Some of the prettiest wildflowers you'll ever see in the Sierra Nevada grow above timberline, including this wonderfully-named Sky Pilot, which I photographed at 12,500 feet above sea level at the Middle Palisade glacier near Big Pine earlier this month (Sept. 09)
The Sky Pilot is also emblematic of a rugged, windswept and starkly beautiful ecosystem that is now in danger because of global warming.
"As the climate gets warmer, the tree-line moves up," Ann Dennis, a retired vegetation ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service told me in an interview. "If tree-line goes all the way up to the top of the mountains, there will be very little habitat left for these species."
The risk is more acute in the northern Sierra, including the Lake Tahoe region, because Â forests already creep close to the summits in many places, she said. "The alpine zone is really just a tiny little slice at the top of the peaks. Once the trees get up to the top of those peaks, there really isn't going to be habitat in the Tahoe area for a number of species."
"I think it is a very genuine cause for concern," Dennis told me. "I care, personally, because I love the high mountains. And I have been going up to very high places since I was a little child. My heart sings in these places. I love it."