The Urban Ecotone

Urban Ecotone: Urban Mule Deer in Central Utah Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham
Urban Mule Deer in Central Utah
Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham
A small herd of deer bounded away over the manicured grounds of the Logan Cemetery, tumbled through its faux wrought-iron gateway, and hurdled across empty campus streets. I watched the deer disappear into alleyways between ocher-bricked University buildings, contemplating their explosion of wild life as my city woke to a quiet dawn.

I’ve spent the majority of my life in cities. They have a human element to them I have not yet been able to forgo, but one I sometimes find myself running away from, toward the wooded hinterlands to hide. This experience, though, with the deer in the cemetery, startled back into my memory a truth inherent to our humanity. Our domestic metropolises are just another type of ecosystem for wild beings to populate. After all, we are wild beings ourselves.

An ecotone exists where differing ecological systems meet; and along their shared border, a great wealth of biodiversity abounds- the edge effect ecologists call it. I bore witness to a variation of this phenomenon along the Northern Wasatch urban ecotone on a chilly October morning as a half-dozen deer escaped my advance.

The urban ecotone wears a wardrobe of many styles, the most obvious being the type I’ve described wherein a conspicuously wild ecosystem-my home range of Bear River Mountains in this case- meets a decidedly civilized humanscape- the small city of Logan, UT. We call Logan the “city on the edge” for good reason. It’s the last great bastion of the Wasatch Front’s human imprint before wilderness takes over. From here, our Bear Rivers bear northward into an unobstructed wall of mountains all the way to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. These mountains are, in fact, one of the last intact ecological corridors connecting the northern and southern Rocky Mountains, and Logan sits on the edge of it all, reaping all the wild benefits thereon.

The subtler iterations of this sort of ecological spectacle may be smaller but are no less exciting. Ripping out a conquering crowd of last season’s mint crop in my garden this spring produced a surprised garter snake from an abyss below pungent leaves. The thin serpent slithered quickly away only to find himself upon a barren concrete expanse of patio. It paused for a moment to assess the situation, looked back at me and its former dwelling, then skipped on its belly across a freshly mown lawn and into the bushes adjacent to the creek that runs beside my home. More weeding produced several wolf spiders, a praying mantis, and a plethora of earthworms. I look forward to next year’s garden cleanup now.

Then there are the green spaces: parks and natural areas that make a city worth living in beyond what we humans may more or less bring to it. Indeed, the scientific evidence is clear; those cities, towns, and villages whose urban ecotones are active and robust produce not only a slew of diverse wild species but a slew of wildly content people as well. It seems happy people go hand in hand with happy critters and their accompaniments.

A 17-year study conducted by the University of Exeter Medical School in the UK concluded that, quote, “Findings show that urban green space can deliver significant benefits for mental wellbeing.” In an interview with the UK’s renowned Guardian Newspaper, another researcher is quoted: “We’ve only really had mass urbanisation for the last 200 years, say, out of our hunter-gather experience of 100,000 years.” End quote. Perhaps we have not grown as far from the natural world as we sometimes fear. Even in our cities, these brightly lit harbingers of our species’ growth and accomplishment, we are reduced to our elemental selves by a flash of fur through dawn’s fog. In those moments, we are just animals again.

This is Josh Boling writing and reading for Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photo: Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham
Text: Josh Boling

Sources & Additional Reading

Alock, Ian, White, Matthew; Green spaces deliver lasting mental health benefits, Exeter University, Jan 7, 2014, , http://www.exeter.ac.uk/news/featurednews/title_349054_en.html

Van Woerkom, Erik, Urban Legends–Trophy mule deer in city limits, Muleyfreak.com, June 30,2016, https://muleyfreak.com/2016/06/30/urban-legends/

Urban Deer Management, Logan City, http://www.loganutah.org/residents/conservation/urban_deer/index.php

Greene, Jack, Jack’s Urban Deer, Oct 31, 2016, http://wildaboututah.org/jacks-urban-deer/

http://www.cachevalleydaily.com/news/local/article_9a1d5a06-decd-11e4-adb9-b7f399e014b1.html

https://news.hjnews.com/news/court-date-set-in-shooting-of-beloved-hyde-park-buck/article_49bc16d0-a438-11e4-9ff4-ab67a6a36548.html

