104 Switchbacks for Climate Change Research

52 switchbacks up and 52 switchbacks down made for a 4,000 vertical foot and 14 mile day for IDFG wildlife biologist Lacy Robinson. Last week Lacy took on one of north Idaho's most punishing trails up Parker Ridge to swap out a MBI temperature data logger.

This summer MBI partners the Coeur d' Alene Tribe, Kalispel Tribe, and IDFG have been working hard to maintain our network of over 400 climate data loggers. These loggers are providing important micro-climate data both for MBI and the US Forest Service Air Temperature Project.

'Micro-climate' simply refers to the local climate in a very small area. Any Idaho gardener knows planting tomatos on the right part of their property can make the difference for a harvest ending in August or lasting into September. The same principal holds true for wildlife species, just a few degrees of difference can determine if the species can live at a micro-site or not. To determine what the micro-climate requirements are for a variety of wildlife species, the MBI collaborative is collecting micro-climate data at the same sites where we survey for amphibians, beetles, and gastropods.

This chart shows the temperature data from the logger Lacy retrieved from Parker Ridge. The logger, which records the temperature every 90 minutes for a year, was located at 5,920 feet in elevation.  As you can see from the chart the low temperature over the past year was 0.8°F last November and the high was 79.9°F last July. Lacy took this logger down so she could download the data and then put a logger with fresh batteries up so we can get another year of data from that site.

Data loggers are nested in reflective 'radiation shields' which help them record the actual air temperature and not just heat up because the sun in shining on them.

The data we collect over the years at hundreds of sites will help us contribute to species conservation plans. For example, our surveys may show us that a certain species of snail currently lives let's say...on west facing slopes in mid-seral stage forests. We can use our micro-climate data to model how climate change may affect mico-sites over the coming decades and if the conditions the snail prefers will be found in different locations in 50 years or so from now. So let's say we develop a model that predicts in 50 years the conditions this snail needs will still occur in mid-seral stage forests but on north facing (instead of west facing) slopes. If this were the case we would be able to plan timber harvests now which would benefit the species decades later.

Figuring out how to help wildlife adapt to climate change is a pretty intimidating challenge. But I think we can do it if we take the same approach Lacy took when climbing up Parker Ridge the other day, one switchback at a time.

Sunset over Parker Peak in the Selkirk Mountains, the high point on the Parker Ridge trail. Photo by Scott Rulander.