Click to view Rain Water Storage Tank, Photo Courtesy & © Roslynn Brain, Photographer

Rain Water Storage Tank
Private Residence in New Mexico
Installed by Jeff Adams of Terrasophia
Photo Courtesy & © Roslynn Brain, Photographer

Have you ever looked at a healthy forest and wondered “how do those trees, shrubs, and smaller plants thrive without fertilizer inputs, pest control, consistent watering, tilling, thinning, and being overtaken by unwanted species?” Many in Utah, in striving for alternative ways to grow food and landscapes in general, are turning away from conventional practices and experimenting in a relatively new design process called “permaculture.”

But what exactly does permaculture mean? Permaculture is a design philosophy for producing sustainable landscapes and buildings that work as a system and have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems.

Although concepts included in permaculture design have been in practice for millennia by indigenous cultures worldwide, the term “permaculture” was first coined in Tasmania in the mid 1970s by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. They describe permaculture as “consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fiber, and energy for provision of local needs.”

As Utahns lean toward water conservation and self-sufficiency, many are incorporating permaculture into their lifestyles. The first, and most important, principle in permaculture design is “observe and interact.” Watch your landscape during different weather events – in heavy rain, regular rain, high winds, and more. Where do storms come in from? Which way do the high winds normally blow? Which areas receive full sun? Where do you hear consistent noise and do you like or dislike what you hear? How does water flow on your property in a rain event? These observations will serve as the foundation guiding how you will eventually design your landscape.

Following “observe and interact” are 11 additional principles, which can be found in most introductory texts about permaculture design, and in USU Extension’s permaculture fact sheet. After making long and slow observations, you may decide you wish to block noise coming in from a certain part of your property, or capture rainwater from your south-facing roof. This is where various tools and techniques come into play, such as harvesting rainwater and stacking functions. Rainwater is a clean, free resource that falls on our roof and properties. Are you effectively using this free resource by building basins and swales to better capture and infiltrate water instead of mounds where water would easily runoff? Are you capturing and storing water from your roof for drier periods? Stacking functions is the practice of considering the entire spectrum of benefits various elements (such as plants or structures) on your landscape could provide, and then grouping elements in a way that works as system. A common example includes the Native American “Three Sisters Garden” of corn, beans, and squash. Nitrogen-fixing beans provide a stable, slow-release nitrogen source for the corn, whereas corn provides a pole for the beans to grow. Squash forms a natural ground cover to reduce weeds and retain soil moisture, while the prickly hairs help deter pests. The gardener can reap a higher yield through stacking functions like this.

To find out more, search for USU Extension’s permaculture fact sheet.

For Utah State University Extension Sustainability, this is Roslynn Brain.


Photos: Courtesy and Copyright Roslynn Brain
Text: Roslynn Brain, Utah State University Extension Sustainability

Sources & Additional Reading:

Human-Ringtail Interactions in Zion National Park

Ringtail (Bassariscus astutus), Photo Courtesy US FWS, San Andres NWR

Ringtail (Bassariscus astutus)
Photo Courtesy US FWS

Within Zion national park, there is a small, little known creature named the ringtail. It is related to the raccoon and is completely nocturnal. With big eyes, bigger ears, and a black and white striped tail, they seem like a fairy tale critter. However, they are very real, albeit elusive and extremely smart. They are about the size of a house cat and spend their time hunting for mice, lizards, bird eggs, and insects while also foraging for berries and seeds. They are quite adaptable mammals, changing their diet to suit their surroundings. They can be found throughout the southwest and western coastal states from Oregon to Texas, in all sorts of habitats. However, they are rarely seen, so their presence in the desert of southern Utah usually goes unnoticed. Many residents of southern Utah don’t even know that ringtails exist, let alone live in their back yard.

A relatively large population of ringtails exist in Zion National Park, one of the most heavily traveled national parks in the US. Last year, alone, over 3.6 million people visited the park. Those tourists and visitors often eat packaged and pre-cooked foods while in the park, disposing of their trash in proper receptacles or, rather irresponsibly, along trails and campgrounds. This creates ample opportunities for ringtails to gain access to human food, such as trashcans, and may encourage them to forage for food around campsites and visitor lodging. This behavior is a problem for the guests and employees of Zion National Park, but it is also extremely problematic for the ringtails in this area.