Trotter, Rachel, Pesky deer a widening problem in North Ogden, Standard Examiner, Ogden Publishing Corporation, Mar 12, 2015, http://www.standard.net/Local/2015/03/12/Deer-a-problem-in-North-Ogden

Non-Lethal Deer Population Control for Urban and Suburban Environments, DeerFriendly.com, http://www.deerfriendly.com/deer-population-control

Utah Mule Deer Foundation, Mule Deer Foundation, https://muledeer.org/state/utah/

Mule Deer Working Group. 2003. Mule Deer: Changing landscapes, changing perspectives. Mule Deer Working
Group, Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. https://wildlife.utah.gov/pdf/mule_deer_wafwa.pdf

National Wildlife Refuge System, The Urban Conservation Treaty for Migratory Birds, US Fish & Wildlife Service, https://www.fws.gov/refuges/education/urbanBirdTreaty.html

Urban images from GoHunt.com (Images may not scroll), GoHUNT LLC, https://www.gohunt.com/tag/town

What are California quail doing in Utah?, Wildlife, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Sept 17, 2013, https://wildlife.utah.gov/uplandgame/quail/quail.php

UPDATE: Bountiful Urban Deer Translocation, Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, Mar 8 3027,
https://sfw.net/2017/03/08/update-bountiful-urban-deer-translocation/

Urban Wildlife Conservation Program, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Last modified: September 22, 2017, https://www.fws.gov/urban/

Kokanee Salmon in Utah

Edith Bowen third graders watch Kokanee Salmon in Cinnamon Creek Courtesy and Copyright Josh Boling
Edith Bowen third graders watch Kokanee Salmon in Cinnamon Creek
Courtesy and Copyright Josh Boling
It’s a cool crisp morning as my Edith Bowen third graders disembark their mini buses at Cinnamon Creek Campground and sprint for the water’s edge. We’re here to witness an animalian rite of passage as old as evolutionary time: the Salmon Run.

Kokanee Salmon in Cinnamon Creek Courtesy and Copyright Josh Boling
Kokanee Salmon in Cinnamon Creek
Courtesy and Copyright Josh Boling
Utahns flock to reservoirs and their adjacent streams all over the state in early autumn to watch as salmon- adorned in their fiery red spawning attire- depart their placid range waters en route to their natal homeland. It’s an extraordinary feat of endurance. The salmon, once they start, will not rest or eat for the duration of their journey upstream. We have Kokanee Salmon here in Utah, brought from the far reaches of the Pacific Northwest. ‘Kokanee’ is an Okanagan word used to refer to landlocked populations of Sockeye Salmon. Unlike their ocean-dwelling cousins, Kokanees will spend their entire lives in fresh water, trading the unattainable ocean swells for a more placid existence in inland lakes. I’ll let Blake explain how it happened. “A long time ago, some Sockeye schools got separated from one another- possibly when mountains formed, large bodies of water shrank, or some fish decided to try something new. This caused some Sockeye to be cut off from the ocean. However, all Sockeye Salmon, including Kokanees, will return to the same freshwater streams where they were born.” In the case of our fish, they are travelling from Porcupine Reservoir, in East Canyon at the southern end of Cache Valley, upstream to nesting sites along the East Fork of the Little Bear River.

And when they return, it is an impressive sight to behold! Salmon is a word derived from the Latin salmo, itself a possible derivative of salire, meaning “to leap.” And leap they do! Over beaver dams and waterfalls, rock outcroppings and logjams in order to make their way upstream. Salmon are well-known for their acrobatics even when they aren’t attempting to scale a turbulent obstacle course, and scientists are really at a loss as to why. “Some people think the salmon jump out of the water to clean parasites from their gills and scales. Others say they jump because their bodies are changing, or because they’re agitated. I think it’s because they want to get to a shallower area so they can lay their eggs.” It’s quite clear to Aspen why the fish are breaching the water today. They have places to be and evolutionary duties to fulfill.

