Halfway through a day of collecting seeds from native plant species from forests north of Trout Lake, volunteers and CFC staff enjoyed a break with a unique view. Pahto (Mt. Adams) towered above an expanse of charred snags arranged among a green carpet of wildflowers, shrubs, berries, and new saplings flourishing in the abundant sunlight.




This area burned in 2015’s Cougar Creek Fire. Yet, seven short years later, it is well on its way to recovery and is currently providing valuable early seral habitat (areas characterized by the early stages of forest re-growth which are important to many plant and animal species) to the larger forest ecosystem. In dry mixed-conifer stands, like those found throughout the eastern half of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, wildfires are a natural and even necessary part of forest ecology. But not every fire-impacted area in this part of the forest is doing as well as this one.



In some instances, climate change has led to more intense wildfires and shorter intervals between burns occurring in the same stands. These high-intensity, low-interval fires can deplete buried seedbanks and the forest’s ability to replenish and rely on the supply, making it difficult for some stands to recover naturally. Not far from where we were enjoying our break another fire-impacted area is fairing much differently. The triple burn area was affected by three fires in a short period of time–2008’s Cold Spring Fire, 2012’s Cascade Creek Fire, and the 2015 Cold Creek Fire. This area is now struggling to recover, so CFC’s staff, the US Forest Service, and volunteers are stepping in to lend a hand through what could be called “assisted migration” of vegetation from healthy stands to areas that have been slow to regrow.



For the past 6 years, we have been working to gather seeds from native plant species like beaked hazelnut, wax currant, snowberry, western columbine, pearly everlasting, ocean spray, lupine, wild roses, Oregon sunshine (aka wooly sunflower), and many others. We collect these materials from forests closely resembling the triple burn area in species composition and elevation. The collected seeds are then being used to revegetate the area where seedbanks have been exhausted.


Guided by Evan Olson, a botanist for the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, volunteers learned how to identify, collect, and label seeds from targeted species, and spent a beautiful sunny Saturday gathering among the understory.



Leading up to the trip, volunteers were given several documents to get a chance to familiarize themselves with the history of the three fires that created the triple burn area and a resource guide of native plant species that we would be encountering in the field. At each site we visited, volunteers and staff split into groups and dispersed throughout the area to find the seeds. Some worked as generalists collecting any species listed in the pre-trip materials they came across. Others specialized in finding one or two species.


At the end of the day, we gathered around Evan’s Forest Service pickup and handed over the last of our haul to be sorted, stored, and then used in upcoming revegetation efforts, including our upcoming and final volunteer trip of the year where many of the same seeds gathered will be spread throughout the triple burn area.



“This is vital work,” Evan explained as he thanked the volunteers for their efforts. Climate change may be altering the ecology of wildfire and the landscape’s ability to regenerate after a burn, but helpful interventions like these can make a long-lasting difference. 


Working to eradicate an established invasive species can leave land managers and conservationists feeling a bit like Sisyphus, but new approaches may help turn the tide in their favor. 

In June, Cascade Forest Conservancy led three separate groups of volunteers to help contend with an invasive plant species that is increasingly concerning local botany specialists and conservationists. They employed a combination of high-tech tools, a new experimental approach, and good old-fashioned elbow grease to help protect old-growth habitats!  




The plant, Geranium robertianum, commonly known as herb-Robert, stinky Bob, and many other names including red robin, fox geranium, crow’s foot, and death come quickly, is an attractive plant with pink flowers and unique lobed leaves–a welcome and fairly common sight in its native range throughout Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa. But here in Washington, where it has been recognized as a noxious species in the 1990s, herb-Robert is a problem.

Many populations of non-native plants seem to be concentrated in heavily disturbed areas such as roadsides, within clear-cuts, or around the edges of parking lots. Others, like herb-Robert, are different and may be capable of overwhelming and replacing healthy and diverse native plant communities.

Old-growth forest found along the Lewis River Trail

Herb-Robert is particularly concerning. The shade-tolerant weed has been found in native-rich old-growth forests that are typically resistant to infestation by invasive species. Locally, it has been found in old-growth habitats along the Lewis River corridor and other remote areas of the forest. We have seen that if left unchecked, herb-Robert can take over a landscape, drastically reducing local biodiversity and out-competing native species that offer important benefits to pollinators, wildlife, and the ecosystem as a whole.    




