Lassen ecosystem study foiled by California fire

Forest fires burning in Northern California have hampered the efforts of environmental scientists, including a recent Southern Oregon University graduate, to study the area's ecosystems.

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 Klamath Network planned to send scientists into the park to measure trees and take an inventory of the park's vegetation.

This information would be used to gauge the overall health of the park. The Klamath Network also notes fuel levels on the ground, which can help in forest fire suppression efforts.

However, the Reading fire, which started on July 23, shut down its work, most likely for the rest of the summer, said Daniel Sarr, lead ecologist with the Klamath Network.

"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," Sarr said.

Sarr said his agency had two crews of three people in the park when the fire began.

The environment deteriorated quickly as the fire burned through thousands of acres in a short time.

Among those who planned to monitor the various plots of land in the park was Katie Bergbauer, a recent SOU graduate in environmental science.

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

She said 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.

They also planned to take note of all invasive species in the plots and report their findings to the U.S. National Park Service.

But the monitoring crews found the smoke from the fires was too much to handle.

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

According to the fire incident monitoring website, the Reading Fire was 79 percent contained Tuesday and The Associated Press reported that firefighters hoped to have the blaze fully contained soon.

That will be too late for the Klamath Network scientists, who hoped to record valuable information that the U.S. National Park Service could use to better manage and maintain public wildlands.

Sarr said some good could come from the fires. He said aspen trees have been struggling in the park for some time.

"We are waiting to see if the fires will benefit the aspen in the park," Sarr said.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email

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