The salmon run is a coming-of-age ritual of sorts wherein mature adult Kokanee Salmon, usually around the age of three to five years old, vie for the privilege of reproduction. For salmon, reproduction is a taxing stage of life. Their bodies morph and change colors- the males much more so than the females; social hierarchies can break down entirely as a result of competition to breed; and females may lay eggs in as many as three to five different nests, known as redds, before tirelessly defending their progeny until the very end.

During our excursion along the Little Bear River, students were able to see both the beginning and the end of the Kokanee life cycle. Adjacent to the spawning redds where the next generation lay incubating, there were several mature adults seen wavering in their task, their scales turned gray from age and exhaustion. One departed salmon washed up on the river bank, causing quite a stir amongst the young researchers gathered there.

The salmon run is a fascinating and poetic scene to witness. In their last grand gesture to the perpetuation of life, the spawning Kokanee admirably fulfill their evolutionary duty, and pass from this world to whatever is next for such an elegant fish.

Writing and reading for Wild About Utah, I’m Josh Boling.

Credits:
Photo: Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling
Text: Josh Boling

Sources & Additional Reading

Strand, Holly, Kokanee Salmon, Wild About Utah, October 7, 2008 http://wildaboututah.org/kokanee-salmon/

Strand, Holly, Kokanee Life Cycle, Wild About Utah, September 19, 2013, http://wildaboututah.org/kokanee-life-cycle/

Fifield, Laurie, Kokanee Salmon at Cinnamon Creek, YouTube, Sep 13, 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hcs6LK-O5Pg

See red spawning kokanee salmon, Sept. 16, 2017 is Kokanee Salmon Viewing Day at Strawberry & Sheep Creek, Strawberry Reservoir, Wildlife News, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, https://wildlife.utah.gov/wildlife-news/2095-see-kokanee-salmon-at-strawberry-reservoir-2.html

Little Bear River/Porcupine Reservoir Salmon Run, Josh1990, The Trek Planner, Sept 17.2017, http://thetrekplanner.com/little-bear-riverporcupine-reservoir-salmon-run/

Old Ephraim, The Infamous Northern Utah Grizzly

Old Ephraim, the Infamous Northern Utah Grizzly: Old Ephriam's Grave Marker, The height of the the old grizzley Courtesy & Copyright Josh boling
Old Ephriam’s Grave Marker,
The height of the the old grizzley
Courtesy & Copyright Josh boling
It took all of Frank Clark’s seven steel-ball cartridges to bring down Old Ephraim, the infamous Grizzly Bear that, for many years in the early 20th century, plagued the shepherds of the Northern Wasatch Mountains. The date was August 21st, 1923, when Clark, a Logan Canyon sheepman, was roused from his slumber by the gruffs and bellows of the half-ton brown bear stuck in a trap that Clark had set down in the wallows the bear frequented. Hours later, after a thrilling chase and several charges from the massive, male Grizzly, the hunt was over and the last of Utah’s Great Bears had departed.

The Land of Deseret was once home to a robust population of Grizzly Bears. Indeed, present-day Utah sat very near the geographic center of their historical home range which once extended as far south as Central Mexico and eastward into the prairies of Minnesota and other midwestern states. When the Mormon Pioneers arrived in Salt Lake Valley, the surrounding mountains- and a majority of other ranges throughout the West- still harbored many Grizzlies. In fact, Brigham Young himself, along with early LDS leader Heber C. Kimball, was once chased up a cliff by an angry mother Grizz protecting her cubs.

Marker Detail Old Ephriam's Grave Courtesy & Copyright Josh boling
Marker Detail
Old Ephriam’s Grave
Courtesy & Copyright Josh boling
However, between the Saints’ arrival to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 and Frank Clark’s killing of Old Ephraim in 1923, the Grizzly Bear was eliminated from 95% of its original home range, including Utah. Today, grizzlies roam a mere 2% of their historical range in the contiguous United States, driven from all but a few remote wildernesses in the far reaches of the Northern Rockies. As more and more settlers moved westward across the New Frontier in the latter decades of the 19th century into the early 20th century, competition for resources became stiff between humans and their ursine counterparts. As apex predators, grizzly bears pursue many of the same foods we humans do, including domestic stock, like sheep. For this reason, it’s clear why local stockmen held Old Ephraim in such contempt. What made him so notorious, though, was his remarkable intelligence.

