Greater Sage Grouse Recovery

Greater Sage Grouse Recovery: Sage grouse standing in profile on rocky lake shore Courtesy US FWS Dave Menke, Photographer
Sage grouse standing in profile on rocky lake shore
Courtesy US FWS
Dave Menke, Photographer
So what happens when you get a bunch of ranchers together with a bunch of scientists and agencies? I found the answer as I attended a meeting in a remote part of western Boxelder County a few evenings ago. I was pleasantly surprised to discover much good for both wildlife and people.

This was a formal meeting under the auspice of the West Boxelder Conservation Resource Management (CRM) Group targeting greater sage grouse recovery. It was a very informative meeting covering everything from juniper forest removal, prescribed burns, and reseeding to enhance range for cattle, birds, and wildlife.

I learned that due to wildfire suppression which is essential to maintaining healthy range conditions, juniper forests have replaced thousands of acres of grasses, forbs, and sage steppe communities. I was also informed that pinyon pine will be preserved honoring Native American traditions which is central to their culture and diet. In addition to this work, the group addresses general rangeland condition and invasive species.

The CRM is planning wetland and riparian improvements that will provide resting, feeding, and nesting sites for migrating birds. Fencing has been put around key springs and off-site water sources have been developed. The reintroduction of beaver to the stream will help the extremely limited water supply by slowing the spring water runoff, stabilizing the stream banks, and raising the water table.

There was a lively exchange regarding a paper published in a respected science journal by USU authors addressing grazing impacts on grouse populations. The Greater Sage Grouse has become a species of special concern due to plummeting populations, and is considered an umbrella species being its recovery should be paralleled by other sensitive faunal species.

A statement in the papers abstract “Our meta-analysis revealed an overall negative effect of livestock grazing on grouse populations.” raised some red flags with the ranching community. Reading further, this study was conducted on a different grouse species in the U.K. There appeared to be a peaceful resolution to this concern and agreement that future abstract wording would get more scrutiny before published.

I also learned the verdict is still out on grazing impacts on the greater sage grouse. Intense research is underway in the CRM attempting to find answers. My prediction is with all of the range restoration activity combined with well managed grazing will eventually result in higher grouse populations.

This good work has not gone unrecognized. In 2016, the West Boxelder CRM was presented with the Sage Grouse Habitat Stewardship-Collaborative Award from the BLM as an ideal example of a community-based land stewardship organization that is committed, engaged, and active across land ownership boundaries. A tip of the hat to all interests on this remarkable effort!

This is Jack Greene writing and reading for Wild About Utah

Credits:

Pictures: Courtesy US Fish & Wildlife Service, Dave Menke, Photographer
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Community Based Conservation Plan, https://utahcbcp.org/localworkinggroups/WestBoxElder-WBECRM/westboxelder

Butterflies

Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio rutulus Lucas, Courtesy & Copyright Shalayne Smith-Needham, Photographer
Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio rutulus Lucas,
Courtesy & Copyright Shalayne Smith-Needham, Photographer

A few months ago, on a trail run in the Bear River range in Northern Utah, I became engulfed in a cloud of butterflies beyond anything I had experienced before. Milbert’s totiseshells and Swallowtails were the primary species. This is the year of the butterfly. I have seen many eruptive populations both in Northern and Southern Utah. Especially in the tortoiseshell family in the North and bumper crops of Field Crescents at Cedar Breaks National Monument in the south.

This has given me pause to reflect on how climate change may be influencing their populations. As I described in an earlier Wild About Utah reading, over half of Utah bird species are showing considerable stress from a changing climate. Might the same be occurring for the Lepidopterans, or butterflies?

Many studies have shown that that butterflies are among the species that have responded the most to climate change, usually in the form of northward or elevation range shifts. There are many documented instances of disruption of essential interactions of butterflies with their food plants. Recently, a number of researchers have warned, that the common biological effect of shifting towards earlier time to reproduction can have multiple and cascading effects. Species lacking adaptability may have reduced fitness, increased mortality and disrupt a whole food web which had evolved to thrive when there was a synchronous timing of resources that can no more be found. Climate change can also effect flight times of butterflies. The warmer temperatures will result in more generations of multiple brooded species. But how this will effect egg laying periods and other life traits that are determined by photoperiodism is unknown.

