Peru

I just returned from two weeks in the Peruvian Andes conducting field work on high elevation wetlands and how they were responding to impacts from livestock grazing in a changing climate. We were in the Huascaran National Park, the highest part of the Andes with many peaks soaring above 20,000 feet. Our Colorado State U. group was joined by students and faculty from 4 other campuses and the international Mountain Institute. These wetlands, or bofedales in Peruvian jargon, are essential in providing quality water for the thousands who reside below.

Kings Peak Highest Peak in Utah 13,528 feet ASL Courtesy USDA Forest Service
Kings Peak
Highest Peak in Utah 13,528 feet ASL
Courtesy USDA Forest Service
Having spent many forays into our magnificent High Uintah Mountains, I found myself reflecting on ecological and cultural parallels. Although our highest Kings peak at 13,528 feet was far below Mount Huascaran’s 22,205 foot elevation, its bold loftiness provides a similar experience as would standing on the Huascaran’s summit. A departure results from the highly glaciated Huascaran. Our Uintahs lost their glaciers around 8000 years ago from a warming climate. Unfortunately, Huascaran’s glaciers are following suit having lost nearly 30% over the past three decades. These changes were being compounded by poorly managed hordes of livestock which had overgrazed much of the landscape.

Wild Flowers in Tony Grove Meadow Courtesy USDA Forest Service Teresa Prendusi, Photographer
Wild Flowers in Tony Grove Meadow
Courtesy USDA Forest Service
Teresa Prendusi, Photographer
Our primary focus was on changing vegetation, invertebrate populations, and water quality. At the peak of Peru’s dry, winter season, I wasn’t expecting to see much in bloom. To my delight, I recorded nearly 30 species of flowers in both woody and herbaceous form. Tomorrow I will be leading a nature hike in the wetlands and uplands of Tony Grove Lake here in our Bear River Range where I expect a like number in bloom combined with a plethora of butterflies and birds.

Although virtually all of the Andean flowers were new to me, there were similar families and genera. Of special note was a shrubby form of lupine growing to 5 feet, and another, exquisite columnar form approaching 6 feet found only in this national park. “Taulli Macho” is the local name for this splendid plant. “Macho” is a great descriptor!

Birds and butterflies were no less baffling. All were new to my life list- Pona ibis, Andean Condors, giant coot, tufted duck, Andean flicker, giant humming bird, on and on. Senses overwhelmed. I missed the familiar sights and songs from our mountain birds- Clark’s nutcrackers, Steller jays, Cassin’s finch, pine siskins, violet green swallows, mountain bluebirds to name a few.

Grazing at Fishlake in Utah Courtesy USDA Forest Service
Grazing at Fishlake in Utah
Courtesy USDA Forest Service
I did a bit of research on our High Uintahs and found some parallels related to climate change and livestock management. Although not as profound as calving glaciers in the Andes, or hordes of free ranging livestock, a continued loss of our snow pack and resulting changes in hydrology compounded by certain livestock grazing practices are under close scrutiny by agencies and others. A recent publication “Assessment of Watershed Vulnerability to Climate Change for the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache and Ashley National Forests, Utah” published by the United States Department of Agriculture has much to offer.

This is Jack Greene, and you guessed it- I’m Wild about Utah!!

Credits:

Images: Courtesy USDA Forest Service, Photographers noted, where available, for each image
Text:     Jack Greene

Sources & Additional Reading:

Rice, Janine; Bardsley, Tim; Gomben, Pete; Bambrough, Dustin; Weems, Stacey; Leahy, Sarah; Plunkett, Christopher; Condrat, Charles; Joyce, Linda A. 2017. Assessment of watershed vulnerability to climate change for the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache and Ashley National Forests, Utah. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-362. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 111 p., https://www.fs.usda.gov/treesearch/pubs/54330

Slots, Els, World Heritage Site for World Heritage Travellers, https://www.worldheritagesite.org/list/Huascaran+National+Park

Huascarán National Park, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/333

Wild Neoteny

Annual Wildflower Festival Cedar Breaks National Monument Courtesy National Park Service, Cedar Breaks National Monument
Annual Wildflower Festival
Cedar Breaks National Monument
Courtesy National Park Service, Cedar Breaks National Monument
“Hey, stop the truck!” my wife called from the passenger seat, her nose pressed against the window. I already knew what this was about; she was out the door before the dust had cleared the hood, kneeling in the grass. While she hovered over something newly found with purple petals, I stared out across the high, open meadow of blooming wildflowers, the urge to run surging into my feet. I turned at her exclamation several seconds later, half a football field of colored space between us now. Arms spread wide; grins from ear to ear. In a field of wildflowers, we were kids again.