Nephi J. Bott's Poem At Old Ephriam's Grave Courtesy & Copyright Josh boling
Nephi J. Bott’s Poem
At Old Ephriam’s Grave
Courtesy & Copyright Josh boling
Grizzlies are famously smart and are even thought to possess self-awareness. Their potential for understanding is comparable to that of the higher primates in the Animal Kingdom, which stands to reason why they are such cunning hunters. Grizzly Bears have even been known to cover their own tracks or conceal themselves with trees and rocks when either hunting or hiding, giving biologists reason to believe that these incredible animals are even capable of forethought. Perhaps, that’s why it took Frank Clark over a decade to even get a good look at Old Ephraim, much less a clear shot at him. The mighty grizzly had time and again removed Clark’s traps from his wallowing holes, discarding them elsewhere without even setting them off. However, despite his amazing intelligence and ability to adapt- or, perhaps because of them- Old Ephraim ultimately met his end that August morning in 1923.

Even after having, quote, “sworn eternal vengeance on bears,” Frank Clark ultimately professed regret for having to kill Old Ephraim; and it’s a sentiment that’s well-circulated and gaining steam here in the west, now nearly a century removed from Ephraim’s death. In 1975, as a result of their dismal population levels in the contiguous United States and high mortality rates even in protected areas such as Yellowstone National Park, the Grizzly Bear was listed as “Threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. As of June 2017, however, that listing was revoked for the populations in and around Yellowstone National Park due to the Bear’s remarkable recovery from a mere 136 individuals in 1975 to approximately 700 today. It seems we have begun to amend our relationship with these animals; but there is more to be done in the interest of Grizzly Bears. Several recovery and reintroduction plans are currently being considered, and reflect a brighter future for Grizzly Bears in the lower 48. But, what about here in Utah?

Forest Service Marker Old Ephriam's Grave Courtesy & Copyright Josh boling
Forest Service Marker
Old Ephriam’s Grave
Courtesy & Copyright Josh boling
The Great Bear’s return to the Beehive state is entirely possible but, as the Ogden Standard Examiner reported early last year, not very likely. “Although grizzlies are established in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming,” the article states, “Utah is not a part of the government’s recovery plan for the animal.” There are probably many reasons for this, not least of which is the relatively high population densities adjacent to the best of Utah’s potential Grizzly habitat. Right now, there are just too many people for the bears to be able to ramble unimpeded by the things and interests of humans. “But that’s not to say that some rogue bear might not roam across state lines one day,” states the Standard’s article.

I, for one, hope they make their way back.

Writing and reading for Wild About Utah, I’m Josh Boling.

Credits:
Photo: Courtesy & Copyright 2017 Josh Boling
Text: Josh Boling

Sources & Additional Reading

The Bear Facts Old Ephriam, Holly Strand, June 17, 2008, http://wildaboututah.org/the-bear-facts-old-ephriam/

Old Ephriam, Utah State University, University Libraries, Digital Collections, http://digital.lib.usu.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/Ephraim

Old Ephraim: Utah’s most legendary bear, Lynn Arave, Standard Examiner, July 16, 2015, http://www.standard.net/Ogden-Area-History-Bin/2015/07/16/July-17-history-bin

Final resting spot of legendary grizzly ‘Old Ephraim’ worth a trip, Kate DuHadway, Herald Journal, Jul 9, 2011, http://news.hjnews.com/news/final-resting-spot-of-legendary-grizzly-old-ephraim-worth-a/article_0e974452-a9d3-11e0-8c09-001cc4c002e0.html

Water-Liquid Life

Spring Runnoff in Cottonwood Creek near Sandbagged Home From "Spring Run-off Dangers Ahead," Unified Fire Department Chief Mike Watson Courtesy Cottonwood Heights City
Spring Runnoff in Cottonwood Creek near Sandbagged Home
From “Spring Run-off Dangers Ahead,” by Unified Fire Department Chief Mike Watson
Courtesy Cottonwood Heights City
It’s springtime in the Rockies, and Utah’s northern rivers are engorged with liquid life- and have been for what seems like months now. After a winter of record snowfall, the spring heat and a miniature monsoon season have raised our local waters to levels not seen in decades. During this exceptional seasonal runoff, it’s easy to forget that we still live in the second-most arid state in the Union. Nonetheless, this seasonal plethora of the wet stuff is an ardent reminder that, even here, it is water we Utahns have to thank for our most prestigious landscapes and the diversity of flora and fauna that call these places home.

