Scoundscape Recording Equipment Courtesy US NPS
Scoundscape Recording Equipment
Courtesy US NPS
Imagine yourself in your favorite place outside. What sounds do you expect to hear? The sound of water rushing over rocks? Crickets chirping? The wind softly blowing through the trees? These are some of the natural sounds you might expect to hear, but it might not always work out that way. Recreation areas are often filled with anthropogenic noises like vehicles, people talking, music playing, machinery, and more.

Checking sound equipment set up near the McKinley Bar Trail, Denali National Park Courtesy US NPS
Checking sound equipment set up near the McKinley Bar Trail, Denali National Park
Courtesy US NPS
Soundscapes, or the acoustic environment, are not often thought of as a natural resource, but are actually an important part of the environment. A common reason people go to nature is for peace and quiet. Quiet is considered a valuable resource. Humans have grown accustomed to a constant background of noise, but it is not always good. Escaping to nature can potentially provide relief from noise pollution, but natural soundscapes are becoming less and less common.

Noise pollution significantly impacts human health. Physical and mental impacts can include hearing disorders, sleep disruption, and even interruptions in the cardiovascular and endocrine systems. Sound is more important than you might realize.

Soundscapes may be important to humans, but they are arguably even more important for wildlife. Many animals depend on hearing for warning them of danger, communicating with other animals, and locating prey. Birds and other animals can hear noises from very far away, and noise interference can disrupt them easily. Behavioral responses may include leaving an area for a brief time or leaving an area for good.

Through evolution, some animals have lost sight, because it was not a necessary trait in some situations. Up to this point, there has been no animal discovered that has lost its hearing through evolution. This illustrates how vital the acoustic environment is to wildlife and ecosystem health.

Barn Owl Courtesy US FWS
Barn Owl Courtesy US FWS
Think of a Barn Owl. Hunting in the dark, they rely on the tiniest rustle to lead them to their prey. Their sense of hearing is fine-tuned and adapted specially for this purpose. One ear hole is slightly higher than the other, which allows them to perceive depth through hearing. Also, one ear hole can hear sounds below them on the ground, and the other can hear the sounds in the air. Just by listening, an owl can locate a mouse far below it on the ground. Noise pollution would make it nearly impossible for owls to hunt.

Owls are just one example of noise pollution negatively effecting wildlife. As soundscapes are disturbed, wildlife will be displaced or even die. Public land managers now have the challenge of managing soundscapes. This is a difficult, but soundscapes are important for humans recreating, wildlife, and whole ecosystems.

As William Shakespeare said, “The earth has music for those who listen.”

This is Aspen Flake and I am Wild About Utah.

Photos: Courtesy US NPS ans US FWS
Text: Aspen Flake

Additional Reading & Listening

Bernie Krause, Recording Artist:

Bryan C. Pijanowski, Luis J. Villanueva-Rivera, Sarah L. Dumyahn, Almo Farina, Bernie L. Krause,
Brian M. Napoletano, Stuart H. Gage, and Nadia Pieretti, Soundscape Ecology: The Science
of Sound in the Landscape, BioScience, Volume 61, Issue 3, 1 March 2011, Pages 203–216, or

Wild Soundscapes: Discovering the Voice of the Natural World, Revised Edition Paperback – May 24, 2016
by Bernie Krause (Author),‎ Roger Payne (Foreword)

Voices of the Wild: Animal Songs, Human Din, and the Call to Save Natural Soundscapes (The Future Series) Hardcover – August 25, 2015
by Bernie Krause (Author)

The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places Paperback – March 12, 2013
by Bernie Krause (Author)

Kevin Colver, Recording Artist:

Know Your Bird Sounds: Common Western Species (with audio CD) (The Lang Elliott Audio Library) Paperback – January 10, 2008
by Lang Elliott (Author),‎ Kevin Colver (Contributor)

Songbirds of Yellowstone and the High Rockies Audio CD – January 1, 1996
by Kevin J. Colver (Author) or

Songbirds of the Southwest Canyon Country Audio CD – January 1, 1994
by Kevin J. Colver (Author) or

