Ancient Native Plant Relationships Reviewed

Ephedra, Ephedra viridis Coville
Ephedra
Ephedra viridis Coville
Courtesy USDA, NRCS. 2016. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, 6 February 2016). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA., BLM Photographer

Hi I’m T.J. Knudson and I’m Gilbert Young.

Stretching from the snowy peaks of the Wellsville Mountains, south to the sandstone shadows of Beaver Dam Wash, an ancient, native relationship provided unity to the diverse landscape. It is admired in the haunting tune of a wind pipe, it comports like a wool blanket; and its tapestry goes beyond the cliff art at Potash, and preceded John Wesley Powell and Brigham Young.

The Ute, Shoshone, Piute, Goshute, and Navajo cultures each echo today an enduring sustaining relationship bonded to the reliable plant life in a diverse land. this relationship sustained our state’s ancient culture, but little is understood about these gifted craftsmen in utilizing the materials and fibers.

In southeast Utah, the shepherd Navajo nation found a companion in the Prickly-Pear Cactus. Despite his short stature and sharp countenance, this ally was able to provide a fleshy, refreshing fruit. After rolling repeatedly through the direct to lose his spines, and soaking in water; there sparks a reaction of the most spectacular die; which was often orchestrated into many shades of red. Despite his stature on the lonely desert floor, the prickly pear creates a color that epitomizes the Navajo beauty and lives on to future generations.

As our ancient travelers would ascend upward into the hills, they would spend time in the Pinyon/Juniper woodland to collect pine nuts. Natives would also search for three other valuable resources: pine pitch, firewood and shelter materials. Underneath the pines and junipers plentiful sumac, can be found; the sumac branches provide the means to develop a midnight-black die and was also an essential basketry material. The third element needed to create this black color was ocher (okerr), a yellow mineral abundant in Navajo territory. The Pinyon-Juniper woodland met the needs of native people, much like modern superstores. Like these plants working together as a team, we all have an opportunity to join others in creating a unified community.

Prickly Pear Cactus, Opuntia ficus-indica
Prickly Pear Cactus
Opuntia ficus-indica
Courtesy US FWS

Across the canyons, a lone plant is found that nursed and comforted tribes long before the hospitals and prescriptions. Ephedra was a medicinal hero, when sharp cold winds swept the valleys. It could be boiled into a delicious tea that combated the common cold, allowing airways freedom of congestion. Also known as Brigham Tea, Natives shared this knowledge to the early Utah Pioneers in their time of need. The evergreen stems of Ephedra offer healing and a comfort that aided the native people and settlers. We also have the ability to heal our souls by intimately connecting ourselves to nature’s bounteous gifts. We can also provide healing to those who are in need of comfort and guidance.

If the past could speak to us today, it would remind us of connections and relationships that have been forgotten. Our hope today is that you may connect with these ancient relationships for yourselves. For more information, check out the Wild About Utah website.

For Wild About Utah this is T.J. Knutson and Gilbert Young.

Credits:
Images: Courtesy , Photographer
Text:     T.J. Knutson and Gilbert Young.


Additional Reading:

Irruptive Migrations Move Birds South

Irruptive Migrations Move Birds South: Cedar Waxwing
Cedar Waxwing US FWS FWS Digital Library, David Menke, Photographer
Every winter, many of Utah’s breeding birds migrate south to avoid the cold. After the warblers, tanagers, and orioles leave each fall, we share the snowy winter with hardier residents, such as chickadees, nuthatches, and juncos. But even hardier birds breed in the far north and venture south to Utah only during the most severe winters.

CEDW call, Western Soundscape Archive; University of Utah, Audio file copyright 2007, Kevin Colver. All rights reserved

Many people are familiar with the high, thin calls of Cedar Wawings. Less frequently heard in Utah are the slightly lower calls of their close cousins, Bohemian Waxwings.

Bohemian Waxwings(BOWA) call, Western Soundscape Archive; University of Utah, Audio file copyright 2007, Kevin Colver. All rights reserved

Bohemian Waxwing
Bohemian Waxwing, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Source Wikimedia.org, Randen Pederson, Photographer.
Bohemian Waxwings are slightly larger than Cedar Waxwings, and a little fancier—their wing feathers include red, yellow, black, and white, and the underside of their tails is a rich cinnamon. Both species gather by the hundreds to eat berries, so you won’t miss a flock if there’s one nearby. Although waxwings are songbirds, the calls you hear don’t serve the same functions as true songs, advertising mate quality and defending territories. Instead, waxwings cooperate to find and feed on scattered fruit, their main winter diet. Unlike most birds, waxwings are able to smell, which may help them find their food. If waxwings eat berries that have begun to ferment over the winter months, they may become intoxicated even though their ability to metabolize ethanol is very high. The last time Bohemian Waxwings were abundant in Utah was during the winter of 2012-2013.

