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Fersn on the Ladd property [Photo: JHLT]

Humans tend to like to conserve things that are rare, which begs the question: how to know what is rare? During my first 12 years in Jackson Hole, I spent much of my time working and off-duty on the public lands in Teton County. I got to know and interpreted everything I thought characterized the ecology and natural history of those places. Since 1999, I have spent most of my working time walking about and studying the private lands of Jackson Hole, particularly those with conservation easements.

Having investigated a wide range of places and habitats in Jackson Hole, I’ve built up a landscape perspective over time. So when I come across something new or different that I have never witnessed before, it sticks in my mind. This week, on an annual monitoring visit to the Teton Front south of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, on a piece of property owned by Beedee and Ted Ladd, I walked into a small portion of the Teton Earthquake Fault Line. The zone is sometimes characterized on the landscape as steep, east-facing slopes with aspen, oftentimes wet with springs and seeps that run along the eastern length of the Teton Range.

Lo and behold, in that verdant, moist band of property were…ferns! But, not just some ferns, but an entire community of western bracken ferns (Pteridium aquilinum)! The minute we entered into this microsite, Morgan Bender-deMoll, our summer Stewardship Associate from Oregon proclaimed, “This is just like back home, except for the aspen!” It smelled and felt different – an impressive, neck-deep growth that totally dominated the aspen understory. It was bounded only by the open water of a broad, seeping band of springs.

It turns out that western bracken ferns can grow even taller (10 feet) and that they propagate primarily by rhizomes. The plant was named by the famous taxonomist Linnaeus for the way that the leaves splay like the wings of an eagle. This family of ferns is found around the world, largely due to their lightweight spores.

Common around the globe or not, I saw something rare to the private lands of Jackson Hole this week, but fitting directly into the steep, wildflower-laden, forb meadows that are tucked among the majestic 400-year old Douglas fir trees that guard over the Teton Front from the National Park to the Teton Pass – a zone I thought I understood before. I am happy that the Ladd family chose to protect their land with a conservation easement, just for the “armchair value” of knowing that fern community will be there until the “big earthquake”.

-Tom Segerstrom

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