Book review: Conifers of the Pacific Slope

31 October 2013 | Ashland, OR -- When author Michael Kauffmann was 13 years old, he saw his first redwood on a family road trip from Virginia. For the last twenty five years he's been exploring the west, drawn by its remote conifer forests that have lasted throughout the warming and cooling of geologic time.

And now Kauffmann's self-published his second book,
Conifers of the Pacific Slope. The 142-page field guide provides descriptions and identification guides for each of the 65 conifers that grow from northern Mexico to southern Canada.

The book includes a horizontal identifcation key. And the introduction is a good source for those wanting to delve deep into the west's wild natural history. But what lies after could be the most comprehensive and user-friendly tool to identify conifers available.

Each id includes easily discernible and high quality, colored pictures of unique identifying characteristics. Accompanying are detailed descriptions of each tree's bark, needles, and habitat, which will lay to rest any arguments or settle any bets over the identification of every conifer found in Oregon, Washington and California.

The book is especially unique because it transcends borders often held by extension services and audubon chapters, National Forests and Bureau of Land Management Districts. And if you are looking for rare conifer populations, like the Baker's cypress population near Miller Lake in southern Oregon, this is the book for you.

Take the distribution maps available for each conifer and cross reference them with USGS topos and district maps to locate the rare finds Kauffmann has taken outstanding pictures of. His shots bring these giant plants to life, and the photographers (including SMC volunteer Brandon Andre) incorporate scale to provide perspective on just how giant they are. Kauffmann's objective was to create something accessible.

"I've published some academic papers," Kauffmann says, "but only the academic elite reads that stuff."

He's worried natural science is slipping through the cracks and modern science is too dominated by controlled laboratory studies. "I think natural history is a lost art, but it's coming back around," he says. "I think there's a natural history renaissance happening."

Kauffmann has spent the last quarter-century hunting conifer populations like a miner for gold. His migration to northwest California from Virginia even follows the density of his favorite gymnosperms.

He's found populations of rare species in areas they were never documented. And Kauffmann gives us a taste for the stories that brought him there, which may leave some readers may walk away wanting a little more of Kauffmann's own narrative. Maybe at some point in the future he will offer that to us.

All in all,
Conifers of the Pacific Slope is the best field guide for the west coast's many conifers. And it fits into your back pocket.

You can hear Kauffmann's lecture on conifers, evolution and climate change on November 8 at 7pm in Ashland's Headwaters Building (84 fourth street). The next day (November 9) he is leading a hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, which you can sign up for at the talk.

Pick up
Conifers of the Pacific Slope at the Northwest Nature Shop in Ashland (154 Oak St), or buy it online at or on And never look at a conifer the same way again.

A very special place: Lone Pilot Trail

Blue highlighted section is Lone Pilot Trail
28 October 2013 | Ashland, OR -- This Saturday is your opportunity to see the entire Lone PIlot Trail and help us put a cherry on top of this two-year project. We're going to hike from one end to the other, and then loop back to Pilot Rock on the Pacific Crest Trail, installing primitive signs along the way.

The gradient is easy, but the hike is long (15.25 miles, map above) and does have more than 2000' elevation gain total. So participants should be in good shape and comfortable with a hike this arduous.  

We'll leave Ashland at 7:30am and return by 7pm. Email or call 541-708-2056 for details and to sign-up. 
Century volunteer Lisa Stutey stands next to an old growth pine bucked to wilderness clearing limits

The 24,123-acre Soda Mountain Wilderness Area sits barely north of the California border, just east of Ashland, OR.

The Soda Mountain Wilderness was designated in 2009 by Congress, which created a unique mandate for the Bureau of Land Management to return an area that was partially developed to wilderness, a process known as "re-wilding."
Rolling drain dips had to be out-sloped on a road that was in-sloped

Part of that process was to incorporate a 12-mile network of roads that connects with the Pacific Crest Trail into the area's trail management system. The route became known as the Lone Pilot Trail. It connects with the PCT near Pilot Rock trailhead, and about 1.5-miles from Baldy Creek Road's terminus.

The route boasts groves of giant Ponderosa pines, open oak chaparral, and towering fir forests. The Soda Mountain Wilderness is where the Cascades, Siskiyous and Klamaths come together, a refuge for wildlife, and harbor of outstanding biodiversity.
In 2012 the Medford BLM awarded us a grant to convert the old road network to a trail. 
View from Lone Pine Ridge of the Klamath basin 

Work included brushing and logging out of sections of the old road that had overgrown and filled in with trees. We cut everything to clearing limits for wilderness trails. Instead of cutting a log out of the entire road, we bucked out a 2ft-3ft section to allow for hikers and equestrians.

Brush and other debris that didn't overlap into the trail prism was left. Logs and brush we cut were dispersed into the old road corridor.

SMC crews also improved existing drainage features (rolling drain dips), as well as installed new ones in areas threatened by erosion.
Old growth pine bucked to wilderness clearing limits
Logs that fall into the trail will continue to be bucked to wilderness spec. Brush will continue growing into the old road corridor. And this area is feeling more and more like a place where man is but a visitor. 
Fall colors at Hutton Creek's east fork, a camping option for hikers
This project was funded through a partnership with the Medford Bureau of Land Management. 

Sentimental Sunday

The very original SMC crew, Babyfoot Lake TrailheadSMC
6 December 2013 | Ashland, OR -- In late 2009 Club founders Jillian Stokes and Gabe Howe started talking with Forest Service staff about organizing volunteers to clean up trails in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area.

By spring 2010 they had organized volunteers who wanted to help out on a project that started June 18 and ended June 26.

In early June Stokes and Howe still didn't have a volunteer agreement signed, adn they were taking out strangers who signed up after reading community bulletins. They had a stack of hardhats and a trunk full of hand tools.

They thought about calling the trip off, but decided to go forward with it anyway. They took the time off from work and bought food ready to go anyway.

Then, on June 17, Howe got a call.

"Gabe, this is George Brierty," he said in a quiet raspy voice. Stokes and Howe had met with George before to discuss our plans.

"Hey George."

"You still plannin on going out there tomorrow, or, uh--"

"Yea, George, that's the plan," Howe told Brierty.

"Well, I got this volunteer agreement down here signed by the new district ranger."

And the rest is history. The Club has been working with the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management under volunteer agreements ever since. Until now.

We assume our volunteer agreements are suspended during the government shutdown. We operate under volunteer agreements that assume liability, a mechanism of the 1972 Volunteers In The National Forests Act.