Birds, fish, mammals and even insects migrate, at different times of the year, following various patterns and usually in response to changes in the weather or available food. Within every general group of animals (officially called a phylum), there’s at least a few species that regularly exchange a cool climate for warm; forests for grasslands; or north for south. Of all life on earth, plants and trees would probably be the least expected to move to another location. (Although that does help explain the saying ‘picking up your roots’). But in many Sierra Nevada forests, trees are moving – and not just swaying in the breeze, but for them, moving to a better neighborhood where they’re not looking for less traffic or quiet neighbors, but in a struggle of life and death.
Simply because plants were never intended to move from one location to another, they have evolved and adapted to living their lives in one place, for good or bad. While individual trees aren’t traveling across forests and fields (you can tell the forest through the trees by which trees are walking toward you), in some mountainous areas living has become such a challenge that new seedlings are finding more success at higher elevations; and where existing populations of trees have already established themselves at the highest levels, new seeds are moving – or we should say, being moved by birds and squirrels and other animals – to untested areas. Due to climate change, wildfires, logging and other human development, some of the most familiar Sierra trees including mountain hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana); red fir (Abies magnifica); and western white pine (Pinus monticola) are disappearing among the northern Sierra, foreshadowing ecosystem changes that will effect every species that lives in or depends upon a healthy, established forests anchored by food-and shelter-providing trees.
And what of the young trees, on their way to new and exciting adventures in places those old, know-it-all trees don’t understand? (“When I was your age we never had voice-chat!). Now, it’s uncertain. The state of all Sierra vegetation is being studied by government and academic specialists, yet it’s too early to tell if individual trees, and ultimately forests, can succeed at elevations and in micro-climates so unlike their origin. Because plants – evolved and adapted to live in one place for generations – can’t get up and move any time they feel like it.
Michonne Says: This story doesn’t fool me, everyone knows trees can’t move from one place to another. But trees can slap you on the side if the wind is winding and makes the trees dizzy so a low branch hits you while you weren’t even looking and just minding your own business. I wouldn’t know for certain but that’s what I’ve heard.