White-winged Crossbill(WWCR) call, Western Soundscape Archive; University of Utah, Audio file copyright 2007, Kevin Colver. All rights reserved

If you look in a pine tree, you may see a flock of White-winged Crossbills. Last abundant in Utah during the winter of 2008-2009, this species of finch forages on the seeds inside of conifer cones.

White-winged Crossbill, Courtesy and Copyright Paul Higgins, www.pbase.com/phiggins/
White-winged Crossbill
Copyright © 2009 Paul Higgins
More photos at pbase.com/phiggins/
and utahbirds.org Photo Gallery
As the name crossbill suggests, the lower part of its bill is bent to the right and the upper part to the left, allowing crossbills to wedge open pinecone scales and lift the seeds free with their tongues. In the winter, crossbills forage in flocks of ten to fifty. They quickly assess the quality of a tree’s cones, using visual and vocal cues from their flockmates, which are quiet when they are eating but chatter when they are not. When the volume of the chatter increases to a crescendo, all the crossbills in the flock know that it’s time to switch to a new tree. Unlike most songbirds, crossbills can breed at any time of year, as long as conifer seeds are abundant.

When the weather gets cold, keep an eye and an ear out for these winter nomads.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Andrew Durso.

Credits:

Waxwing Images: Courtesy US FWS, David Menke, Photographer
White-winged Crossbill Image: Courtesy and Copyright © 2009 Paul Higgins, Photographer
Text: Andrew Durso, http://www.biology.usu.edu/htm/our-people/graduate-students?memberID=6753

Additional Reading:

Fitting the Bill, Andrea Liberatore, August 11, 2011, http://wildaboututah.org/fitting-the-bill/

White-winged Crossbill, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/White-winged_Crossbill/id

Cedar Waxwing, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Cedar_Waxwing/id

Bohemian Waxwing, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Bohemian_Waxwing/id

There is a Giant Among Us–The Great Salt Lake

A Giant Among Us, The Great Salt Lake: The Great Salt Lake Breach
The Great Salt Lake Breach
Courtesy U.S. Geological Survey
Department of the Interior/USGS
Mike Freeman, Photographer
10 Nov 2015
Water flowing through the Great Salt Lake breach in 2011, when lake levels were high due to above average snowfall in the Wasatch and Uinta Mountains. The Great Salt Lake breach is an area that allows water to travel between the southern and northern parts of the lake.
There is a giant among us with a profound influence on our past, present, and future. My first encounter with this giant was both buoyant and delightful as I floated in the brine on a lovely summer day. But I was oblivious to the Great Salt Lake’s immense value as an environmental, cultural, and economic resource.

A Giant Among Us–The Great Salt Lake

Much of what follows is taken from a very recently released collaborative study titled “Impacts of Water Development on Great Salt Lake and the Wasatch Front” which was a collaborative effort from four institutions(Utah State University, Utah Division of Water Resources, Salt Lake Community College, and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.)

A 2012 analysis by Bioeconomics estimated the economic value of the lake at $1.32 billion per year for mineral extraction, brine shrimp cyst production, and recreation. The abundant food and wetlands of the lake attract 3 million shorebirds, as many as 1.7 million eared grebes, and hundreds of thousands of waterfowl during spring and fall migrations. Because of this, it has been designated as a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network Site. Due to its enormous surface area, it produces the “lake affect” which enhances our snow pack by an estimated 8%, a significant amount for both skiers and our available water. But our giant is shrinking.

Since the arrival of 19th Century pioneers water diversions for irrigation have decreased its elevation by 11 feet exposing much of the lake bed. Natural fluctuations in rainfall and river flow cause the lake level to rise and fall, but there has been no significant long‐term change in precipitation and water supply from the main tributaries since their coming in 1847.

The Great Salt Lake Breach 2015
The Great Salt Lake Breach
Credit: U.S. Geological Survey
Department of the Interior/USGS
Mike Freeman, Photographer
10 Nov 2015

For the first time since it was opened in 1984, water has stopped flowing through the Great Salt Lake causeway breach, an area that allows water to travel between the southern and northern parts of the lake.
To significantly reduce water use, a balanced conservation ethic needs to consider all uses, including agriculture, which consumes 63 percent of the water in the Great Salt Lake Basin. There are no water rights to protect our Great Lake, so water development currently focuses solely on whether there is water upstream to divert. If future water projects reduce the supply of water to the lake, (such as the Bear River Development Project, its level will (most likely) continue to drop.

We must look beyond the next few decades and decide how we value the lake for future generations. Lower lake levels will increase dust pollution and related human health impacts, and reduce industrial and environmental function of Great Salt Lake. We must be willing to make decisions now that preserve Great Salt Lake’s benefits and mitigate its negative impacts into the coming centuries.

John Muir, one of my favorite early American naturalists would most certainly agree with me. From his baptismal plunge into the Great Salt Lake. “I found myself undressed as someone else had taken me in hand and got myself into right lusty relationship with the brave old lake. I was conscious only of a joyous exhilaration….”
And where else could John and I have such a wonderfully buoyant experience?

This is Jack Greene reading for Wild About Utah.

2015 Great Salt Lake Breach at Lakeside, Utah
Gauge near the Great Salt Lake Breach
Credit: U.S. Geological Survey
Department of the Interior/USGS
Mike Freeman, Photographer
10 Nov 2015
A gauge to measure lake water levels stands dry in the lake bed of the Great Salt Lake. For the first time since it was opened in 1984, water has stopped flowing through the Great Salt Lake causeway breach, an area that allows water to travel between the southern and northern parts of the lake.
Credits:
Image: Courtesy U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey(USGS), gallery.usgs.gov
Text:     Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society & USU Office of Sustainability

Additional Reading:

Great Salt Lake, Utah, Stephens, Doyle W. and Gardner, Joe, USGS Science for a Changing World, http://pubs.usgs.gov/wri/wri994189/PDF/WRI99-4189.pdf

Great Salt Lake Footprint 2001 vs 2003 Comparison
Great Salt Lake Footprint Comparison
2001 vs 2003
Images Courtesy NASA
NASA’s Earth Observatory

America’s Caveat River

America's Caveat River: Click for a larger view of the Bear River basin, Courtesy Utah State Division of Water Rights, http://waterrights.utah.gov/techinfo/bearrivc/history.html
Bear River basin
Courtesy Utah State Division of Water Rights
http://waterrights.utah.gov/techinfo/bearrivc/history.html 
I grew up in a town that had a story for nearly every run-down property in its borders. Most buildings had at least one ghost floating around its fence line, but the really haunted estate—the one where, supposedly, my great-great uncle plastered babies into the walls, where it’s said he threw his wife into the well, where the land itself swallows livestock and spits out bones, where you can still hear screams coiling up near the hackthorn bushes and willow trees—is just outside of town. Just far enough to escape the reach of the city lights, but not too far that you won’t make it back by morning. The location, more than its history, is probably the reason for the stories. If there is no journey, there is no room for stories to germinate.

My friend, Dr. Lynne S. McNeil, is a folklorist. She told me that it’s common for haunted things to happen in liminal spaces, in the places between places. So the haunted house on the edge of town makes sense. Just like it makes sense that most of the people who went to the haunted house were teenagers—not yet adults, but somehow not kids either. It’s human to seek out nooks to create the things we fear, and the things we feel compelled to lie about. She also told me about the theory of ostentation. People act out something of the legend to connect to the legend more. It’s not enough just to go to the haunted house, but you have to throw stones in the well to see if the motion of something falling will awaken the long murdered wife.

America's Caveat River: Click for a larger view of the Bear River, Courtesy USDA Forest Service
Bear River
Courtesy USDA Forest Service 
I now live near the geographic center of the Bear River drainage. I can walk to decent water from my house. But I hardly ever fish it. Mostly because the best fishing in Northern Utah is in Southern Idaho. Some of it is right on the border. There’s something in the trip. It’s more of an event even if the trip distance is increased by fifteen minutes. The Bear River travels nearly five-hundred miles, but its mouth and source are only separated by about 100 miles. It starts and ends in Utah, but crosses the borders of five states. It’s the largest river in North America that doesn’t flow to an ocean. It is known for its calm meanderings and its white-water kayak sections. It is America’s caveat river. Almost as an homage to the river that always needs an explanation, I choose to travel to it. I choose to fish those tributaries that feed the river instead of the convenient pull-outs where the Bear threads the road. I like to follow the fish to where they spawn. I’m always looking for the less obvious place to fish because everyone knows the story goes that you have to work for the big fish. Fishing trips need time to steep both before and after fishing. Where, if you fish with others, they’ll tell you how the fishing is going to be or was that day. Where, if you fish alone, you’ll think about how the fishing will actually be or was that day. You’ll compare it to other times at the same place and you’ll remember both real and imaginary fish. If there isn’t a space between fishing and not fishing to think and create, if you don’t drive past water that looks fine in search of great water, the fishing won’t be as good. I’ll never be a guy who spends more time on the road consistently than in the river—but, I’ll always give the fish and the river the respect of a drive.