The Logan River June Bug

“Darling, I’m having a struggle with the trout. They are too much for me in the swift, rushing river. I lose ‘em. Went out yesterday… and lost two—one a large fish. The ‘June Bugs’ – a red bodied insect, as big as the biggest grasshopper you ever saw, fall from the leaves on to the river and are such large juicy mouthfuls that the trout have abundant food, and don’t care much for a fly.”1

Frederick Jackson Turner c 1890 Public Domain Courtesy Wikipedia
Frederick Jackson Turner
c 1890
Public Domain
Courtesy Wikipedia
That is an excerpt from a letter from U.S. historian and novice fly angler Frederick Jackson Turner. He was writing to his wife Caroline Mae on June 20, 1924, while visiting Utah Agricultural College in Logan. Turner didn’t know it at the time, but the large red-bodied “June Bugs” were actually salmonflies, a prehistoric-looking stonefly from the genus Pteronarcys. Turner was also unaware that his letter would become the earliest written record showing that salmonflies were once abundant in the Logan River.

Salmonflies are a type of large stonefly that live in many western rivers and are often called “rock rollers” or “shredders” because they hide under boulders and gorge themselves on leaf litter until early summer when they crawl out from under the rocks, shed their exoskeleton, and clumsily fly around hoping to bump into a mate. These bugs love cold, clean, oxygenated water, all of which are hallmarks of the Logan River. Existing records show that salmonflies were well established on the Logan River until at least 1951, after which time something wiped them out. The last time anyone saw a Pteronarcys on the Logan River was September 7, 1966, near Mendon Bridge.2

Salmon fly; Photographer unknown; 1967 Yellowstone Photo Collection Courtesy NPS and Yellowstone Association
Salmon fly;
Photographer unknown;
1967
Yellowstone Photo Collection
Courtesy NPS and Yellowstone Association
In 2001, the “Disappearance of the Salmonflies,” as it’s now known among bug enthusiasts, sparked the curiosity of Mark Vinson, former director of the Utah State University National Aquatic Monitoring Center, aka the “USU Bug Lab.” Vinson decided to compare the Logan River to nearby Blacksmith Fork River, which continues to support a healthy population of salmonflies. Vinson observed that the absence of salmonflies in the Logan River was one of the few differences between the invertebrate faunas in the two streams. He studied discharge and water temperature regimes between the two and found they were also similar and had not changed since the 1960s. He wrote, “Overall, the Logan River within Logan Canyon remains a beautiful stream and habitat, and water quality conditions have not changed much since 1960, at least not enough to prevent salmonflies from living in the river.”3 To test his observations Vinson decided to try and recolonize the Logan River with salmonflies from the Blacksmith Fork River. Between 2004 and 2007 volunteers relocated thousands of salmonflies in the hope they would once again call the Logan River home. Out of the thousands of immigrant stoneflies, Vinson only found two that survived longer than one year. The massive relocation effort was a bust, and proved that there was still something about the Logan River that these critters didn’t like.

Each semester, watershed science students at Utah State University don leaky waders and wander up Logan Canyon to conduct aquatic invertebrate sampling. I was once one of those bright-eyed students, standing in the Logan River with a kick-net and dreams of finding the long-lost Pteronarcys. I never found one. Over the years, researchers have ruled out obvious factors like water quality, stream temperature, or habitat, that might limit salmonfly reproduction on the Logan River. Chemical spills and sagebrush abatement in Logan Canyon during the 1950s may have originally contributed to the bugs’ demise, but doesn’t explain why they can’t survive for long in the river today. Of course, anglers have their own ideas about what going on, including tales of a giant Sasquatch urinating in the river somewhere near Rick’s Spring.

Even today the plot thickens. Continued aquatic invertebrate sampling by the Bug Lab has shown that salmonflies are also absent from Left Hand Fork of Blacksmith Fork River as well as upper Rock Creek.4 Incredibly, both of these streams are tributaries to the main stem Blacksmith Fork River, which is full of salmonflies. This anomaly has everyone scratching their heads. All anyone can say for certain is that some variable, biotic or abiotic, or possibly even “Sasquatch-iotic” is keeping salmonflies from populating these two tributaries. Could it be the same variable that’s keeping Frederick Jackson Turner’s “June Bugs” from reclaiming the Logan River? The answer to this question, along with whether Turner ever did land a trout, has yet to be answered.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Brad Hansen.

Footnotes:
1. Ray A. Billington, “Frederick Jackson Turner and ‘Logan’s National Summer School,’ 1924,” Utah Historical Quarterly 37, no. 3 (1969): 327.
2. Nancy A. Erman, “Occurrence and Distribution of Invertebrates in Lower Logan River” (master’s thesis, Utah State University, 1968), 17. Available online at http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1333&context=etd
3. Mark Vinson, “A short history of Pteronarcys californica and Pteronarcella badia in the Logan River, Cache County, Utah.” January 14, 2008. Available online at https://www.usu.edu/buglab/Content/Files/salmonfly%20history.pdf
4. Phone conversation with Joe Kotynek, USU Bug Lab Taxonomist, January 24, 2017.