Ringtail (Bassariscus astutus), Photo Courtesy US BLM

Ringtail (Bassariscus astutus)
Photo Courtesy US BLM
© Lee Dittmann, Photographer

The consumption of human foods and trash items are creating a significant shift in the composition of the diets of ringtails in this park. Researchers at Utah State University collected scats from ringtails in the park to analyze what they were eating. While the scats collected far from human buildings and activity showed the diet that is expected for wild ringtails in this area (e.g. insects, plant material, and some small rodent remains), the scats collected around and inside human buildings told a much more disconcerting story. There was trash and non-digestible food items present in over a third of the scats collected. These items perhaps could be due to the wrappings of human food, such as napkins, or they could be a byproduct of trying to gain access to the food, such as eating foil candy bar wrappers. A lot of human food is accessed through improperly sealed trash containers, poor food storage in campsites and cabins, and potentially hand feeding, all of which put the ringtails at risk for dietary problems, behavioral problems, and possibly death.

The ringtails are also coming towards buildings in the communities around Zion National Park, such as Springdale and Rockville, to seek easy shelter in the colder months, something that is not necessary for their survival. Properly sealing homes, particularly attics, in the areas where ringtails occur will prevent the ringtails from entering the living spaces of humans, and gaining access to food items dangerous to them. It will also prevent the homeowner from dealing with the aftermath of having a ringtail take up residence in an attic or crawlspace. Any hole larger than 2″ in diameter is enough to allow an adult male ringtail to enter. Surveying a house’s foundations and siding each fall to identify any such holes, and fill them in, can go a long way toward preventing ringtails from entering a home; helping ringtails practice healthy, wild behavior.

Ringtails are a certainly a wildlife sighting to remember, but make sure you only see them on their terms. Always properly store, prepare, and dispose of food items when in areas with wildlife. It protects you and it protects them, making sure your experience in natural areas remains a positive one.

Images:   Courtesy US FWS
               Courtesy US BLM & Copyright © Lee Dittmann, Photographer
Text:        Adrian Roadman, Nicki Frey and Mary-Ann Muffoletto
Read by:  Mary-Ann Muffoletto, Utah State University College of Natural Resources
Credits:    Adrian Roadman and Nicki Frey

Additional Reading:

Sandhill Crane Days

Sandhill Crane Pair (Grus canadensis) Courtesy US FWS, Justine Belson, Photographer

Sandhill Crane Pair
Grus canadensis
Courtesy US FWS,
Justine Belson, Photographer

George Archibald, who danced daily with a captive female whooping crane named Tex, provided a remarkable example of the biological significance of dancing cranes. George even slept beside Tex, huddled in a down sleeping bag through cold Wisconsin nights, to stimulate her egg laying activity. With the help of some sperm from a donor male crane, this technique proved successful, and George eventually became the proud godfather of a baby Whooper, which he appropriately named “Gee-whiz!”

I first became enamored with cranes while attending a lecture in the U.S. Library of Congress by author-naturalist Peter Mathieson. Cranes are ubiquitous in the earliest legends of the world’s peoples, where they often figure as harbingers of heaven and omens of longevity and good fortune.
Peter was a masterful story teller and soon had my students and I helplessly captivated. Our emotions vacillated from euphoric highs to abysmal lows with his elegant words describing this revered bird, the highs then snatched away as we learned of their tenuous existence. Of the 15 world species, 12 are in serious decline, primarily from habitat loss and overharvesting.

My appreciation for the magnificent avian species was accentuated last year when we had a guest presentation at our inaugural Cache Valley Sandhill crane festival in Logan. We soon realized that our guest speaker Paul Tebbel from Sacramento was more crane than human. Paul has spent much of his life both doing research as an advocate for the protection and enjoyment of this bird. From Paul we learned that the cranes elegant dance appears to go beyond mating to what can only be interpreted as a joyful expression of exuberance. Their dance continues in sporadic fashion throughout the year.

We also learned their read crown is not feathers, but skin which glows brighter with as its emotions escalate, a human trait. Another stunner came from discovering the lovely red earthen color of their feathers is actually a form of body art. The cranes will locate a reddish colored soil which they will use to preen with, transforming their natural gray plumage to an auburn glow.

On our field trip the following morning, we viewed several colts (crane youngsters) in the wet meadows and hayfields. Nesting begins early April to late May. Nests are usually low mounds of vegetation located in wetlands, but are occasionally located in uplands. The female typically lays two eggs, with incubation lasting 29 – 32 days.

Cranes are omnivorous and their diet varies depending on the season and where they are. Seeds, fleshy tubers of plants, grubs, earth worms, snails, amphibians, small reptiles and small rodents are all fair game.

Cranes typically travel 200 – 300 miles in a day during migration at speeds averaging 25 – 35 mph but can reach 500 miles with a good tail wind.
Among the oldest living birds on the planet a crane fossil found in northeast Nebraska is estimated to be about 10 million years old.

