Microclimate Part 2

Monkeyflower thrives in the moist cool microclimate found along shaded mountain streams.

I have installed three identical thermometers around my house. One hangs on a tree 25 feet outside my bedroom window on the upper floor. I like to know what the temperature is when I get up. The second is on the back porch and the third is on the front porch. Each of these will consistently read differently. For instance, the back porch is is regularly around five degrees warmer than the front porch.

However, I don’t see any change in vegetation over this small distance. It is possible that this is just a winter phenomenon as things can change with the seasonal position of the sun. However, we live in the Douglas fir forest zone and, just 100 feet below on the flat of the caldera, there is a dramatic change to a lodgepole forest—a very different habitat from us. Does 100 feet make all that difference? It helps, but in this case, our hill also faces east and is cooler in the summer—a different microclimate.

Once you start looking for them, microclimates are often easy to see. The geothermal areas of Yellowstone are a great example, allowing for wintering wildlife to live there and different plants to grow. North facing slopes are often wetter and cooler than south facing ones. For several years I have noticed that the snow on the south-facing side of a major road I travel daily melts several weeks earlier than the snow on the other side. The slower melting side has a shorter growing season, more water and if I were to look, might have some different plants growing there. If you notice a certain type of fungi growing in an area, you might suspect a microclimate. Other plants, such as ferns and mosses, may also indicate areas where the climatic conditions are consistently different than those surrounding it.

Urban areas almost always create their own microclimates called “urban heat islands”. I noticed that while living in Ucon, about eight miles from downtown Idaho Falls, I could not grow some of the flowering plants I would see in town. My area, being more rural, was more directly exposed to the weather. In town, buildings protected plants from wind.  Asphalt, concrete and brick soak up heat energy during the day and release it at night keeping the overall temperature higher.

I once planted half a dozen Rocky Mountain juniper in my yard and discovered that those protected behind a tall fence grew twice as fast as those 20 feet away on an exposed hill. I realized that I could take advantage of microclimates in my garden plan. Over time, I discovered several low areas to avoid where the coldest air would sink into and frost the ground before the rest of the yard. I could create a larger cold-sink like that and draw the coldest air away and protect some of my plants. In my case, I actually built a hill instead, with the hill frosting later than the ground below it. Frost-tender plants did better on the west and south faces of my home, effectively extending my growing season. I never got around to it, but I could have also created intentional microclimates with a cold frame or a greenhouse.

The same holds true for camping and picnicking. There are good places to pitch a tent or set up a lunch and there are some not so good places. Setting up camp in the bottom of a hollow may lead to a very cold night when moving up slope just a few feet could mitigate that. It can be the reverse for a picnic. During the heat of a summer day, a protected hollow might offer a cool respite from the rest of the area.

So, there you go. Just when you thought that this microclimate stuff was a bunch of hooey, there are actually practical applications. Who would have thought that?

Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from Nature-track.com!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho