Pot Holes and Fairly Shrimp

Audio:  mp3

Aerial view of potholes in Navajo sandstone, Grand County, Utah. Photo Courtesy USGS

Aerial view of potholes in Navajo sandstone, Grand County, Utah.

Photo Courtesy USGS 

Adult fairy shrimp
Branchinecta packardi.
Photo Courtesy USGS 

Adult Vernal Pool Fairy Shrimp
Branchinecta lynchi
Photo Courtesy USGS 

Shrimp in the desert landscape of Canyonlands National Park? Yep. You can find them, –fairy shrimp– when the rainy season arrives and turns dry, dusty potholes into water-filled rock basins brimming with life.

A surprising array of creatures relies on these potholes for life, and one of the most curious is the fairy shrimp. These unique crustaceans are found in small potholes that dot sandstone outcrops found in America’s Southwest. Their eggs maintain resilience during the dry season, and when spring rains arrive, the shrimp hatch.

There are more than 300 varieties of fairy shrimp, the most common being the Vernal Pool Fairy Shrimp. These little guys measure between a half-inch to one-and-a-half inches long as adults. They can be found anywhere ephemeral pools are present, though the majority of their population resides in California and Oregon.

Fairy shrimp vary in color depending on the menu found in their particular pool of residency, ranging from translucent, to orange, even to blue! They feature 11 pairs of legs to propel themselves upside-down, or more scientifically, ventral side-up.

They also use these incredibly helpful legs to eat unicellular algae, ciliates (sil-ee-its), and bacteria by filter and suspension feeding methods. They filter-feed by pumping water through filtration structures — located in their multi-purpose legs — thus capturing the food. They also are adept at suspension feeding by plucking food floating in the water, again, with their tentacle-like legs. They may also grab or scrape food from the surfaces of other things in their vernal pool, such as sticks and rocks.

What’s truly amazing is how fairy shrimp reproduce. They typically lay drought-tolerant eggs during the summer that over-winter in the dried sediment on the pot hole bottom and then hatch in the spring when the potholes fill with rainwater However, if drought sets in, eggs can be transferred to other pools by floating in gusts of wind or being carried by a particularly curious animal.

These eggs are tough and can withstand varying temperatures, drought, and even the test of time; eggs in laboratory settings have survived intact up to 15 years before hatching.

Under the right conditions, you can observe fairy shrimp in Canyonlands, Arches, and Death Valley national parks. Canyonlands and Arches boast at least two species of fairy shrimp: the Packard Ferry Shrimp, also known as the Rock Pool Ferry Shrimp or the Arizona Ferry Shrimp, and the Great Plains Ferry Shrimp.

Fairy shrimp hatch in the Spring, right after the potholes and vernal pools re-fill with water, so that will be your prime time to look for these interesting creatures. As travelers, you can do your part to help the fairy shrimp by leaving their vernal pools alone. Drinking water, stepping in, or touching a pool can throw off the entire mini-eco-system located in this fascinating habitat.

And remember, our fingers are very salty, so even if you’re using a gentle touch, do not put your fingers in a vernal pool, as it just might raise the salinity and throw off the dissolved oxygen percentage needed for fairy shrimp to survive.

For Wild About Utah and National Parks Traveler, I’m Kurt Repanshek.

Image: Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek, www.nationalparkstraveler.com
Text:     Kurt Repanshek, NationalParksTraveler.com.

Additional Reading:







Riparian Zones and a Critter Quiz

Audio:  mp3

Hello, this is Jim Goodwin.

In a minute I’ve got a critter quiz for you, but first, a word about the huge importance of riparian areas in semi-arid Utah, the second driest state in the union. Utah State’s Extension Service calls riparian zones the green ribbon of life alongside a stream. They are shadier, cooler and moister than adjacent environments.

And with a diverse mix of plants and animals, our few riparian corridors are heavily used by wildlife for food, rest and shelter.

Ok, now for our critter quiz.

What is the largest rodent in North America? Here’s a hint: they can be up to four feet long and weigh 40 to 60 pounds.

Did that do it? No? Alright, this clue will: They spend much of their life in water. They have a beautiful brown coat, a broad flat hairless tail and big orange buck teeth that continually grow, which is why they chew and chew and chew.