Songbirds of the Rocky Mountain Foothills Audio CD – January 1, 1994
by Kevin J. Colver (Author) or

Songbirds of Yosemite and the Sierra Nevadas by Kevin J. Colver (Author), or

Frogs and Toads, Kevin J Colver, August 16, 2011

Jeff Rice, Recording Artist:
The U’s Western Soundscape Archive captures the animal and ambient music of the wild., CONTINUUM

Vanderbilt, Tom, You Need to Hear This, Recording engineer Jeff Rice is on a mission to preserve the sounds of nature. Why? Listening to them might actually make us healthier.,, 20 Oct 2011,

A Symphony of Sounds, US National Park Service (US NPS),

Utah Envirothon

Utah Envirothon T-Shirt 2017 Courtesy Ron Hellstern, Photographer
Utah Envirothon 2017 T-Shirt
Courtesy Ron Hellstern, Photographer
No matter where you live in the State of Utah, you are located in one of the 38 Conservation Districts managed by the Utah Conservation Commission. Each of those Districts sponsor and support a wonderful program for High School students called the Utah Envirothon (which simply means a marathon competition to understand Utah’s environments).

The program started in 1979 in Pennsylvania. In 1995 a handful of teachers from the Cache and Logan School Districts, Utah State University, and the Natural Resource Conservation Service in Logan started the program in Utah.

The Envirothon is unique in science and Ag contests because teams of five students from each school get to work together as they compete in the subjects of Forestry, Wildlife, Soils and Land Use, Aquatic Ecology, and a Current Issue which changes topics each year. This isn’t a typical Science Fair where a student displays a cardboard backdrop explaining an experiment they may have done. In the Envirothon, without teachers present, the students are given written tests AND all day outdoor field-tests where they use professional scientific equipment to understand the functions of the natural world around them. They are also given an actual current problem that deals with Utah’s wild lands or agricultural settings and they must produce an Oral Presentation regarding their solution to a panel of Agency Judges. The students also get to learn about dozens of outdoor careers in the Natural Resources, Forest Service, Agriculture, Wildlife Management, and the National Park Service

The Judges are not acquainted with any of the students, who are required to wear identical team T-Shirts, during the entire competition. Scores are compiled from tests, equipment use, and the oral presentation to determine the State Champion who is presented with Olympic-quality medals and scholarships to universities within our State, and then goes on to the North American Envirothon, which is held in a different location in the U.S. or Canada each summer. Last year, about 60 State and Provincial winning teams went to Maryland to compete for the North American Championship.

The Utah competition has been held the last weekend in April, in places ranging from Logan to Saint George, on university campuses, forests, rangelands, farms, and even in Zion National Park.

Currently, more than half a million students participate throughout all the United States, Canada, and China. Europe, Mexico, Japan and Australia are also investigating how to establish the program.

For more information contact your local Conservation Districts or online at for the simple rules, learning resources, and training videos about each topic. The North American website has even more detailed information at

This is Ron Hellstern and I’m Wild About Utah!


Images: Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
Text:    Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

Additional Reading

NCF-Envirothon, A Natural Resource Encounter for the Next Generation,

South Canyon Sage-Grouse

Male Grouse Closeup Courtesy & Copyright Nicki Frey, Photographer
Male Grouse Closeup
Courtesy & Copyright Nicki Frey, Photographer
At 3:00 a.m. on a frigid winter morning Nicki Frey, an Extension Associate Professor in the Department of Wildland Resources at USU, leads a group of new biologists who are trapping west of Bryce Canyon.

Cold, deep snow is all they can see on the valley floor.

The group is looking for the greater sage-grouse whose GPS transmitters are sending Frey signals – indicating they are nearby.

Grouse Tracks in Snow Courtesy & Copyright Nicki Frey, Photographer
Grouse Tracks in Snow
Courtesy & Copyright Nicki Frey, Photographer
For best results, researchers trap sage-grouse on moonless nights. The only light they have comes from the ATVs and headlamps.

Frey explains, “Southern Utah is the farthest southern location where greater sage-grouse live in the U.S. This valley is part of their winter habitat.”