Fortunately, Sandhill Crane populations are stable to increasing. The total for the 5 subspecies numbers between 600,000 – 800,000, with Lesser Sandhill Cranes being the most abundant. Join us at our Sandhill Crane Festival in Logan June 10th & 11th to continue our celebration of these “Birds of Heaven” as described by Peter Mathieson.

This is Jack Greene reading for Wild About Utah.

Image: Courtesy U.S. of the Interior, U.S. FWS,
Text:     Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society & USU Office of Sustainability

Additional Reading:

Stillwell, Cindy, Mating for Life,

A leading naturalist and writer travels the globe in search of a prized-and vanishing-bird
Cranes are ubiquitous in the earliest legends of the world’s peoples, where they often figure as harbingers of heaven and omens of longevity and good fortune. They are still held sacred in many places, and for good reason. Their large size and need for wilderness habitat makes them an “umbrella species” whose well being assures that of other creatures and of the ecosystem at large. Moreover, the enormous spans of their migrations are a symbol of, and stimulus to, international efforts at conservation.

In The Birds of Heaven, Peter Matthiessen has woven together journeys in search of the fifteen species of cranes in Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, and Australia. As he tracks them (and their declining numbers) in the company of scientists, conservationists, and regional people encountered along the way, he captures the dilemmas of a planet in ecological crisis, and the deeper loss to humankind if these beautiful and imposing creatures are allowed to disappear. The book includes color plates by renowned wildlife artist Robert Bateman.

Ebersole, Rene, The Man Who Saves Cranes,, January 18, 2013,

Matthiessen, Peter(Author), Bateman,Robert, The Birds of Heaven: Travels with Cranes, North Point Press, 2001,

The Cutthroat Trout

Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout, Oncorhynchus clarki bouvieri

Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout
Oncorhynchus clarki bouvieri
Courtesy USDA Forest Service
Bonneville Cutthroat Trout, Oncorhynchus clarki utahBonneville Cutthroat Trout
Oncorhynchus clarki utah
Courtesy species list
Colorado River Cutthroat Trout, Oncorhynchus clarki pleuriticusColorado River Cutthroat Trout
Oncorhynchus clarki pleuriticus
Courtesy US BLM Rawlins, WY Office

Utah streams offer excellent year-round fishing opportunities for every level of angler. According to the Department of Natural Resources, Utah’s waters are home to approximately 80 different species of fish, but it is the trout fishing that is the biggest attraction for fishermen. Of the trout species swimming in our rivers and lakes, the cutthroat trout is a local favorite and the only trout native to the state.

The cutthroat trout represents the most diverse trout species in North America. They are a freshwater fish of the Salmonidae family that live in cold, clear streams and lakes across the west. Cutthroat trout are distinguished from other trout species by two red slashes prominently striping the lower jaw after which they are named. All cutthroat trout share a single common ancestor, but historic population isolation gave rise to 14 subspecies, each endemic to their own geographic region and river drainage.

There are four subspecies that exist in Utah. Only three of these are considered native to the state: the Colorado River cutthroat, the Yellowstone cutthroat, and Utah’s state fish, the Bonneville cutthroat. In Utah, the Colorado River cutthroat trout can be found in some of the smaller streams and tributaries of the Green River, the San Juan River, and the Colorado River drainages. Their bright coloration and posterior black spotting distinguish these cutthroats from others.

Pure, native Yellowstone cutthroat trout are present in small numbers in the streams of the North Slope of the Raft River Mountains in northwestern Utah. However, this subspecies is more widely distributed across the state due to extensive stocking. Yellowstone cutthroat trout can be differentiated by larger-sized black spots concentrated near the tail and their gold, gray, and copper tones.

The Bonneville cutthroat trout evolved in the Bonneville Basin of Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and Nevada. Its primary ancestors were a population of lake dwelling cutthroat trout living in the late-Pleistocene aged Lake Bonneville. The Bonneville cutthroat trout is less vividly colored and has spots that are more sparsely and evenly distributed across the body than other cutthroats. Thought to be extinct in the 1970s, populations of the Bonneville cutthroat trout are now estimated to exist in around 35% of their historic range, including the nearby Weber and Provo Rivers.

Like so many species, the native cutthroat trout of Utah are under significant pressure due to drought, habitat loss, disease, and competition with non-native species. Though only the Colorado River cutthroat is included on the Utah State Sensitive species list, conservation of all of Utah’s native cutthroat populations is a focal point for state wildlife resource managers.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Anna Bengtson of Park City.