Beaver with branch in water
Courtesy US FWS,
Steve Hillebrand, Photographer

Good, you got it . . . it’s the North American beaver. Or as Utah environmental author Chip Ward calls them: the Flat Tail Climate Hero for the restoration of damaged watersheds. Beaver are amazing aquatic engineers, second only to humans in their ability to manipulate their environment.

In our nation’s history, they’ve played a big role in literarily shaping our western landscape.
Joe Wheaton, Utah State wildlife and a beaver expert, rightly calls the work of the beaver “cheap and cheerful restoration” of our heat stressed watersheds.

In the wild, these mostly nocturnal animals, normally live five to ten years.
Fortunately, they are rarely killed for their pelts these days. Beaver are usually monogamous. They will produce up to 10 babies. The young kits will stay home until they are two or so, before they will take off on their own.

Beaver are master aquatic builders. the original geo-engineers. They build dams to flood areas for protection from predators, for access to their food supply, and to provide safe underwater entrances to their dens. Their dams create beautiful riparian habitat for many other animals, birds, fish amphibians, insects and plants. The flooded areas slow the flow of water and sediment downstream and raise the area water table.

Aspen, cottonwood, willow and dogwood are their preferred tree. Those trees regenerate quickly after beaver topple them. When their ponds freeze over, beaver jam smaller branches into the mud at the bottom of their pond for food storage.

Beaver dams can be 5 to 10 feet high and 150 feet across. They are constructed with branches, stones, and plants and plastered together with mud. Over 1200 beaver dams have been counted in northern Utah’s Bear River mountains alone. The World’s largest beaver dam in Canada is 2,789 feet in length. That’s more than 9 football fields.

Yes, sometimes beaver can be a nuisance to human property and activities. Often, learning to live with beaver and the many benefits they can bring, can be a solution. There are simple time-tested ways to prevent flooding. But if nothing works, they can be live trapped and moved to another area. There’s no need to shoot them.

Be a “beaver believer.” Here are some organizations you can check with to learn more:
Utah State wildlife researchers Wally McFarland and Joe Wheaton have created something called the Beaver Restoration Assessment Tool to track beaver dam building activities and their effects throughout the state.
The Bear River Watershed Council in Cache Valley and Mary O’Brien with the Grand Canyon Trust in southern Utah are excellent organizations to contact.

I’m Jim Goodwin for Wild About Utah.

Image: Courtesy US FWS, Steve Hillebrand, Photographer
Text:     Jim Goodwin

Additional Reading:

Beaver Restoration Assessment Tool, http://brat.joewheaton.org/

Bear River Watershed Council, http://www.brwcouncil.org/

Grand Canyon Trust, http://www.grandcanyontrust.org/

Beaver Castor canadensis, National Geographic, http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/beaver/

Sage Steppe

Audio:  mp3

Mountain big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata subsp. Vaseyana) in flower – Photo Courtesy and Copyright Dr. Leila Shultz

Three-tip sage (Artemisia tripartite) with visible yellow flowers. – Photo Courtesy and Copyright Dr. Leila Shultz

Zane Gray’s “Riders of the Purple Sage” and Steve Tremble’s “Sage Brush Ocean” are book titles that may invoke excitement from your literary past. Or you may be traveling along the interstates and side roads of our great state as monotony sets in and drowsiness tightens your grip on the wheel while you nod your way through endless miles of this seemingly drab landscape.

In science jargon it’s referred to as sage steppe, the dominant landscape throughout much of Utah and the Great Basin. Much of this maligned biotic community has been degraded or lost through various mismanagement practices. Sage Steppe is considered an endangered ecosystem despite the seemingly large area it inhabits, primarily due to fragmentation. And the iconic Gunnison sage grouse has followed its demise having recently been placed on the threatened species list.
I just returned from spending a day of study in the field with 16 college students running transects for the Grand Teton N.P. The park is spending millions in sage steppe restoration work to reclaim this critical plant community.

Sagebrush is an important member of an ecosystem that helps support many birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals, as well as an abundance of insects and microbes. One study found nearly 300 arthropod species directly living on just a few plants including- 72 spider, 237 insect, 42 of which were gall-forming, amongst many other species. Such diversity also indicates that sage is playing an important part in maintaining the health of the environment providing ecosystem services such as soil protection, water conservation and nutrient cycling.
Sage is well adapted to the demands of semi-arid deserts. It has tap roots that can go over 15 feet deep to suck up any ground water that might exist and forms extensive webs of surface roots in association with symbiotic fungal hyphae to efficiently gather any rain that might fall. Oftentimes, sagebrush grows in clonal communities with members that can live over 100 years!

