Dispelling misconceptions is a major portion of my day job. I’m not a fan of arguing, confronting, or telling someone their long-held notions are not necessarily the truth, so some days I find more difficult than others, depending on how many people I run into with obscured views of the natural world. One of the most common things I have to straighten out on a daily basis is where the tallest tree is [not in the Tall Trees Grove]; another is that the scenic road to the south does not have the bigger trees, it just looks that way. Often, too, I find myself explaining that Coast Redwoods and Giant Sequoias are not the same, frequently to the bummed General Sherman seeker.
Some of this informational confusion comes from long-held views passed along from previous generations through tales [like Grandpa drove his car through the largest tree in the world]. Other sources of half-truths and bent facts are second-hand stories, the internet, and–believe it or not, textbooks! Not that textbooks are wrong [although they can be once and a while], they are usually just too general to fit every single scenario.
Take the Roosevelt elk that lives in this part of California for an example. They are the largest subspecies of elk, although, I usually hear folks from Montana claim theirs are larger. Another thing that doesn’t quite add up to most people is that these elk don’t move to higher ground during the Summer around here, contrary to what the below textbook states:
“Elk also exhibit a circannual behavior pattern. Summers tend to be spent at high elevations, even above the timberline [the highest altitude at which trees can grow in a particular area]. Winters are spent at lower elevations that are warmer and provide more access to food.” Introduction to Wildlife and Fisheries: An Integrated Approach p.129
Around here, elk pretty much hang around their favorite field for the summer. There are different herds around, and each will move around a few square miles, going in and out of the trees based on whether the sun is out or not. If they were to leave the cool coast for the highlands, they’d go from 65 degree weather to 90+ temperatures in the inland hills. When winter rolls around, they take cover in the trees more often, but will still be found sitting in the rain in the middle of fields every now and then.
Explaining the patterns of ‘atypical’ elk migration to visitors can be a challenge, especially when explaining the exception to the rule of Sunny and Warm California comes into play. Imagine how your world would come crashing down if you just arrived to your destination vacation spot and you learn it’s one of the foggiest places on the planet [especially during the Summer], Summer temperatures never arrive thanks to the cold Pacific, and to top it off, the elk don’t exhibit textbook behavior! Reality in this part of the world is brutal. Boy howdy, do I have my work cut out for me!