by Sequoia Kings aquatic biologist Danny Boiano and others give hope that this trend may be reversed.





Netting Frogs

Winter Wildlife in Tuolumne Meadows
Yosemite National Park

WINTER 2004/2005
Tracey Wiese and Bruce Carter
Tuolumne Winter Rangers, Yosemite National Park

Snow comes to Yosemite. The Tioga road closes and the high country becomes, once again, a true wilderness. Two rangers stay behind to patrol and note the variety and habits of critters who amble, run and fly about.

Coyote Jumping for Food

Partners in Protection
Rachel Mazur Wildlife Biologist
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California.

Many birds we think of as Sierra birds are actually just making a short stop on a long journey from South America to the Boreal forests of Alaska. An innovative program in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks brings biologists from Central and South America north to contribute their knowledge of migratory species native to their homeland. After teaching and doing research in the Sierra, they take what they've learned home to further conservation efforts there.



Local habitat is related to the broader geographic ranges of plants
Sarah Kimball Ph.D. candidate Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Irvine, CA 92697-2525
Paul Wilson Associate Professor Department of Biology, California State University, Northridge, CA 91330-8303

Much of the alpine Sierra flora is more closely related to plants hundreds of miles north, than to plants just 10 miles east. Why? Learn about the biogeography of the wildflowers of the Bishop Creek watershed. Amateur botanist Jack Crowther has hiked the watershed for 20 years making lists of all the plants he observed. He was recruited by the authors to help in their study of the plant niches in that community. Illustrations are provided by Pat Crowther.


Using bat assemblages as a measure of ecosystem health
Leslie Chow
Wildlife Biologist, USGS, Yosemite Field Station, California
Elizabeth Pierson
Consulting Biologist, Berkeley, California
William E. Rainey
Associate Specialist, Department of Integrative Biology, University of California–Berkeley

Quick: how many species of bats in Yosemite? What's the second largest order of mammals in North America? Why do we know so little about them? Bats are a critical part of the Sierra ecosystem and, because they eat insects, also play a vital role in indicating the health of an ecosystem.

“Live fast, die young” also applies to forests
Nathan L. Stephenson
Phillip J. van Mantgem

USGS Western Ecological Research Center, Sequoia and Kings Canyon Field Station

How might global climate change affect forests? How fast a forest renews itself may affect how fast it will respond to the climate changes expected in the future. Environmental changes that increase forest productivity may also increase forest turnover rates, with the potential for cascading effects on wildlife, biodiversity, and forest carbon storage.







Giant Sequoia

When is the best time to cross a mountain stream?
Understanding daily variations in streamflow

Jessica Lundquist Soon-to-be PhD
Hydroclimatology Group
Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Gnarly old rangers will tell you to cross spring streams early in the morning when the water is lowest. As T.H. Huxley once observed, there is nothing more tragic than “the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.”

Jessica Lunquist has been studying snowmelt in the Sierra for several years and finds that such expert advice ain't necessarily so.



High Sierra Water: What is in the H20?
Robert W. Derlet, MD
Professor of Medicine
School of Medicine
U.C. Davis

Kemal Ger
Department of Environmental Science
University of California, Davis

After decades of too often shrill warnings about Sierra water, Dr. Derlet continues to lower the panic level considerably with actual research. Although filters are probably not a bad idea, our Sierra streams and lakes are much, much better than we seem to think.



Sierra Nevada Earthquake History From Lichens
on Rockfall Blocks

William B. Bull
Emeritus Professor of Geosciences, University of Arizona

In Yosemite Valley, one morning about two o'clock I was aroused by an earthquake; and though I had never before enjoyed a storm of this sort, the strange, wild thrilling motion and rumbling could not be mistaken, and I ran out of my cabin, near the Sentinel Rock, both glad and frightened, shouting, “A noble earthquake!” feeling sure I was going to learn something.