With a warming climate, butterflies at the highest elevation site are appearing with increasing frequency. Those that normally breed at 7000 feet now breed at 9000 feet. This upslope movement can cause a time lag problem because plants move more slowly than butterflies. If butterflies don’t have the plant resources they need, they cannot breed at these higher elevations. This may explain the low numbers of butterflies I’ve noted in my outings at Tony Grove lake in recent years.

In order for conservation plans to be developed, there is a pressing need for a better understanding of how climate effects Lepidopterans and their essential interactions. There is much we still don’t know. With more information, on these intricacies, we can better design more effective plans.

A month ago, I found myself in England assisting a team of Darby University faculty and students for pollinator research which included butterflies and moths. European scientists are well ahead of the US in the understanding of patterns of butterfly response to climate change. We must step up to the challenge if we and future generations are to continue enjoying butterflies for years to come.

Later this month I will be leading a butterfly field trip to Tony Grove lake followed by joining a University of Washington PhD student on Mount Rainier to study butterfly populations. …my small contribution towards maintaining healthy numbers of these marvelous creatures that brighten our day and make significant contributions towards maintaining ecosystem stability.

This is Jack Greene writing and reading for Wild About Utah.

Credits:

Pictures: Courtesy & Copyright Shalayne Smith-Needham, Utah Public Radio
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Denali’s Butterflies – Denali National Park & Preserve, https://www.nps.gov/dena/learn/nature/denalibutterflies.htm

Crescent (Phyciodes sp.) Butterflies, Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, Montana, US FWS, https://www.fws.gov/nwrs/threecolumn.aspx?id=2147574863

http://www.butterflywebsite.com/

http://monarchwatch.org

All About Butterflies, Enchanted Learning, http://www.zoomwhales.com/subjects/butterfly/allabout/

Andrea Liberatore, Monarch Butterflies, Wild About Utah, 13 Sept 2012, http://wildaboututah.org/monarch-butterflies/

Jack Greene, Butterflies, Wild About Utah, 4 July 2016, http://wildaboututah.org/butterflies/

Andrea Liberatore, Insect Mimicry and Camouflage, Wild About Utah, 31 July 2014, http://wildaboututah.org/insect-mimicry/

Bugguide, Department of Entomology, Iowa State University,
Species Phyciodes pulchella – Field Crescent, http://bugguide.net/node/view/24562
Species Aglais milberti – Milbert’s Tortoiseshell – Hodges#4433, http://bugguide.net/node/view/30387
Family Papilionidae – Swallowtails, Parnassians, http://bugguide.net/index.php?q=search&keys=swallowtail

Rufous Hummingbirds

Rufus Hummingbird Courtesy US FWS, Roy W, Lowe, Photographer
Rufus Hummingbird
Courtesy US FWS,
Roy W. Lowe, Photographer

Who doesn’t love hummingbirds! I’m always amazed how a tiny life form with a brain smaller than a pea is capable of such amazing intelligence and behaviors. In fact, a hummingbird’s brain is proportionally larger in size to their body than that of any other bird. And like the corvid family (jays, magpies, and crows), research has found that hummers have an amazing memory.

Now is the seasonal peak for hummingbird activity with young birds fresh off the nest. One of my favorites, the migrating rufous hummingbird, may join the milieu on their long distance marathon as they make their way from as far north as Alaska to winter in Mexico.

The feistiest hummingbird in North America, the brilliant orange male and the green-and-orange female are relentless attackers at flowers and feeders. These fearless competitors will challenge even the largest hummingbirds of the Southwest, which can be double their weight, and often win the contest! Rufous Hummingbirds are wide-ranging, and breed farther north than any other hummingbird. Look for them in spring in California, summer in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, and now in the Rocky Mountains as they make their annual circuit of the West.

Rufous Hummers have the hummingbird gift for fast, darting flight and pinpoint maneuverability. Like other hummers, they eat insects as well as nectar, taking them from spider webs or catching them in midair.

Rufous Hummingbirds breed in open areas, yards, parks, and forests up to timberline. On migration they pass through mountain meadows as high as 12,600 feet where nectar-rich, tubular flowers are blooming. Winter habitat in Mexico includes shrubby openings and oak-pine forests at middle to high elevation.