It has, in most cases, taken quite a lot of time, though. Consider the Great Salt Lake: Utah’s most iconic landmark. It’s a remnant of prehistoric Lake Bonneville-itself the pluvial product of slow glaciation and rainwater collection. Thousands upon thousands of years of evaporative sun exposure, though, shrank Lake Bonneville and changed the local climate and ecosystem into what we have today, a salty inland sea implanted within an arid, Mediterranean climate. Though deprived of its acreage- and being immensely saltier than its predecessor- The Great Salt Lake supports an incredibly diverse and highly complex ecosystem. Concocted by the mixture of ancient salts and fresh water provided by the Jordan, Weber, and Bear Rivers, the wetland ecosystems on the fringes of the Great Salt Lake play host to millions of migratory birds each year that are travelling along the Pacific Flyway. Without these oases, the diversity of Utah’s waterfowl-and wildlife at large- would dwindle drastically.

One cannot speak of water’s effect upon Utah’s landscapes without singing the praises of the wondrous redrock canyons that dissect our state’s southern reaches. The force of water upon the high desert of Utah’s allocation of Colorado Plateau is intermillenial, hydrological poetry. Ancient Jurassic and Cretaceous seas deposited layer upon colorful layer of various sediments before heat, pressure, and the recession of shorelines turned them to stone. Water then went back to work within a new climate upon an old geography with rare but violent torrents of flashing floods that sliced ever deeper and more intricate cleavages into the sandstone. I remember visiting one particularly beautiful slot canyon with my wife. The fossilized wave action we spotted above the rim was preserved below as well with streaks of sediment mismatched and displaced into a beautiful kaleidoscope of reds, oranges, and purples. Water’s work was not finished here, though. Dispersed along the distant trail into the best parts of this remote canyon, there were desert riparian jungles of small cottonwoods, mosses, and ferns that harbored ephemeral pools dotted with water striders and even the occasional canyon tree frog.

Street Flooding Box Elder County 2017 Courtesy https://dem.utah.gov/2017/03/31/news-release-gov-herbert-declares-state-of-emergency-for-february-flooding/
Street Flooding Box Elder County 2017
Courtesy https://dem.utah.gov/2017/03/31/news-release-gov-herbert-declares-state-of-emergency-for-february-flooding/
Water is a fickle beast, though- crucial to maintaining life but behaving without regard for its endeavors. The same forces of hydrology that created the Great Salt Lake, our richly diverse wetland ecosystems, and the stunning desert landscapes we love to explore can likewise wreak havoc upon our daily lives. Consider the recent deluge in Cache Valley. Several weeks ago, our northern valley was inundated with precipitation, leaving some families stranded in their low-lying homes with no access to the nearest road. A friend of mine who runs a canoe rental business told tale of making deliveries to homes so that people could commute from the end of their driveway to their front door. Perhaps no other force of nature can be so frustrating yet so gratifying; so plentiful yet so fleeting. It’s a wild thing, water. It is a miraculous ubiquity that, even in the driest places, leaves an indelible mark upon the landscape and the lives that inhabit it.

For Wild About Utah this is Josh Boling

Credits:
Photo: Courtesy & Copyright Cottonwood Heights City
Text: Josh Boling

Sources & Additional Reading

Water Week, Eli Robinson, USU Water Quality Extension program, May 8, 2017, http://wildaboututah.org/utah-water-week/

Water Properties, Andrea Liberatore, Stokes Nature Center, Nov 17,2014, http://wildaboututah.org/water-properties/