Shannon Browne and Jeanine Moy | published August 23, 2016
We were excited to do some reconnaissance into the 350 acre Babyfoot Lake Botanical Area, noting that it was originally designated in 1966 to protect the largest stand of Brewer spruce in the Siskiyou Mountains. What we found was a mixture of feelings: devastating, and promising.
Brewer spruce is a relict tree that was part of a much more extensive ancient forest over 10 million years ago. Today it exists only within the Klamath-Siskiyou mountains, and here only on high ridge-lines where the climate remains cooler.
Further reading revealed some unfortunate more recent events. Much of the Brewer spruce stand burned during the 2002 Biscuit Fire. There remain a few mature trees scattered along the lakeshore, along with a healthy population of Port Orford cedar and Douglas fir.
Devastating, was what we found at the trailhead, bearing witness to the removal of a 17-acre parcel in 2005 as part of the larger, highly contested, Fiddler Fire Salvage Timber Sale. The lines got blurred and somehow logging occurred within the Brewer spruce forest, which had been deemed ecologically important almost 40 years prior. Certainly a “serious mistake” as the Forest Service eventually conceded.
While studying population dynamics and seedling establishment of Brewer spruce. Babyfoot Lake showed relatively low recruitment, or seedling count, likely because of the severity of the 2002 Biscuit Fire.
Brewer spruce is not known to adapt well in fire environments, part of its clue to existence on high ridgelines, and within cooler north and east facing mountain slopes.
Most promising, was the east ridge above Babyfoot Lake, Hungry Hill, that did not burn as intensely, and hardly at all on its eastern flank. Here, there was a very healthy stand of Brewer spruce. Of the 20+ Brewer spruce locations that Shannon has surveyed, this is by far the most healthy and prolific one!
Though the extensive forest of Brewer spruce that classified Babyfoot Lake is no longer, it is heartening to see such a healthy stand in the middle of a region that has experienced much adversity.