So John Muir described the violent Lone Pine quake (7.6) of March 26, 1872. Prehistoric earthquakes are difficult to date, especially the more recent ones. Bill Bull describes a very promising method measuring lichen growth on the rockfall often generated by such sublime events. It's also an exciting technique interested amateurs can do with just a few basic tools.

A Walk Through the Hydroclimate Network in Yosemite National Park: River Chemistry
Dave Peterson, Rich Smith, Steve Hager

United States Geological Survey

The core of a healthy Sierra ecosystem is water. Hydroclimatologists are now measuring critical components of Sierra water as it makes its way from winter clouds to snow, rivulets, streams and at last — makes its way to the Pacific in California’s great river systems. What is gained and what is lost on this journey to the Golden Gate?

This article is in PDF format and is viewable with Adobe Reader which is a free download from Adobe.

New Threat to Mountain Yellow-legged Frogs?
Lara Rachowicz PhD candidate
Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley

Work continues to find the causes for the precipitous decline of the Sierra's Mountain Yellow-legged frog. Recent work suggests that, in addition to introduced non-native fish, a fungus may be also be a serious threat. Once more intrepid biologists wade through icy mountain lakes and streams in search of answers.

Restoring the Giant Sequoias at Giant Forest, Sequoia National Park
Athena Demetry
Restoration Ecologist
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
Patrick Whitmarsh
Comandra Technical Consulting

In the 1930s, Sequoia National Park Superintendent John White fought to keep development out of the park's ancient groves of Giant Sequoias. He was mostly unsuccessful. At long last, though, park administrators and restoration ecologists have undertaken a multi-year project to realize White's dream and restore these formidable giants to their pristine beauty.



Airborne Pollutants in National Parks: Sequoia Park joins Large Study Effort
Judy Rocchio
Air Quality Program Coordinator
Pacific West Region
National Park Service

Toxic chemicals such as mercury and the long US-banned DDT are showing up in the Sierra. They are coming from as far away as China and even Europe, borne on upper level winds and deposited thousands of miles from their source in Sierra streams and lakes. A huge research effort has begun throughout the West to determine the extent of the problem and begin international efforts towards a solution.

An Analysis of Human Pathogens Found in Horse/Mule Manure Along the John Muir Trail in Kings Canyon and Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks
Robert Wayne Derlet, MD James Reynolds Carlson, PhD

From the Emergency Department (Dr Derlet) and the Clinical Microbiology Laboratory (Dr Carlson), University of California, Davis, Medical Center, Sacramento, CA

Each year, thousands of horses and mules leave tons of manure along Sierra trails. What are the potential health risks to people drinking from Sierra streams? The answers are encouraging for both horse owners and backcountry hikers.

Preservation of a Healthy Black Bear Population in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range through Interagency Cooperation
Tori Seher Yosemite National Park
Rachel Mazur Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
Calder Reid Inyo National Forest
Adam Rich Stanislaus National Forest

Keeping one step ahead of bears intent on getting your food is a job now being carried out cooperatively by several Sierra land management agencies. Their goal is to get bears out foraging for roots and grubs, rather than your backpack or ice chest. The guiding principle of the Sierra Interagency Black Bear Group is to never underestimate an animal you can teach to ride a bicycle...


Starry, Starry Night
A Thing of the Past?

Judy Rocchio NPS Pacific West Region, Air Quality
Tamara Williams Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Natural Resources
Dan Duriscoe Physical Scientist, Night Sky Project, Death Valley National Park

All across the country — and the world — the stars are winking out. Increasingly, the glow of city lights make it too difficult to see the Milky Way and a significant number of stars that would otherwise be visible to the naked eye. The National Park Service is joining a growing effort to determine the extent of the problem and implement solutions so we can continue to enjoy “the profoundly moving beauty” of a moonless night.

Mt. Lyell Salamander

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Mt. Lyell Salamander
Hydromantes platycephalus

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Masthead Photo from:
Kaweahs From Trailcrest, Kings Canyon National Park
© 2009, Howard Weamer