Aromatic odors emanating from sage, especially following a downpour of rain, comes from a mix of chemicals including camphor, terpenoids, and a cocktail of other volatile compounds. Some of the chemicals have anti-herbivory action by killing the gut bacteria of carious browsers although pronghorn antelope seem to have evolved resistance to these toxins. Other browsers like cattle, sheep, and mule deer can only eat sagebrush in small doses or whan the leaves are young and tender.

It is this mixture of molecules that sagebrush produces which come into play for communication. Sagebrush is eaten by many mammals and insects. When sagebrush is browsed on by a pronghorn or grasshopper volatile compounds are released from the wound that warn other branches of the same sagebrush as well as the neighboring sage about the potential threat. The sagebrush in the area react to the warning by metabolizing toxins that make them taste unappealing and that cause digestive discomfort for future herbivores who try to make a meal of them.

Native Americans considered sage a sacred plant. It offered medicine, clothing, shelter, and was commonly used in their ceremonial sweat lodges. Last but not least, my lovely granddaughter was given the name Sage. So the next time you find yourself surrounded by our “sagebrush ocean” pay tribute to this vibrant and intricate community of life.

Jack Greene, a lover of sagebrush.


Pictures: Courtesy and Copyright Dr. Leila Shultz
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Get Involved With Plans To Manage Yellowstone National Park’s Bison

Audio:  mp3

Yellowstone Bison, Male
Photo Courtesy National Park Service, Neal Herbert, Photographer

Talk about iconic species at Yellowstone National Park and you’ll most likely start with bison. So tightly are these animals tied to the national parks that they’re even on the Interior Department’s emblem.

But Yellowstone bison also are controversial. Many of these shaggy animals head out of the park in winter and roam into Montana. That can be a problem, as some in Montana’s livestock industry fear bison will transmit brucellosis — a disease that can cause cows to abort their fetuses — to their herds.

Since 2000, the Interagency Bison Management Plan has governed how the park’s bison will be managed in and out of the park. Now state and federal agencies with connections to Yellowstone are working to craft a new approach.

Everything likely will be on the table as that effort moves forward, including the park’s work to maintain its bison population at a specific number.

The National Parks Conservation Association along with other regional and national organizations earlier this spring sent a letter to Montana Governor Steve Bullock and Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk outlining important areas of consideration for the development of the new plan.

Those groups hope a solution can be found to killing hundreds of bison that leave the park during the winter months.

Caroline Byrd is executive director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. She says the effort to craft a new management plan “offers the opportunity to improve, update and shift the management of Yellowstone bison and reduce the annual cycle of controversy and conflict that has characterized the public debate regarding bison management for too long.”

A new management plan, she says, should be “rooted in science, reflect the changes that have occurred in the past decade, incorporate our knowledge and experience managing bison, and chart a new course for bison conservation and management that is good for bison, good for Yellowstone National Park, good for the State of Montana…”

You can lend your thoughts to the process, too, as a public comment period on aspects that should be covered in an environmental impact statement are being accepted into June.

To comment, visit Yellowstone National Park’s website (www.nps.gov/yell) click on the “Get Involved” link in the left hand column, and then on the “Planning” link.

For Wild About Utah, this is Jameson Clifton with National Parks Traveler

Yellowstone Bison
Photo Courtesy National Park Service, Neal Herbert, Photographer

Image: Courtesy US National Parks Service, Neal Herbert, Photographer
Text:     Jameson Clifton, NationalParksTraveler.com.