With the help of hard-working and generous volunteers, CFC has been collaborating with the Forest Service to map and manage herb-Robert in old-growth forests near the Lewis River and along a road near the Cedar Flats Research Natural Area (RNA) to maintain a weed-free buffer that has so far prevented the weed’s spread into the RNA. In June, eleven volunteers braved the drizzly weather to once again help protect the health of these places. 

We stayed fairly dry under the dense overstory as we revisited plots where we have been pulling herb-Robert for four seasons. Once again, volunteers got right to work hand-pulling the pesky invaders. The plants were securely loaded into large garbage bags until they were so full we could barely carry them on our three-mile hike back to our cars.

Volunteers filled large bags with the invasive weed, herb-Robert, along the Lewis River Trail

Staff and volunteers also carried iPads loaded with GPS-linked data collection apps and spatially-linked photos to track the project’s progress year to year and identify the exact location of each patch. We found fewer and smaller plants than in previous years–indicating that previous hands-pulling efforts have had a positive impact in the area. We hope that our continued efforts are helping to deplete the herb-Robert seed bank by removing the plants before their seeds can ripen and disperse (seeds can be ejected 15-20 feet). 

We also found a previously unmapped plot that was larger than our volunteers could tackle on this trip. Fortunately, our volunteers still helped combat the invasive plant by mapping and sharing the location with partners at the Forest Service and the Skamania County Noxious Weed Control Program, who have more resources to manage sites that require long-term treatment. 

We had extra help this year from an additional group of volunteers who joined us thanks to a partnership with the Multnomah Whiskey Library. With their help, we cleared even more plants from areas near Cedar Flats and a few additional plots near the parking lot of the popular Ape Caves. Removing the plants from this high-traffic area is helping prevent seeds from being carried to new locations on visitors’ boots, gear, bike tires, or even pets!




A third group spent a weekend kicking off a brand-new way for volunteers (and their four-legged friends) to make a difference in efforts to combat invasive weeds. We were working with Rogue Detection Teams (RDT), an amazing organization that trains rescue dogs to find everything from rare species of caterpillars to wide-ranging predators in remote areas using their incredible sense of smell, to test a new approach to managing invasive species.

Experenced bounders from RDT explained how they train rescue dogs to work as partners in conservation science

Under the expert guidance of the RDT bounders, our human and dog volunteer teams began the process of learning to sniff out herb-Robert. Specially trained canines have been used in conservation work for years, but this new program is the first to explore whether or not the pets of science and restoration volunteers can be trained to successfully find and point out hard-to-find weeds in dense understories. Needless to say, everyone had a blast! 

Pets took turns learning to identify herb-Robert

Stay tuned for our upcoming blog exploring this exciting new partnership.     


Which local high-altitude specialist is the size of a potato, has a teddy-bear face and large round ears, enjoys picking wildflowers, and screams “EEEEEE” like a squeaky plush toy? You guessed it–the American pika.

Pika are the smallest members of the lagomorph (rabbit) family. They are covered in a thick tan, brown, and black coat that acts as camouflage among the rocks and allows them to stay warm in the subalpine and alpine terrains they typically inhabit. Rock faces, rock slides, talus slopes, and cliffs are their preferred home.


An example of talus slope (pika habitat) in Washington's Gifford Pinchot National Forest
An example of talus slope (pika habitat) in the Indian Heaven Wilderness within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest

It’s easy to understand why the American pika is a favorite of many hikers in the western United States and Canada. But these undeniably adorable animals are in trouble.

Pika are sensitive to changes in climatic conditions. The summer months are an important time for collecting grasses and wildflowers, which are then dried into distinctive hay piles that will sustain the pika through the alpine winter. But foraging in high temperatures can be deadly for pikas. They have a temperature threshold of 78 degrees Fahrenheit and will not survive if they are exposed to high temperatures for too long. On hot days, pika are forced to limit the time they spend foraging to avoid over-exposure. The warmer temperatures brought about by climate change are making it more difficult for pika to gather enough food for the winter.

An American Pika perched on a rock
American pika photographed by supporter and volunteer, Michael Sulis

These changes are causing pika to move to even higher elevations. But many populations will soon find that they cannot go any higher. 