Images: Courtesy USDA Forest Service, US Bureau of Land Management & Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
Text: Anna Bengston

Sources & Additional Reading:

“2014 Utah Fishing Guidebook.” Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, 1 Jan. 2014. Web. 7 July 2014:

“Bonneville Cutthroat Trout.” Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. n.d. Web. 7 July 2014:

“Bonneville Cutthroat Trout.” Native Trout Species. The Western Native Trout Campaign, n.d. Web. 7 July 2014:

“Colorado River Cutthroat Trout.” Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. n.d. Web 7 July 2014:

“Cutthroat Trout.” Colorado Parks and Wildlife, n.d. Web. 7 July 2014:

“Cutthroat Trout.” Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. n.d. Web. 7 July 2014:

“Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii).” Natural Resources Conservation Service, 1 Jan. 2007. Web. 7 July 2014:

“Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii) – FactSheet.” Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii) – FactSheet. U.S Geological Survey, 14 June 2013. Web. 7 July 2014:

“Endangered Species of the Mountain-Prairie Region.” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, n.d. Web. 7 July 2014:

“Fishes.” Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, n.d. Web. 7 July 2014:

“Native Cutthroat of Utah.” Trout Unlimited Blog, 18 Dec. 2012. Web. 7 July 2014:

“Utah’s Native Trout.” Utah Fly Fishing Club, 24 Dec. 2011. Web. 7 July 2014:

“Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout.” Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. n.d. Web. 7 July 2014:
Brown, Dylan. “Shocking habitat projects help increase native Cutthroat populations.” Standard Examiner, 14 May 2014. Web. 7 July 2014:

Chorney, Chad. “For the Love of Cutthroat.” Trout Unlimited Blog, 29 Jan. 2013. Web. 7 July 2014:

Kit Foxes: Sentinels of Utah’s Desert Nights

Kit Fox, click to view larger image, Photo Courtesy and Copyright © 2009 Bryan Kluever

Adult Kit Fox
captured with a box trap.
Kit foxes are weighed,
fitted with a radio collar,
and then released
Courtesy & Copyright © 2010
Bryan Kluever
Graduate Research Assistant
Utah State University
Dept of Wildland Resources

One of the first things observers notice about the kit fox is its tiny size. Weighing in at a mere four pounds or so, Vulpes macrotis is among the smallest canids on the planet.

Often mistaken for swift foxes, kit foxes are a distinct species that sport larger ears and a leaner, more angular appearance. The small mammal has a long, black-tipped bushy tail and a yellowish-gray coat tinged with rusty orange.

Listed as a sensitive species in Utah, the carnivores live primarily in the state’s arid, western regions, where they reside in family dens and hunt for smaller mammals such as field mice and jackrabbits, as well as insects, birds, amphibians and fish.

But the diminutive hunter is susceptible to predation by a host of larger beasts, including coyotes, bobcats and golden eagles, says USU alum and wildlife biologist Bryan Kluever.

“With small size comes disadvantages; however, the advantage is increased agility and mobility,” he says.

Kit foxes have little difficulty leaping over sagebrush and rabbitbrush that towers over them and provides a welcome refuge from hungry predators. Given a choice, the foxes prefer to stay in open areas, where they can put their sense of sight to full use. Their vulnerability to larger members of the food chain partially explains the animal’s nocturnal habits.

Kit Fox, click to view larger image, Photo Courtesy and Copyright © 2009 Bryan Kluever

Adult kit fox prior to being
released. Note the black
collar antenna on the right
side of the fox.
Courtesy & Copyright © 2010
Bryan Kluever

“The life of a kit fox is ruled by the night,” Kluever says. “They are rarely active during the day and, when they are, this activity is limited to near dawn and dusk. This behavior is likely a function of eluding their enemies and avoiding harsh desert temperatures, especially in summer.”

One of the kit foxes’ most distinctive traits is its insatiable curiosity.

“If one word had to be used to describe the kit fox, it would be inquisitive,” says Kluever, who extensively studied the creatures at the Army’s Dugway Proving Ground. “Most canids cannot be captured with cage traps but kit foxes are one of the exceptions. When we released them after capture, they often began to walk toward us, rather than running away.”

Thanks to USU’s Quinney College of Natural Resources for supporting research and development of this Wild About Utah topic.

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Bryan Kluever
Text:     Mary-Ann Muffoletto, Utah State University College of Natural Resources
Bryan Kluever, wildlife biologist, Fort Carson Military Installation, Colorado.

Additional Reading:

Utah’s Desert Fox, Mary-Ann Muffoletto, Wild About Utah, May 27, 2010,

White, P. J. and K. Ralls. 1993. Reproduction and spacing patterns of kit foxes relative to changing prey availability. Journal of Wildlife Management 57:861–867 The Wildlife Society,

Kit Fox (Vulpes macrotis), Wildlife Notebook Series No. 9, Utah Division of Wildlife

Kit Fox (Vulpes macrotis), Species Fact Sheets, Utah Conservation Data Center, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources,