The Nature Trail is about 2/3 of a mile in length and gains about 70 feet of elevation. It is an easy 30 minute walk with stops at each of the marked stations corresponding to the trail guide.
Natural reproduction is required to maintain a forest ecosystem. There are three basic forms that assure continued plant life in a forest. Seeds, Sprouting, and tuberous roots. Most plants produce seeds. Well over a million seeds fall each year on each acre of a forest. Most of these seeds produce grasses and flowering plants. Coniferous trees, as shown here with the hundreds of White Fir trees at this spot, also produce thousands of seeds on intermittent years
Sprouting as shown with the Black Oak is important especially after major events such as fire.
Sprouters return soon after an event and do not have to wait a year or longer for seeds, although Oaks also reproduce with seeds called acorns.
Tuberous root species such as the Bracken fern produce vegetation each year without having to wait for seeds.
#2 HOW OLD AM I?
Count the rings on this Ponderosa Pine to determine the age of the tree when it was cut down. Tell your answer to the staff and if you are right you get a Prize!
#3 LIVING STUMPS
Even though these trees were cut down the remaining stumps continue to grow. This is due to the fact that the roots graft together with the roots of a neighboring tree, which provides the necessary nutrients to allow the stumps to continue to grow.
On the uphill side of the trail is a thick layer of duff (pine needles, twigs, and cones). Too little duff as seen below the trail does not produce good soil, or protection of the soil, while too much duff prevents rain from reaching the soil. If precipitation does not reach the mineral soil natural runoff is reduced and the trees do not receive adequate moisture. (See #s 9 & 10)
# 5 STUMPS
Count the stumps. See how many trees were growing in this small area. The overcrowded conditions weakened the trees making them vulnerable to insect infestations. Over 150 million trees have died from bark beetles since 2016 because of the overcrowded conditions of the Sierra Nevada forests.
#6 WET MEADOW
Count the number of different plant species! Wet areas in the forest ecosystems provide rich diversity for wildlife. Sierran meadows are dependent upon the vegetation that exists above them. If the forest becomes overgrown less moisture reaches the meadow areas and they are reduced in size. This meadow has increased in size in the last four years, even with less rainfall, due to tree mortality from the bark beetle infestation.
#7 HUMAN INTERACTION
Human impacts on the forests come in many forms. Here is an example of fire in the forests. Some large fires have been started as a result of downed power lines. This area is an example of the precautions being taken to avoid future wildfires starting from power lines. Additional clearing is being done due to the Camp Fire of 2018.
#8 ‘DRY MEADOW’
This area is an example of a meadow that is somewhat drier due to the encroachment of the Willow tree. While still having plant species of a meadow it has additional plant species that attract wildlife. The higher the variability of plants the better the conditions for a wider range of wildlife. Just think of what could be hiding in that Willow.
The area above the trail was prescribed burned in 2015. Observe the openness and reduced duff in the area. Under natural conditions the forests of the Sierra Nevada burned on an intermittent basis, usually on about a 5-10 year cycle. This rejuvenation of the forest is required for wildlife, soil fertility, and vegetative health. Lightning provided the fire and was irregular in occurrence which resulted in the mosaic of the natural forest, a pattern that no longer exists due to fire suppression. On the other side of the trail notice the young trees are Ponderosa Pine.
#10 FIRE AND MASTICATION
The area below the trail is described in #9. The area above the trail was treated by mastication (mechanically chewing small trees up). This reduced the number of trees and looks good. However, a large duff component has been left behind which severely inhibits nutrient recycling. This is especially true for nitrogen which is used in the decomposition process.
Dead trees are as important as live trees in a healthy forest ecosystem. Over 80 species of wildlife use snags as a home or food source. The proper balance of dead/live trees is often debated. However, under natural conditions the numbers continually change. Also note the two cedar trees with lots of dead branches. This is due to the fire which makes these trees much more protected from larger fires.
#12 ROCK OUTCROP
Rock outcrops are a very important component of a forest ecosystem. Although they seem to be barren with no trees many species of wildlife need this type of eco-niche for survival. Note the types of vegetation species in the outcrop that are not in the meadow or forest ecosystems.
#13 LIVING STUMP (NOW DEAD)
This area demonstrates the cycle of life. The stumps which were live trees now are being recycled through decay to help build soil for future forests. To get to this station on the trail you stepped on about 9 trees that are in various stages of becoming soil.