Exploring the Rogue Valley
Do you know where to find a carnivorous Darlingtonia fen or a stand of rare Baker cypress trees? Can you tell the difference between an acorn woodpecker and Clark's nutcracker? Are you itching to spot the rare Gentner's fritillary in Jacksonville Woodlands or identify fairy shrimp in a vernal pool on the Table Rocks?
There are groups and clubs in Southern Oregon willing to show you all of these things and more, and quite often for free.
"In our area there are so many incredibly unique things in the outdoor world," says Daniel Newberry, executive director of the Siskiyou Field Institute, a nature school near Selma. "It's possible to live here and not know the treasures in your own backyard."
Your local library and the Internet are good sources of information, of course, but when it comes to the outdoors in this little pocket of the world called Southern Oregon, there's nothing like getting up close and personal with people who know what they're talking about. And a host of local groups — stocked to the gills with botanists, geologists, biologists and wilderness aficionados of all stripes — can make that happen.
Many of these groups — the Rogue Valley chapters of the Audubon Society and Sierra Club, say — are either familiar or have a mission that's obvious from their names. Others, such as the Siskiyou Field Institute and Coyote School of Nature, are probably less familiar to many folks in Jackson County.
SFI's mission, for instance, is to introduce people to the Klamath-Siskiyou bioregion through classes in the field.
SFI's Deer Creek Center, which it co-owns with Southern Oregon University, is near Selma in Josephine County at the gateway to the Illinois River canyon on the site of a historic ranch once frequented by actor John Wayne, who kept a horse here.
The site is perfect for SFI's mission. It sits on the northern tip of one of the world's largest contiguous sheets of serpentine. The soils are low in many nutrients and high in heavy metals.
"The Klamath and Siskiyou mountains have some of the most complex geology of anyplace in the country," says Newberry, a hydrologist by training. "Millions of years of tectonic plate movements and folding have created a unique landscape, particularly in serpentine geology."
The Siskiyou and Marble mountains and Trinity Alps are all part of what geographers refer to as the Klamath Mountains, which are flanked by the much younger and volcanic Cascades to the east and the coast ranges to the west.
"Plants here have adapted to this in ways plants elsewhere haven't done," Newberry says. "You have a lot of things here you don't have elsewhere."
Such as Jeffrey pine savannas, serpentine barrens and the Darlingtonia californica, a carnivorous oddity also known as the cobra plant or pitcher plant, a thick patch of which lies a short stroll from Newberry's office, "mouths" agape for any unwary bugs that stray too near.
"And on top of that you have animals, insects and amphibians you only find here," he says.
There are two federally designated botanical areas within a few miles of the station. Year-round creeks provide habitat for coho salmon, fall chinook, Pacific lamprey, winter steelhead, cutthroat trout, redside shiner, speckled dace, suckerfish and sculpin.
The land borders a Bureau of Land Management Area of Critical Environmental Concern and the Squaw Mountain Inventoried Roadless Area. No fewer than four wilderness areas await within a couple of hours: the Kalmiopsis, Siskiyou, Red Buttes and Wild Rogue.
Each year, SFI offers a slate of outdoors classes that range from bats, birds and bugs to trees, plants, mushrooms, river ecology and wilderness first-responder training.
The classes are aimed at various college groups, including Southern Oregon University's master's program in environmental education, staffers from federal agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, as well as adult lifelong learners and more than 1,000 schoolchildren.
Classes range from basic botanizing to such unique entries as birding at sea, birding on bicycles, a course on seaweed and the botany and butterflies of Mount Eddy, the Siskiyou peak west of Mount Shasta.
A popular class introduced last year is a rafting trip in which rafters stop at the sites where dams have been removed from the Rogue River and at the restoration efforts underway where Bear Creek flows into the Rogue.
Other classes take aim at oak woodlands, shorebirds, lichens, ferns, truffles, redwoods, grasses, medicinal plants, fire ecology, dunes, insects, fire ecology, salmon, dragonflies, rocks, fungi — well, you get the idea.
Camping, dorm rooms and private rooms are available in connection with classes, along with a hostel-style kitchen, pavilion and indoor classroom on the grounds.
"If people get out and hike and see plants and animals, they're going to do their best to make sure those things are there for the future," Newberry says. "I think education is the way to get people the tools they need to make the proper decisions. If you see a Darlingtonia fen, are you going to advocate for a housing development there? You want your grandkids to see it."
Class fees run from $35 to about $250, though some programs are free, and some scholarships may be available. SFI encourages students to register at least two weeks in advance, but earlier is better, either online or by calling 541-597-8530. Many of the classes last several days and involve travel. Lodging at the Deer Creek Center ranges from $8 (tents) to $12 (yurt) to $18 (dorms). To check on the availability of private rooms, call 541-597-8530.
For a complete calendar of events, see www.thesfi.org.
Reach freelance writer Bill Varble at email@example.com.