In disbelief, one biologist responds, “It would be impossible for grouse to winter here.”

Documenting Grouse Trapping Courtesy & Copyright Nicki Frey, Photographer
Documenting Grouse Trapping
Courtesy & Copyright Nicki Frey, Photographer
The biologist’s statement is understandable, since research shows the winter habitat for greater sage-grouse is in areas where sagebrush is above the snow, so the grouse can hide underneath and receive protection from the brush and nutrition from its seeds.

Just as Frey begins to respond – 20 grouse burst out of the snow in front of them and fly away. “It scared us out of our skin.” Frey said.

“Everyone retreat! Everyone off of the snow!” Frey calls out.

Grouse Snow Angel and Cave Courtesy & Copyright Nicki Frey, Photographer
Grouse Snow Angel and Cave
Courtesy & Copyright Nicki Frey, Photographer
Then she and her colleague Lisa Church, a biologist from Bureau of Land Management get down on their hands and knees and begin searching for where the grouse were hiding. They see wing marks in the snow and a hole close by. With the use of a flashlight, they look down the hole and discover the birds came from a cave under the snow-covered sagebrush.

Going against the grain, the grouse have been living under the deep snow.

Sagebrush in this area only grow 1.5 to 3 feet, and since the snow can get up to 12 feet it’s not far into winter before the sagebrush is completely covered.

Surprisingly, the grouse have been able to adapt.

Frey explains, “They make these little snow caves and eat the sagebrush leaves inside the cave until they’re gone, then they pop out and pop back into the next sage brush cave and eat the leaves in there.”

Buried sagebrush isn’t the only obstacle the southern grouse have had to adapt to.

Grouse on Edge of New Treatment Courtesy & Copyright Nicki Frey, Photographer
Grouse on Edge of New Treatment
Courtesy & Copyright Nicki Frey, Photographer
Frey explains, “[In Northern Utah you have …nice rolling hills with lots of sage brush that seems to go on forever. In Southern Utah, we have little valleys of prime sage-grouse habitat, but they’re divided by rugged mountains and tree covered hills.”

This environment pushes the grouse to fly longer and further than they normally would.

They fly back and forth between the fragmented sagebrush habitats to find what they need to have a healthy population.

Having to constantly travel between these habitats takes a toll on the southern grouse.

This is an area Utah wildlife managers have helped the greater sage-grouse by removing pinyon-juniper forests which fragment their habitat.

According to Frey, “Anytime we [reconnect] habitat [in the southern region] the grouse use it immediately because they want to expand.”

The impact the Bureau of Land Management and Utah Division of Wildlife Resources projects have had on decreasing the forest barriers is astounding. “The numbers of sage-grouse have steadily increased every year.”

Frey’s research highlights this bird’s remarkable ability to adapt to southern Utah’s climate.

By using the research to assist with management planning, Utah can continue removing barriers for grouse survival and ensure their continued presence in our wildlands.

This is Shauna Leavitt for Wild About Utah.

Principal Investigator: Nicki Frey
Photos: Courtesy and Copyright Nicki Frey
Text: Shauna Leavitt

Sources & Additional Reading

Wildlife In Winter & Climate Change

American Dipper Peter Hart, Photographer Photo credit: PEHart via Visual hunt / CC BY-SA
American Dipper
Peter Hart, Photographer
Photo credit: PEHart via Visual hunt / CC BY-SA
Last Saturday 3 intrepid young families joined us for a morning with the Stokes Nature Center slipping and sliding along a canyon trail to discover animal and plant adaptations to survive the winter. We marveled at the American dipper as it enjoyed plunging in icy water hoping to capture its prey. The dipper remains dry due to a super-sized uropygial gland used for waterproofing its feathers as it preens combined with a thick layer of super isolative fur like feathers. Its temperature actually drops in extreme cold reducing radiated heat loss.

Water reptiles and amphibians were in deep sleep in their mud cocoons. They manage winter through slowing metabolic processes which greatly reduces their need for oxygen, nutrition and waste elimination. What little oxygen needed can be absorbed through their skin without breathing.