Additional Reading:

Bison Gores, Tosses Australian Visitor Several Times At Yellowstone National Park, NationalParksTraveler.com, National Parks Traveler Staff,
Yellowstone bison might look tame as cattle, but an Australian man discovered they are not/NPT file photo A bison whose space was invaded by Yellowstone National Park visitors Tuesday … not released. This is the second bison goring incident this year in Yellowstone. Last month a 16-year-old …

Teenager Posing For Picture Gored By Bison At Yellowstone National Park, NationalParksTraveler.com, National Parks Traveler Staff,
Yellowstone bison might look tame, but they can quickly charge you/Kurt Repanshek A 16-year-old exchange student was recovering Saturday from being gored by a bison at Yellowstone National … A 16-year-old exchange student was recovering Saturday from being gored by a bison at Yellowstone National Park. …

Agencies Working To Replace Interagency Bison Management Plan For Yellowstone National Park, NationalParksTraveler.com, National Parks Traveler Staff,
public ideas on how best to manage bison that leave Yellowstone National Park , the first step … the livestock industry in Montana largely opposes Yellowstone bison leaving the park and heading into lower … the park’s work to maintain its bison population at a specific number. A year ago Yellowstone spokesman Al …

Bison Removal In Yellowstone National Park Draws Protests, NationalParksTraveler.com, National Parks Traveler Staff,
Plans by Yellowstone National Park officials to remove roughly 1,000 bison from … and slaughter program, implemented by the National Park Service, is meant to keep the Yellowstone bison … support relocating Yellowstone bison to start herds elsewhere in their state. “(Montana) Governor …

The Geology of Canyonlands National Park

Audio:  mp3

Chesler Park
Canyonlands National Park
Photo Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek, Photographer

Chesler Park
Canyonlands National Park
Photo Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek, Photographer

Baked by time like some multi-layer geologic tort, Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah features a landscape cut by canyons, rumpled by upthrusts, dimpled by grabens, and even pockmarked, some believe, by ancient asteroids.

Just outside of Moab rises a kaleidoscope of tilted and carved geology laid down over the eons. There’s the red and white Cedar Mesa sandstone, the grayish-green Morrison Formation, pinkish Entrada sandstone, and tawny Navajo sandstone, just to name some of the geologic layers. Stacked like pancakes, they help make Canyonlands the most rugged national park in the Southwest and, quite possibly, if you find yourself deep in the park’s Maze District, in the entire Lower 48 states.

In each of the park’s districts — Island in the Sky, Needles, Maze and Horseshoe Canyon — the remarkable effects of geologic time and its endless erosion on this sedimentary landscape rise about you.

If you could turn back the geologic clock, you would see the landscape flooded by oceans, crisscrossed by rivers, covered by mudflats and buried by sand. At various times through the millennia, the climate has resembled a tropical coast, an interior desert, and everything in between.

For hundreds of millions of years, material was deposited. Layer upon layer of sedimentary rock formed as buried materials were cemented by precipitates in the ground water. Each layer contains clues to its origin, such as patterns or fossils, which reveals the environment when it was deposited. For example, the colorful Cedar Mesa Sandstone occurred when periodic floods of iron-rich debris from nearby mountains inundated coastal dunes of white sand.

Along with sedimentation, movements in the earth’s crust altered surface features. The North American continent migrated north from the equator and the local climate and environment here changed dramatically.

Peer into the ragged maw of Canyonlands from the Island in the Sky District on the northern end of the park, and it’s no mystery how the park came by its name.

Spend the night at the Squaw Flat Campground in the Needles District and a morning hike into Chesler Park surrounds you with Creamsicle-hued minarets towering high above, like a king’s crown.

Though Canyonlands covers less than 350,000 acres, which is less than one-seventh the size of Yellowstone National Park, it feels much larger. No doubt it’s the park’s vastness and openness — you won’t find any forests here. Indeed, one old timer said that, “On a clear day, you can see the back of your own head.”

Spend a few minutes contemplating the natural forces, and the hundreds of millions of years that laid down these sediments and compressed these layers of rock. It’s really only recently that these layers have eroded to form the remarkable landscape seen today in Canyonlands National Park.

For Wild About Utah and National Parks Traveler, I’m Kurt Repanshek.

Image: Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek, www.nationalparkstraveler.com
Text:     Kurt Repanshek, NationalParksTraveler.com.

Additional Reading:

Canyonlands National Park, National Parks Service,

Exploring The Parks: Musings From Island In The Sky At Canyonlands National Park, NationalParksTraveler.com Article – Lee Dalton – 06/24/2014

Exploring The Parks: Musings From The Needles District In Canyonlands National Park, NationalParksTraveler.com Article – Lee Dalton – 06/19/2014

Reflections Of Time In Canyonlands, NationalParksTraveler.com Article – Lee Dalton – 06/19/2014

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/search/apachesolr_search/canyonlands, NationalParksTraveler.com Canyonlands Articles