Credits:
Photo: Courtesy Wikipedia (Public Domain) and
Photo: Courtesy NPS and Yellowstone Association
Text: Brad Hansen

Additional Reading

Logan River Salmonfly Disappearance, USU Buglab Archived Projects, http://www.usu.edu/buglab/Projects/ArchivedProjects/

Albert Perry Rockwood

Albert P. Rockwood, Public Domain, courtesy Wikimedia
Albert P. Rockwood, Public Domain, courtesy Wikimedia
On May 12, 1871, Albert Perry Rockwood, the recently appointed Territorial Fish Superintendent of Utah, arrived at Silver Creek, a small tributary of the Weber River near present-day Rockport Reservoir. After setting up camp, Rockwood went to work catching native Bonneville cutthroat trout, which he placed in crates and milk cartons and loaded on wagons bound for Salt Lake City. This was no vacation. Rockwood was on official business on behalf of Brigham Young and the newly created Zion’s Cooperative Fish Association, Utah’s first fish-culture company. Rockwood’s mission was to transport as many live cutthroat as possible to rearing ponds in Salt Lake City, get them to spawn, then put the fry in Utah Lake. The project didn’t go as planned. Many of the fish died from lack of oxygen in the cramped storing crates, the bigger fish ate the smaller fish, and the cutthroat that made it into the rearing ponds alive wouldn’t spawn.1

Bonneville Cutthroat Trout Courtesy & Copyright Brad Hansen, Photographer
Bonneville Cutthroat Trout Courtesy & Copyright Brad Hansen, Photographer
Although Rockwood didn’t have much success farming native trout, his subsequent efforts with fish stocking yielded fruit. After some consideration, he decided that the answer to Utah’s declining trout populations was not to replace dying native trout with more native trout, but rather import exotic fish species and let them fill in. It helped that he had the support of the Mormon Church, which funded his fish stocking escapades through Zion’s Cooperative Fish Association. Over the pulpit, Mormon leaders encouraged members to do their part and declared fish “to possess brain making material to a greater extent than any other animal food.” They even went so far as to approve the use of prison inmates to build fish ponds near what is today Sugarhouse Park.2

During his time as Territorial Fish Superintendent, Rockwood experimented with American shad, black bullhead catfish, king salmon, Sebago salmon, eastern brook trout, lake whitefish, lobsters, oysters, American eel, Asian carp and a host of other species.3 Many of the exotics came from Rockwood’s east coast friends, including the biblical looking Seth Green and pragmatic Spencer Fullerton Baird, Director of the newly created U.S. Fish Commission. Today we might think some of Rockwood’s experiments cruel, like the time he attempted to farm lobsters and oysters in the Great Salt Lake, but at the time it was cutting edge fish culture.

On the surface it is obvious Rockwood was attempting to improve Utah’s fisheries, whatever that may have looked like at the time. However, if you look closer you can also see a man trying to make Utah into something more familiar. Historians have long established that throughout the American West, settlers introduced nonnative plants, animals, and fishes in an attempt to make the foreign and wild landscape into something domestic and manageable. It’s not surprising, then, that Rockwood, an East Coast transplant from Massachusetts, would bring to Utah many of the fish he had caught back home. Rivers and lakes were laboratories, not ecosystems, and in the end, if a fish survived, Rockwood believed it meant God wanted it there.

Bonneville Cutthroat Trout Courtesy & Copyright Brad Hansen, Photographer
Bonneville Cutthroat Trout Courtesy & Copyright Brad Hansen, Photographer
Today, in a twist of irony, our values have moved toward valuing natives over nonnatives, and we’re trying to quickly undo what Rockwood and others did. For example, millions of dollars are being spent to remove carp from Utah Lake and restore Bonneville cutthroat to the tributaries of the Weber River, those same tributaries where Rockwood camped and caught trout 145 years ago. I think we are doing right by the world, but in his time, so did Albert Perry Rockwood.4 And in case you’re wondering, Rockwood eventually solved the mystery of the cutthroat trout that would not spawn. In his notes he wrote: “I was on the headwaters before the females arrived, consequently, caught nothing but male fish…This solves the problem, why my trout did not spawn…”5

For Wild About Utah this is Brad Hansen.

Footnotes:
1. Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Utah, Twenty-Second Session, for the Year 1876 (Salt Lake City: David O. Calder, Public Printer, 1876), 101-102.
Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Utah, Twenty-Third Session, for the Year 1878 (Salt Lake City: J.W. Pike, Public Printer), 97-110.
2. Ibid.
3. Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Utah, Twenty-Second Session, for the Year 1876 (Salt Lake City: David O. Calder, Public Printer, 1876), 101-102; Boris Popov, “The Introduced Fishes, Game Birds, and Game and Fur-Bearing Mammals of Utah” (Master’s thesis, Utah State University, 1949), 38-77; Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Utah, Twenty-Third Session, for the Year 1878, 97-110.
4. Anders Halverson, An Entirely Synthetic Fish: How Rainbow Trout Beguiled America and Overran the World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), 187.
5. Ibid, 102-103.

Credits:
Photo: Courtesy and copyright Brad Hansen
Text: Brad Hansen

Sources & Additional Reading

Hansen, Bradley Paul, “An Environmental History of the Bear River Range, 1860-1910” (2013). All Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 1724. http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/etd/1724/

Bonneville cutthroat trout, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Endangered Species of the Mountain Prairie Region https://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/fish/bct/index.htm

June Sucker, US Fish and Wildlife Service, ECOS Environmental Conservation Online System, http://ecos.fws.gov/ecp0/profile/speciesProfile?spcode=E050

DuHadway, Kate, Groups continue effort to re-establish Bonneville cutthroat trout in Logan River tributary, HJ News, 22 June 2012, http://news.hjnews.com/features/groups-continue-effort-to-re-establish-bonneville-cutthroat-trout-in/article_99b87942-bbd5-11e1-ae71-0019bb2963f4.html