Animals such as bears can go into an alternate, light hibernation state called a torpor. Torpor is like hibernation, but in this condition, the bear can be awakened easily. I was reminded of this fact from a friend tagging bear cubs in Book Cliffs of eastern Utah. She would enter the bear din very gingerly trying not to awaken a grumpy mom! Ground squirrels are also among animals who torpor, however they shift between hibernation, torpor, and being awake.

The common poorwill, an uncommon bird in Utah Mountains, is the only bird that goes into true hibernation. It hibernates during extreme temperatures — when it is either too hot or too cold — and at times of food scarcity. The common poorwill can even hibernate while they are incubating eggs, proving to be not only a true survivor, but also a riveting multitasking animal.

Grouse Snow Angel Exiting Subnivean Cave Courtesy US FWS & Wikimedia, Tamarac Refuge, MN
Grouse Snow Angel Exiting Subnivean Cave
Courtesy US FWS & Wikimedia, Tamarac Refuge, MN
Snow is an excellent insulator where many of our more active animals spend most of their winters in subnivean (beneath the snow) environments. Mice, voles, and shrews retreat here for protection from cold temperatures, bitter winds, and hungry predators. Food is right at hand: grass, leaves, bark, seeds, and insects are free and unfrozen. These tiny mammals create long tunnel systems complete with air shafts to the surface above. Perhaps you’ve seen the pocket gopher tunnels revealed as the snow retreats- a snaking ridge of soil creating some interesting, artistic patterns.

Short-tailed weasels, also known in winter as ermine, have a long, slender body shape that allows them to invade subnivean tunnels to prey upon smaller mammals.Photographer: Steven HintCourtesy WikimediaLicensed under Cc-by-sa-3.0
Short-tailed weasels, also known in winter as ermine, have a long, slender body shape that allows them to invade subnivean tunnels to prey upon smaller mammals.
Photographer: Steven Hint
Courtesy Wikimedia
Licensed under Cc-by-sa-3.0
It takes only six inches of snow for mice, voles, and shrews to have a sturdy roof over their heads and roomy living quarters below. Add another two inches and the subnivean zone remains within a degree or two of 32°F, regardless of the temperature and weather conditions in the outside world.

Living under the snow is not without risk. Owls can hear mice and voles running around underground from thirty yards away. With balled-up feet, they crash through the top crust and all the layers of snow to grab their prey. Foxes and coyotes detect by scent. With an acrobatic pounce, these predators will dive right in for their meal. Suffocation is a hazard for those left behind in a collapsed tunnel.

So what happens to these little critters in a low snow-no snow winter becoming more common in a changing climate? I’m guessing a much higher rate of mortality which may not bode well for those bigger critters- hawks, owls, fox, coyote, etc., who munch them.

This is Jack Greene and I’m Wild about Utah!!


Images: Peter Hart, Photographer, Photo credit: PEHart via Visual hunt / CC BY-SA
Courtesy Wikimedia Steve Hint, Photographer, Licensed under Cc-by-sa-3.0
Courtesy US FWS Digital Library
Text:     Jack Greene

Sources & Additional Reading:

Larese-Casanova, Mark, The Shape of Wildlife in Winter, Wild About Utah, Jan 26,2012,

Mackay, Barbara, The Subnivean Zone: Shelter in the Snow, Northern Woodlands, Dec 29, 2014,

Peering into the secret world of life beneath winter snows, National Science Foundation,

Snow Tracks, National Wildlife Refuge System,

Glacier National Park:
Winter Wanderings,
Winter Ecology Teacher’s Guide
Subnivean Samba:
4-6, Unit Five, Activity 1: “Snug in the Snow”
Winter’s Coming!,
Winter Ecology, Preparing for your Trip, 3rd-5th Grade Field Trip,

Rocky Mountain National Park:
Winter Ecology Teacher Guide,

Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve:
Lesson Plan, Prepare for Cold Air!,

Helping you share Utah’s natural world!, Utah Nature Explorers, Utah Master Naturalist Program,

Porpora, Alex, Butts, Neicca, Larese-Casanova, Mark, An Introduction to Nature Journals, Utah Master Naturalist Program,