The fens of Jack Creek

 

ChiloquinNews article July 22nd, 2013…

This week I was lucky enough to get a tour of some of the fens of Jack Creek. A fen is a type of wetland that is fed by groundwater that is slowly moving through, as opposed to a bog, where the water has been captured and has nowhere to go. Jack Creek begins below a meadow and marsh area along the Walker Rim Basin, about 10 miles northeast of Chemult, and winds its way south to finally feed into the Klamath Marsh. The melting snow feeds Jack Creek in the spring, but these amazing fens remain wet and green all summer because even after the surface water has gone, the groundwater reaches the surface in several areas along the creek and keeps the fens alive.

Groundwater monitoring site at one of the fens

Groundwater monitoring site at one of the fens

 

The whole area has been logged, perhaps several times, and now is a thicket of sickly looking Lodgepole pines. When Mt. Mazama erupted about 7000 years ago, 5 to 10 ft of pumice covered the ground, and this pumice soil today still does not support the growth of many plants as gardeners in this area are well aware. So there is not much growing under these pines – a tuft of grass here and there – yet this is the ‘Antelope’ grazing permit area that has been garnering a lot of public input lately. When I looked around there was nothing to see but spindly trees, dusty ground, and cow pies. Then, just down a little depression would be a fen. Lush and green and filled mosses and wonderful and rare plants that only otherwise grow in Canada and in fingers running down the tops of the mountain ranges, where it is cold in winter, cool in summer, and always wet. This is what the cattle eat.

Jack Creek2

Mimulus primuloides

Jack Creek 3

Spiranthes romanzoffiana

My guess is that you would only find these fens if you went looking for them, but they came to the notice of a few people who were studying Oregon Spotted Frog populations. These frogs are quite endangered, and in fact the Jack Creek population is down to about only 20 breeding pairs. It would be possible still to save them, but politics is getting in the way, as it often does. Holding some of the water back in spring would be a positive step, so that the breeding ponds do not go dry so fast, and to this end, two pairs of beavers have been introduced back into the area. It used to be that many beavers lived in the area, and there is still evidence of the dams they left behind, scattered along the creeks, but the beavers were all killed long ago. Holding the water back would also benefit the Klamath Marsh, and in turn those of us below the marsh. Having all the water run away with the spring thaw does no one any good.

 

A new study has begun to look at the level of the groundwater over the course of the year and to compare wet and dry years. It is believed that there is an impermeable layer that has formed below the pumice that is holding the water back, keeping it from going any deeper, and forcing it into a layer that is gradually moving along the pre-Mazama surface. Where the pumice gets washed away, as in a creek, and the old surface comes closer to the top, so then does the groundwater. It is believed that all the watersheds in the area might be connected by a labyrinth of aquifers flowing underground through the pumice deposits. If this turns out to be the case, then this area is indeed an unrecognized jewel for Oregon. Snow melt captured from the higher peaks, could it be held back by those busy beavers, would continue to recharge these aquifers for the entire season, bringing summer-long water to the Klamath Marsh and then on down to Upper Klamath Lake.

 

Sundew plants

Sundew plants

But, gardener talking here, I’ve saved the best for last. The plants! Insect eating plants live in these fens. There are 2 species of sundew (Drosera anglica and Drosera rotundifolia) and bladderworts (Ultricularia spp.) I was so excited to see the sundews, and in one area they are just thick. So thick, in fact, that the whole area appears pink on aerial photographs, yet each individual plant is tiny. Each green colored leaf has many red hairs that end with a glistening drop of sticky dew, and any insect that ventures too close gets stuck. Its struggles to escape alert the plant and the leaf folds over, enclosing the insect where the plant can digest it and remove the nutrients that it needs to survive in this nitrogen poor water where it lives. That nitrogen then becomes available to other plants when the sundew dies and breaks down, releasing its nutrients.

 

Nature does indeed have the whole system worked out – from collecting the water, to delivering the water, growing the plants and distributing the nutrients. If only we humans could keep our sticky fingers out, it would be a perfect system.

Sundew plants growing in shallow water

Sundew plant (Drosera rotundifolia) growing in shallow water

A meadow of tiny sundews, colorful enough to be seen by a satellite.

A meadow of tiny sundews, colorful enough to be seen by a satellite.

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2 thoughts on “The fens of Jack Creek

  1. Really enjoyed your article. Informative and heart warming to know there are tiny spot of nature left. Hope the beavers grow and do well. If we could only keep politics out of nature’s needs….. Are there any pitcher plants there or is it too cold. They are neat too. Nicky

    • No pitcher plants Nic. I have pitcher plants thriving in my greenhouse but it never gets below about 27F in there. There are some great colonies of pitcher plants over in the coast range.

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