Scientists call it neoteny, the retention of juvenile features in the adult of a species—basically, the harboring of a playful nature into adulthood. The research into the benefits of play, especially outdoor play, is becoming more replete by the day. In humans, play puts the right hemisphere of the brain into gear, that portion responsible for artistic and creative notions, imagination and insight, and holistic thought. The cerebellum and frontal lobes light up as well, increasing attunement to coordination, executive functioning, and contextual memory development. Neoteny, scientists say, is the key to a species’ adaptability and, therefore, its survival.

Alpine Pond Upper Flowers Cedar Breaks National Monument Courtesy National Park Service, Cedar Breaks National Monument
Alpine Pond Upper Flowers
Cedar Breaks National Monument Courtesy National Park Service, Cedar Breaks National Monument
Wild neoteny could be the term used to describe the human affinity to explore one’s natural surroundings, to wander off into the hills in search of something new and interesting, to learn the nuance of a place and to gain some intimacy with it—to call it home. We do that, I think, when we go on hikes into the wild hinterlands, catapult ourselves down the turbulent waters of our rivers, or climb the rock faces we stumble upon. It’s an adrenaline rush to be sure, a high on life as they say; but it’s also an act of survival—and of remaining human.

Robin Moore, a professor at North Carolina State University, says “the natural environment is the principle source of sensory stimulation….” “Sensory experiences,” he says, “link [our] exterior world with [our] interior, hidden, affective world.” The outdoor environment is a medium of human connection where, as Moore puts it, the “freedom to explore and play…through the senses…is essential for healthy development….” Dr. Stuart Brown, clinical researcher and founder of The National Institute for Play, behooves us in his Ted Talk on the subject to explore our individual histories of play. If you close your eyes and imagine yourself at play, where are you? The open water, a deep forest, a mountain peak, or maybe a field of wildflowers?

In his national bestseller, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv calls nature a “reset button.” It is the place where we are reminded of ourselves and our purpose. Australian musician Xavier Rudd sings, “Take a stroll to the nearest water’s edge/Remember your place.” It’s often proffered that in a time of industrial expectation and hyper-communication, we need the wild spaces more than ever. There’s some truth to that; but I think I’d go play there anyway, even if it wasn’t to escape the, quote-unquote, “workaday life.” I’m most human when I’m running through a field of blooming wildflowers.

I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy US National Park Service, Cedar Breaks National Monument
Text: Josh Boling, 2018

Sources & Additional Reading

Cedar Breaks, Plan Your Visit, National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/event-listing.htm?eventID=68A2C9C9-155D-451F-679007F885E5FA1A

Cedar Breaks National Monument, National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/cebr/index.htm

Neoteny, Reference Terms, ScienceDaily, https://www.sciencedaily.com/terms/neoteny.htm

Decreasing the Habitat Risks of Utah’s Southern Sage-Grouse

Decreasing Habitat Risks Utah’s Southern Sage-Grouse: Juniper Grouse=grouse in a marginal area pre-treatment. You can see where one tree has been mulched. There is little sagebrush or grass to provide cover for the grouse. Courtesy and copyright Nicole Frey, Photographer
Juniper Grouse = grouse in a marginal area pre-treatment. You can see where one tree has been mulched. There is little sagebrush or grass to provide cover for the grouse.
Courtesy & © Nicole Frey, Photographer
In the past decade, over 45,000 acres of land in southern Utah have had conservation treatments by removing the encroaching pinyon-juniper forest and allowing the native grasses and sagebrush to return.
With the use of GPS units, scientists and manager are able to witness the positive impacts these treatments are having on Utah’s Greater sage-grouse population. They monitor the movement patterns of the grouse and determine how the birds use their seasonal habitats throughout the year.

Decreasing Habitat Risks Utah’s Southern Sage-Grouse: Hen on a nest. This is what a nest looks like in good habitat. You can see that the brush gives cover from the top and the grass and forbs provide cover from the sides Gourtesy and copyright Nicole Frey, Photographer
Hen on a nest. This is what a nest looks like in good habitat. You can see that the brush gives cover from the top and the grass and forbs provide cover from the sides
Gourtesy & © Nicole Frey, Photographer
Female and male grouse have similar habitat needs during the winter, but choose different landscapes when their needs change during the nesting and chick-rearing seasons.