In many places, pika populations are declining. Gathering more data about current numbers and population trends is essential to understand what kinds of protections this species may need. Additionally, the ways in which pika respond to changes in the climate make them the perfect climate indicator species. Their climate sensitivity helps scientists infer the conditions in a particular habitat. That’s why Cascade Forest Conservancy has decided to join the Cascades Pika Watch collaboration and why we are launching a new program–a way for volunteers to make a difference for pika, independently and on their own schedules! 

Cascades Pika Watch is a collaboration between the Oregon Zoo and the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium. They have led highly successful projects counting and studying pika for many years in the Columbia Gorge (the Columbia Gorge pikas live at lower elevations than anywhere in the United States!) and in the North Cascades. Unfortunately, there is currently a gap in pika data between those two project areas. Cascade Forest Conservancy will lead the efforts in southwest Washington to expand the study across a larger geographic area.

Watch Oregon Field Guide’s segment about Cascade Pika Watch and the pika in the Columbia Gorge

Help from volunteers will be critical for Cascade Forest Conservancy’s efforts to study pika in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Unlike CFC’s group trips, pika research offers volunteers the chance to make an impact while setting their own schedule and pace! No experience is necessary and any level of participation will help us fill in the data gaps about this charismatic climate change indicator species!

Pikas are a natural fit for independent citizen science. They are easily identifiable, are found in beautiful places, and offer invaluable information about environmental changes. We will be hosting volunteer training on June 11th. You can attend in person at our office in Vancouver or by joining our livestream (registration will open in February). During the training, we will go over:

  • Pika and habitat identification
  • Opportunistic observations vs. sitting surveys
  • Equipment checklist
  • Safety procedures
  • Volunteer guidelines 

Whether you’re going on a hike in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest to opportunistically observe pika, or you want to claim a survey spot within the forest to look and listen for pika (the sitting survey) this independent volunteer opportunity is just for you! 

If you have any recent pika observations that you’d like to share or if you want to get started before June, please email Amanda Keasberry, CFC’s Science and Stewardship Manager, at amanda(at)



From all of us here at Cascade Forest Conservancy, thank you to the many volunteers who joined our staff on science and restoration volunteer trips in 2021. Due in part to modifications and cancellations of a majority of our 2020 volunteer trips–we had a lot of goals to achieve in 2021. Volunteers stepped up in a big way, and we had a very successful field season! In total, we had 294 volunteers dedicate  2,235 hours to studying and improving habitats throughout the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Here is just a portion of what they accomplished:

    • Volunteers planted 7,275 Douglas fir and western redcedar at the Yellowjacket Creek/Cispus River restoration site where engineered logs jams were placed to improve salmon habitat. As the saplings grow and mature, they will help prevent streambank erosion, shade the stream, and add more nutrients into the water. Other trees, shrubs, sedges planted by volunteers this year were to improve habitat for threatened Oregon spotted frog, to help with post-fire recovery, and to revegetate areas where Hemlock dam once stood.


    • Volunteers removed decades of built-up debris from the bases of 105 old-growth ponderosa pines to protect these fire-resistant but shallow-rooted giants from future wildfires in dry mixed-conifer forests south of  Mount Adams. 


    • They improved aquatic habitat by constructing three beaver dam analogs, collected native seeds and utilized them to support natural cycles of rejuvenation in places slow to recover from a series of uncharastically high-intensity and unusually low-interval wildfires.


  • Volunteers trekked into some of the most remote corners of the forest to collect data from and reset 57 wildlife cameras (and placed 12 new ones) that are part of an ongoing study helping scientists better understand the needs of reintroduced forest carnivores–which will inform and guide future reintroduction efforts.

And much, much more.

The impacts of these efforts will continue to grow and reverberate through the ecosystems of our region for decades to come. We simply could not accomplish all that we do without the help of these volunteers–but that isn’t all we are grateful for. Thank you volunteers for great conversations shared around camp after hard days of work, for jokes and stories that lightened heavy loads, and mostly, for reminding us all once again that when people who care for our shared home come together to work for its benefit, there is nothing we can’t do. From all of us here at Cascade Forest Conservancy to every single person who participated in a volunteer science and restoration trip in 2021, thank you.