Ominous 2015 summer hiking season follows snowless winter in Western mountains reports fresh water advocate Sharon Kleyne

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Sharon Kleyne Hour Power of Water radio host interviews Art Bernstein and Ken Shopken about 2015 summer hiking season. Kleyne will discuss the no snow winter and the 2015 summer hiking season on her Sharon Kleyne Hour™ Power of Water® radio broadcast of August 17, 2015.

In the mountains of the Western United States, winter 2014-2015 will be remembered as the “winter of no snow.” Trails normally snowed over until late June remained accessible all winter. Fresh water advocate and radio host Sharon Kleyne recently wondered about the impact of the no snow winter on the 2015 summer hiking season. To find out, she talked to two veteran hiker/naturalists, Art Bernstein and Ken Shopken. They reported that while high mountain ecosystems appear superficially normal, there are ominous signs.

Bernstein and Shopken do most of their hiking in the mountains of southwest Oregon and in California’s far northern Wilderness Areas.

Kleyne will discuss the no snow winter and the 2015 summer hiking season on her Sharon Kleyne Hour™ Power of Water® radio broadcast of August 17, 2015. For the live show or a podcast, go to http://www.SharonKleyneHour.com. The presentation will be based on information provided by Bernstein and Shopken.    

The syndicated broadcast, hosted by Kleyne, is heard weekly on VoiceAmerica and Apple iTunes. The education oriented show is sponsored by Bio-Logic Aqua® Research, founded by Kleyne and specializing in fresh water, the atmosphere, body surface evaporation and dehydration. Nature’s Tears® EyeMist® is the Research Center’s signature product for dry eye.

Art Bernstein is a hiker, naturalist, journalist and screenwriter based Central Point, Oregon. His latest book is “Hiking Southern Oregon” (Falcon Press, 2014). Ken Shopken is a hiker, climber, automotive diagnostic technician, inventor and organic micro farmer.

Superficially, the West’s high mountains look fairly normal, says Shopken, whose most recent climb was Kangaroo Mountain (elevation 6,697 feet – named after the native kangaroo rat) in the Red Buttes Wilderness straddling the Oregon – California state line. The meadows are green, some of the creeks and springs are running strong and most lakes are down only a little. Dried out areas – marshes, shallow lakes and snow fed streams - dry out by mid-summer even in wet years.

The reason for the lack of snowpack, Bernstein observed, was not necessarily lack of precipitation, although precipitation was well below normal. The main cause was a series of warm weather systems that quickly melted any snow accumulation. The presence of a snowpack – which in a good year in southwest Oregon can reach depths of 20 feet – extends the availability of water well into the normally dry summer season. With no snowpack, water becomes critical much earlier.

The water situation, Bernstein and Shopken explained to Kleyne, is very uneven. Water sources fed mostly by snow melt and runoff are dry. Sources fed mostly by ground water reserves are holding their own, for the most part. But that could change if the extreme drought persists.

Cured out summer grass is not as high as usual, notes Bernstein, which could reduce the fire danger. However, unusually dry fuels and water stressed trees increase the fire danger.

Most herbaceous plants bloomed much earlier than usual said Shopken to Kleyne. As a result, wildflowers normally observed in late summer are conspicuously less abundant.

Bernstein, who teaches, “Trees and Shrubs of Oregon and Northern California,” at Southern Oregon University’s OLLI program, commented that most trees are physiologically able to withstand several dry years in a row. The most observable effect of 2015 would be a narrow annual growth ring in the tree trunk (as opposed to 1997, one of the wettest winters ever, where annual rings were very wide).

Drought stresses forest trees, according to Bernstein, and makes them vulnerable to attacks by fungi, insects and parasites. Should the extreme drought persist, there could be a significant tree die-off, like the die-off during the Western Coast drought of the 1970’s. Drought stressed trees are also more likely to catch fire. Lodgepole pine, ponderosa pine, knobcone pine and Oregon white oak are much more drought resistant than other species.

Mountain meadows, according to Shopken, are an indicator of weather patterns. During wet seasons, baby forest trees take root along the edges of the meadow and after a series of wet seasons, the meadow gets smaller as the surrounding forest encroaches. Should the weather turn dry for several seasons, the baby trees will die back and the meadow will enlarge.

Bernstein and Shopken did not comment on the effects of the winter drought on mammals, birds, reptiles or insects.

©2015 Bio-Logic Aqua® Research.

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Mikaylah Roggasch
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