Wildlife managers call the grouse a “landscape species” because they have to manage a variety of different communities for the grouse to thrive.

During the months of January and February when the habitat is at its coldest, females and males have the same needs – to stay warm, find food, and avoid predators.

Fortunately, sagebrush provide the resources to meet all these needs.

While grouse huddle under the brush for protection from frigid winds, deepening snow and roaming predators, they avoid having to search for food since the bulk of their nourishment comes from the leaves of the sagebrush. The grouse simply reach up, nibble on the leaves, and remain safe in their protective sagebrush tent.
When they have consumed all the leaves from one bush, they simply move to another sagebrush.

Decreasing Habitat Risks Utah’s Southern Sage-Grouse: Little Grouse Family=hen and chicks in treated habitat. It has healthy sagebrush and a grasses and forbs provide food and visual cover Courtesy and copyright Nicole Frey, Photographer
Little Grouse Family = hen and chicks in treated habitat. It has healthy sagebrush and a grasses and forbs provide food and visual cover
Courtesy & © Nicole Frey, Photographer
In the spring, the needs of the females change dramatically. Once their chicks have hatched the females search for a moist place where the chicks can eat a variety of bugs and green vegetation to receive the necessary nutrients for fast growth.

By fall, the chicks are grown and the adult females return to the dry sagebrush habitat and prepare for winter.
The biggest struggle sage grouse have in the southern region is a fragmented habitat. They have to fly dangerous distances to reach the variety of habitats they need.

Decreasing Habitat Risks Utah’s Southern Sage-Grouse: Grouse with a GPS transmitter Gourtesy and copyright Nicole Frey, Photographer
Grouse with a GPS transmitter
Gourtesy & © Nicole Frey, Photographer
Nick Frey, extension associate professor in the Department of Wildland Resources at USU, has researched sage grouse for the past 13 years. She explains this struggle, ”To get to the next tiny pocket of habitat [the grouse] have to fly over forests and high ridges, which endanger their lives. Prior to the treatments, it was difficult for me to have a bird stay alive for an entire year, now I have birds I have tracked for more than three years…They’re able to find better resources and healthier habitats without putting themselves at risk so often.”

One of the first conservation treatments occurred in Sink Valley in 2005.

Prior to this, female Greater sage grouse in Sink Valley would spend the summers in the agricultural fields south of Alton, which were laced with danger. A couple of times grouse got bailed up and researchers would find the transmitters in a hay bale. At other times, an eagle would carry off birds and the transmitter would be found with a hole in the side from the eagle’s claw.

Within two years after the Sink Valley treatment, researchers stopped finding females anywhere close the agricultural fields. The sage grouse were now able to find grasses and forbs in close proximity to their nests.
Rhett Boswell, Habitat Biologist at Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, who created management tools using Frey’s GPS data explains, “With this GPS [data] we have learned so much, it keeps opening up new opportunities to refine our management prescriptions. With this best available science, we can identify which management treatments have the greatest positive impact and create resource selection models to plan future management.”
In other words, the future of Utah’s Greater Sage Grouse is looking bright.

This is Shauna Leavitt and I’m Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Nicole Frey Department of Wildland Resources, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University
Text: Shauna Leavitt, USGS Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

Sources & Additional Reading

To learn more about Utah sage-grouse conservation, please go to www.utahcbcp.org.

Leavitt, Shauna, Greater Sage-Grouse in Utah, Wild About Utah, June 12, 2017, http://wildaboututah.org/greater-sage-grouse-in-utah/

Leavitt, Shauna, South Canyon Sage-Grouse, Wild About Utah, January 22, 2018, http://wildaboututah.org/south-canyon-sage-grouse/

Knowing Trees

A Guide to the Trees of Utah and the Intermountain West Michael Kuhns, Author Utah State University Press Photo taken of personal copy by Ron Hellstern, Photographer Used with permission
A Guide to the Trees of Utah and the Intermountain West
Michael Kuhns, Author
Utah State University Press
Photo taken of personal copy by Ron Hellstern, Photographer
Used with permission
If you are fortunate to live, or even work, near trees enjoy the many benefits they provide. Perhaps you learned something about them in a biology class you took long ago. But do you know what kind of trees you are looking at now? Consider a few basic elementary tips to help you identify what you are observing. And please understand this will be a generalization.

