KS Wild Side: Caretaking a Siskiyou Crest gem

The view across Alex Hole meadow is lush and green with a stunning backdrop of Condrey Mountain. The fence shown here is put in place annually to prevent grazing cattle from destroying sensitive botanical life within the meadow. Haleigh Martin photo
August 18, 2022

KS Wild and the U.S. Forest Service work together to protect a sensitive wetland meadow

By Allee Gustafson & Haleigh Martin

Rogue Riverkeeper’s Frances Oyung and KS Wild volunteer Neil Thuresson work to repair snapped barbed wire fencing and to secure it to the T-post. Mary Scott photo

The Klamath-Siskiyou range is known throughout the world as a biological hotspot hosting an uncommonly high diversity of plant and animal species. Alex Hole, a U.S. Forest Service (USFS) proposed botanical area, is a wetland meadow nestled into the mountains of the Klamath-Siskiyou range at around 7,100-foot elevation on ancestral lands to many tribes, including the Takelma and Shasta peoples. As the crest of the Siskiyou mountain range crosses back and forth over the California-Oregon border, Alex Hole meadow can be reached from USFS gravel roads on either side of the border after a short hike near the peak of Condrey Mountain.

KS Wild’s Public Lands And You Stewardship Program has built a strong seven-year partnership with the USFS’s Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest to maintain and repair an important fence that protects this sensitive landscape. Twice a year, KS Wild volunteers, staff members, and a representative from the USFS set out for Alex Hole.

Upon arrival, the north-facing birds-eye view of the meadow cradled by tall, vegetated mountainsides is quite breathtaking. With tools in hand, the crew treks down into the meadow and gets to work. In the spring, the crew works to replace the barbed wire fencing to keep open range cattle from damaging the wetland during the public grazing allotment period. In the fall, the crew takes down the barbed wire fencing to allow for winter access and to prevent injury to wild animals like elk and deer.

KS Wild’s Haleigh Martin and KS Wild volunteer Neil Thuresson work together to pound in a T-post that was knocked over during last years heavy snow events. Mary Scott photo

Just a few weeks ago as the wildflowers were in full bloom and songbirds in full voice, the spring crew headed to the crest for a weekend of work. Upon arrival, the crew took note of the substantial work ahead; the barbed wire was knotted and broken, and over 50 T-posts required some repair and replacement after being tipped and bent from snow, animals and humans. Luckily, with some muscle and a little fence-building skill, the crew of nine repaired the barbed wire, reset dozens of T-posts, and reinstalled most of the fence keeping this biological gem safe for another grazing season. A short section abutting the rock wall will be finished by the USFS range specialists who are our partners on the project.

High elevation wetland meadows in the Klamath-Siskiyou mountains are essential as they provide habitat for some of the unique flora and fauna found in this region. Wetland meadows such as Alex Hole showcase the botanical diversity of the Siskiyou Crest as a true botanizing paradise. You’ll find a variety of wildflower species like the Siskiyou Lewisia (Lewisia cotyledon) or the Roseroot stonecrop (Rhodiola rosea) clinging to the steep rock walls enclosing the meadow and many other unique species such as California tiger lilies (Lilium pardalinum), corn lilies (Veratrum californicum), holly ferns (Polystichum lonchitis) and a variety of monkeyflower species hugging the wet meadow floor.

Siskiyou Lewisia (Lewisia cotyledon) can be found along the steep, rocky edges of the mountains surrounding Alex Hole meadow. Haleigh Martin photo

While these landscapes have largely remained undisturbed throughout the last century, open-range cattle are introduced seasonally every year, and they wreak havoc on sensitive wetland meadows like Alex Hole. The fence at Alex Hole is working to protect the botanical values of this meadow, but elsewhere ​​on the Siskiyou Crest, private cattle ranchers receive all the benefit when their cattle trespass to graze in areas they are prohibited from and cause damage to  botanically sensitive areas.

KS Wild’s Forest Watch team continues to legally challenge the unauthorized damage resulting from trespassing cattle. As a watchdog organization, it’s easy to get involved to protect these fragile ecosystems by simply saying something if you see something. There’s plenty of time to escape the heat of the valley floor and find respite on the Siskiyou Crest at one of the many backcountry meadows and, if you do, remember to report grazing trespassing or signs of cattle. Find the Grazing Monitoring Report by visiting kswild.org/grazing-monitoring-report.

KS Wild Side appears every month and features a staff member from KS Wild, a regional conservation organization based in Ashland. Allee Gustafson is KS Wild’s Community and Outreach Coordinator for projects like these at Alex Hole, and Haleigh Martin is Communications Associate. For more information, go to kswild.org.

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.
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