They may take up residence (at least temporarily) in your garden if you grow hummingbird flowers or put out feeders. But beware! They may make life difficult for any other species that visit your yard. If you live on their migration route, the visiting Rufous is likely to move on after just a week or two.

Regarding feeders, make sugar water mixtures with about one cup of sugar per quart of water. Food coloring is unnecessary; table sugar is the best choice. Change the water before it grows cloudy or discolored and remember that during hot weather, sugar water ferments rapidly to produce toxic alcohol. If you are among those who have these dazzling sprites of amazing life stop by, consider yourself fortunate indeed!

This is Jack Greene reading for “Wild About Utah”

Credits:

Pictures: Courtesy US FWS, Roy W Lowe, Photographer
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Strand, Holly, Hummingbirds in Utah, Wild About Utah, UPR/Bridgerland Audubon Society, Sept 3, 2009, http://wildaboututah.org/hummingbirds-in-utah/

Kervin, Linda, Gardening for Hummingbirds, Wild About Utah, UPR/Bridgerland Audubon Society, June 5, 2014, http://wildaboututah.org/hummingbirds-in-utah/

Liberatore, Andrea, Hummingbird Nests, Wild About Utah, UPR/Bridgerland Audubon Society, June 14, 2012, http://wildaboututah.org/hummingbird-nests/

Hummingbird Society, http://www.hummingbirdsociety.org/index.php

My Cougar Encounter

cougar encounter
Photographer: Larry Moats
Courtesy US FWS Digital Library
There are those moments in one’s life when time stops and moments become hours. So it was while trail running in the Wellsville mountains of N. Utah

Deep in the forest shadows materialized a form- a coyote! Well, that was the initial thinking. I stopped for closer inspection and began talking in a soft, welcoming tone so as not to frighten away my favorite song dog.
The animal form persisted- no frenzied running up the steep slope just beyond. Interesting.
I walked toward the figure to find the fright distance and for closer encounter. Eight steps in crunchy leaves and the animal began to move. Wow! A long tail emerges. The canine face transforms to feline. MOUNTAIN LION!!!

After 50+ years of trapesing through wild, rugged country in the western U.S., dream becomes reality- that of seeing this shadow being in real form.

Mesmerized, I continue a cautious approach. The cat holds its ground. Our distance closes to 50 yards when it begins a leisurely retreat. I continue singing praises to its magnificence. At one point I find myself emitting “Here Kitty, Kitty, Kitty” to which fortunately it doesn’t respond.

Mountain Lion
Courtesy US FWS
A large tom with striking colors- its lithe, fluid, soundless movement- poetry in motion, a marvel of artistic expression. It stops frequently, looking back to lock eyes with wonderment- perhaps its first close encounter with this strange being.

Eventually it gains the steep slope and picks its way upward. Occasional sunburst accents the rich tawny gold and well-muscled body. Eyes strain to follow its progress, fading into the dream it once was.

Cougars are solitary animals, making them a rare sight for humans. They usually hunt alone and at night, ambushing their prey from behind. Typically, cougars kill their prey with a bite to the lower neck. After making a kill, a cougar often will take the carcass to the base of a tree and cover it with dirt, leaves or snow, saving it to eat later.

Their main prey is deer, so cougars are often found close by. They can live up to 12 years in the wild but have lived up to 25 years in captivity.

Only 20 people in North America have been killed by cougars during the past 125 years, including six in California and 8 in Canada. No deaths have ever been reported in Utah. It is far less likely than dying from snake bites, avalanches, lightning strikes, hypothermia, or bee stings, or just about any other means. Children are particularly vulnerable when alone.

If approached by one, intimidation by intense eye contact, loud shouting, and any other actions to appear larger and more menacing is warranted.

This is Jack Greene writing and reading for WAU

Credits:

Images: Courtesy US FWS Digital Library
Text:     Jack Greene

Sources & Additional Reading:

Mountain Lion, Wildlife Notebook, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources,

http://wildlife.utah.gov/publications/pdf/newlion.pdf

Starving Cougar Attacks Vernal Man, Hans Moran, Deseret News Nov. 12, 1997, http://www.deseretnews.com/article/594408/Starving-cougar-attacks-Vernal-man.html

Mountain Lion, National Geographic, http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/mountain-lion.html