There are 865 tree species in North America. Your best bet to identify them is to get a Western or Utah Field Guide that includes a dichotomous key, which simply means you are given two choices of characteristics to begin your identification process. Once you make a choice, two more characteristics are presented and you continue making choices until you can identify the tree you are observing. Today, I’ll concentrate on the native and naturalized trees of Utah.

Let’s start with Utah Conifers, the gymnosperm trees that bear cones. Inspecting the needles will help you “at least” identify the genus to which they belong. Remember the first letter of Firs, Spruce and Pines to provide a hint to their species:

FIRS have flat and friendly needles to the touch. Common Utah firs include White, Subalpine, and Douglas Fir (which really isn’t a fir, but can be recognized by its cone which looks like little tails on the bracts extending out from under the cone scales.

SPRUCE trees have sharp and square needles. Trying to shake hands with a spruce can be painful, but their individual needles can be rolled between your thumb and finger. Utah has the Blue and Engelmann Spruce.

PINES have packets of two or more needles bundled together as they grow out of the twig. Common pines in Utah include the Bristlecone, Limber, Lodgepole, Pinyon, and Ponderosa.

JUNIPERS have scaley, twiggy leaves and grow in the rocky soils and dry plains and hills where we have either Utah Juniper or Rocky Mountain Juniper. They are quite similar but Utah Junipers have gray bark and yellow-green needles. The Rocky Mountain trees have reddish-brown bark and gray-green needles.

Broadleaf Trees are a little trickier. This is where your dichotomous key and field guide can really help. Once again, I’ll only concentrate on generalities.

MAPLES are palmately lobed, meaning they have leaves that are shaped like hands with very pointy fingers. Look for Rocky Mountain Maple, Bigtooth Maple and Box Elder.

OAKS have leaves that look like rounded lobes all along their edges. Some people say they remind them of feathers.

Here are a few of many qualities of leaves to consider:
Leaf shape – Are they oval, linear, oblong or another shape?
Do they grow opposite or alternate on branches?
Are there single or compound leaves?
Are the margins smooth, serrated like a steak knife, or have another edge?

Remember, you might be looking at a tree from another country sold at a retail nursery store.

Pando, the worlds largest known organism at Fishlake in central Utah Image courtesy USDA Forest Service J Zapell, Photographer
Pando, the worlds largest known organism at Fishlake in central Utah
Image courtesy USDA Forest Service
J Zapell, Photographer
In closing, I’ll remind Utahns that the Quaking Aspen was designated as our State Tree in 2014. To its credit, the largest aspen colony, named Pando the Trembling Giant, is in Utah near Fishlake and is a single collection of more than 70,000 trunks connected to a single root system.

That is another reason I am Wild About Utah. This is Ron Hellstern.
 
Credits:

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Utah State University Press an imprint of University Press of Colorado
Photo of personal copy of the book taken by Ron Hellstern
Image: Pando Aspen Colony, Courtesy USDA Forest Service, J Zapell, Photographer
Text: Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

Additional Reading

Kuhns, Michael, https://upcolorado.com/utah-state-university-press/item/2130-a-guide-to-the-trees-of-utah-and-the-intermountain-west

Little, Elbert L, National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees–W: Western Region, Chanticleer Press https://www.amazon.com/National-Audubon-Society-American-Trees-W/dp/0394507614 alternatively https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/119974/national-audubon-society-field-guide-to-north-american-trees–w-by-national-audubon-society/

Watts, Tom & Bridget, Rocky Mountain Tree Finder, Nature Study Guild, Menasha Ridge Press, Birmingham, AL https://www.amazon.com/Rocky-Mountain-Tree-Finder-Watts/dp/0912550295 alternatively
https://www.menasharidge.com/product.php?productid=17125

What Tree Is That, A Guide to More Common Trees Found in North America, The Arbor Day Foundation, Nebraska City, NE, https://www.amazon.com/What-Tree-That-America-Recipient/dp/0963465759 alternatively https://www.arborday.org/trees/whattree/whatTree.cfm?ItemID=E6A

Tree Identification Index, USU Extension Forestry, https://forestry.usu.edu/tree-identification/index

Kuhns, Michael, Rupp, Lawrence, Selecting and Planting Landscape Trees, USU Extension Forestry, https://forestry.usu.edu/files-ou/selecting-planting-trees.pdf

Key To The Trees Of Logan Canyon, USU Extension Forestry, https://forestry.usu.edu/tree-identification/keys-to-trees-of-logan/keys-to-trees-of-logan-canyon