Natural Resource Condition Assessments for Lava Beds National Monument

The Natural Resource Condition Assessment (NRCA) Program provides framework, funding, and publishing support to parks to aid in the synthesis and documentation of natural resource conditions. Condition assessment reports are a tool to describe selected park resources, and record a snapshot of their current condition, identify trends, and identify potential or current threats and stressors. Understanding the condition and trend of natural resources is key for parks and NPS planners to appropriately prioritize and allocate stewardship resources.

Brush and Juniper in the foreground, and a single dome is seen in the background.
Mount Dome

NPS Photo

Lava Beds National Monument was set aside to protect and interpret the volcanic and natural features present in the area located in northeastern California. Over the last half-million years, volcanic eruptions on the Medicine Lake shield volcano have created a rugged landscape dotted with diverse volcanic features. More than 800 caves, Native American rock art sites, historic battlefields and campsites, and a high desert wilderness encompass this unique site.

Traditional NRCA Report: 2013

In an effort to better understand the natural resources and processes present in this National Monument, a Natural Resource Condition Assessment was written and published in 2013. This assessment was a collaborative project between National Park Service staff, Oregon State University, and Southern Oregon University. This team of collaborators examined the available data and chose seven resource topics that were of greatest concern to park management at the time:

- Changes in climate and microclimate

- Changes in cave geologic features

- Changes in cave-dependent species

- Changes in above-ground wildlife

- Changes in air quality

- Changes in the natural quality of the park experience

The assessment showed that resource conditions within the park varied. The risks of greatest concern are those that threaten the microclimate of the caves, particularly the caves that contain perennial ice. The cave microclimate could be placed at greater risk by increased visitation, decreasing aboveground precipitation, warming aboveground temperatures, and as perhaps by falling regional water tables. Cave organisms could also be affected to an unknown degree by herbicide applications in lands that overlie the caves, as well as by changes in cave water budgets resulting from changes in aboveground vegetation cover. Vegetation shifts that have occurred continue to diminish populations of many of the monument’s wildlife species that depend on habitats characterized by sagebrush, bunchgrass, or large conifers.

Understanding of condition and trends of the monument’s natural resources could perhaps benefit the most from new or expanded research on relationships between precipitation, infiltration, groundwater levels, and cave microclimates, as well as between visitor use and cave microclimates.

For other reports and natural resource datasets visit the NPS Data Store.

Source: Data Store Collection 7765 (results presented are a subset). To search for additional information, visit the Data Store.

Last updated: February 25, 2022


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