California fires foil Oregon ecosystem study

MEDFORD, Ore. — Forest fires burning in Northern California have hampered the efforts of environmental scientists from Oregon who are studying an ecosystem.

The Mail Tribune reports scientists with the Klamath Network were forced to leave Lassen Volcanic National Park when fire burned a 43-square-mile area of the park.

The group is one of 32 networks developed to help complete the National Park Service’s National Inventory and Monitoring Program. The agency said the program is a key part of its strategy to preserve park natural resources “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

The Klamath Network had planned to measure trees and take an inventory of the park’s vegetation in hopes of using the information to gauge the overall health of the park and help in future fire suppression.

The lightning-sparked Reading fire shut down its work. It started July 23 and wasn’t fully contained until Wednesday morning.

“We might get back into the park by the end of the summer, but now all we can do is wait and see what happens with the fire weather,” said Daniel Sarr, lead ecologist with the Klamath Network.

The agency had two crews of three people in the park when the fire ignited. One of them was Katie Bergbauer, a recent Southern Oregon University graduate in environmental science.

She said the monitoring crews were able to perform several studies before the fire started, but there is much more work to do.

The plan was to take an inventory of the vegetation and fuel in several randomly selected plots and then return in three years to see if there were any changes in the area.

“We go in and take an inventory of every single plant in the plot and we identify and take measurements of every tree,” Bergbauer said.

The crews also wanted to note all invasive species in the plots and report their findings to the U.S. National Park Service. But the smoke from the wildfire made it impossible to continue.

“It was like having smoke from a campfire blowing in your face,” she said.

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