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The Tipping Point

Everything is up for grabs now relative to climate.   Climatic tipping point talk is abuzz about the scientific community.  All our efforts to save species have a large ‘unknown’ given rapid ecosystem changes due to climate instability.  The tipping point, researchers say, may be within just the next 10 years.

For the last several years, I’ve taken to setting up my trail camera all summer in the little forest by my house.  The forest is home to 7 springs that emerge from the limestone underground rivulets hidden deep within the abutting mountain.  These springs flow into private lands, much of which is soggy and marshy.  The forest also is a lively travel corridor.

Spring area, one spring

In previous summers I’d pick up my trail camera chip every few weeks.  Mostly I’d see deer, a few coyotes, and an occasional black bear.  By fall, the grizzly activity increased.  But this summer–the hottest on record and with an even hotter heat index making almost every day unbearable–activity has increased dramatically, and of course, always at night.  I’ve had scores of black bears, cougar, a boar grizzly, and even a moose a few weeks ago.  Given that moose go into heat stress at temperatures above 57 degrees, and anything above 80 degrees is unsuitable for them without refugia, I wondered how this poor moose was coping. (notice the temp and time!)

These animals would normally be higher up this time of year.  But my theory is that the constant heat and drought has forced them lower.  Of course, this is not the case across the board or we’d be seeing a lot of wildlife in the irrigated areas.  But I take this as a sign of the future–as we use diminishing precious water to irrigate pasture or grow crops, we’ll see more wildlife seeking refuge closer to us.  As prey move in, so do predators.  As forests die and meadows dry, animals will seek food and water wherever they can find it.

Couple that with the sad state of food for grizzly bears.  Today I took a long hike up the back side of Windy Mountain, once a stronghold for Whitebark pine nut food.  The trail begins around 8,400′ and heads up to 9400′.  I can say with confidence that 99% of all the mature Whitebark Pines are dead throughout that ecosystem.

Dead Whitebark Pine forest

The only good news is that there are young seedlings in many areas, especially on the north-west slope in a large burn area.  But these trees won’t bear for at least another 30 years–if they survive the dramatic shifts in climate.

A friend told me not long ago that all the still affordable lands are high up in mountainous territory.  These are the areas, he said, no one wants to live in because the climate is too harsh.  Real estate in places like Oregon, Washington, the Southwest, and California is beyond pocketbook reach anymore.  But evidence points to humans heading into the mountains in the Altithermal, a period of drought and dryness after the glaciers melted.  Animals, as well as people, may be heading higher up sooner than later.

 

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