Piute Farms Waterfall on Lower San Juan – a Tributary of Lake Powell

Piute Farms Waterfall on the San Juan River, An Example of Superimposition Courtesy & Copyright Mark McKinstry, Photographer
Piute Farms Waterfall on the San Juan River, An Example of Superimposition
Courtesy & Copyright Mark McKinstry, Photographer

Piute Farms waterfall is a 25-ft high cascade that has formed along the San Juan River and spans its entire width. The location is a remote spot in an upstream arm of Lake Powell reservoir.

To reach the falls it takes a rough two-hour drive from Mexican Hat, or a 100-mile-boat ride from Bullfrog Marina in Lake Powell.

It formed when the tributary re-routed itself, cut through a thick layer of sediment, and began flowing over a bedrock cliff.

Scientists call this phenomenon superimposition.

Jack Schmidt, Janet Quinney Lawson Chair of Colorado River Studies in the Quinney College of Natural Resources at USU explains, “When reservoirs are created by the construction of dams, the sediment load of inflowing rivers is deposited in the most upstream part of the reservoir. In Lake Powell…the deposits in the…San Juan arm of the reservoir are as much as 80ft thick.”

“[If} reservoirs…drop…the inflowing rivers erode into the accumulated sediment. There is no guarantee the location of the new channel will be in the same place as…the original channel.”

The San Juan River’s original route was buried under the thick layer of sediment. The river’s response was to form a new channel one mile south of the original route and over the ridge.

Schmidt continues, “A [similar] thing…happened in Lake Mead reservoir where an unrunnable rapid formed near Pearce Ferry where the new Colorado River flows over a lip… [of] consolidated sediment. Although not a vertical waterfall, Pearce Ferry Rapid is sometimes more dangerous to boating than any rapid in the Grand Canyon!”

With future droughts, we can expect reservoirs to be at low levels for extended periods, and superimposition will continue to occur forming additional waterfalls and obstructions. Managers monitor the positive and negative effects of these changes.

One impact of the Piute Farms waterfall is a novel subpopulation of endangered razorback suckers which are now blocked from swimming upstream to spawn.

Endangered Razerbck Sucker Captured near Piute Farms Waterfall Courtesy & Copyright Mark McKinstry, Photographer
Endangered Razerbck Sucker
Captured near Piute Farms Waterfall
Courtesy & Copyright Mark McKinstry, Photographer

Zach Ahrens, Native Aquatics Biologist at Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and graduate student at USU says, “The razorback and other native fishes in the Colorado River basin have evolved over millions of years to play their roles in spite of the extremes of temperature and flow in their riverine environment. Given the uncertainty of future climate and water resources…it’s important to do what we can to ensure their continued survival.”

Before the waterfall formed, managers were not sure what percentage of razorback suckers travelled this far upstream.

Endangered Razerbck Sucker Captured near Piute Farms Waterfall Courtesy & Copyright Mark McKinstry, Photographer
Endangered Razerbck Sucker
Captured near Piute Farms Waterfall
Courtesy & Copyright Mark McKinstry, Photographer

Mark McKinstry, Biological Scientist from the Bureau of Reclamation, explains, “It took perseverance, technology, and dedication of a lot of different folks to find where…the Razorbacks are and understand the fish’s life history strategy.”

Peter MacKinnon with the Quinney College of Natural Resources at Utah State University and Biomark Inc. provided the technical expertise to set up a method to insert Razorback suckers with pit tags (similar to those used in cats and dogs) then track them with antennas placed below the falls.

With this tracking method, managers and researchers identified more than 1000 razorback suckers below the falls, apparently trying to ascend the waterfall. Approximately 2000-4000 suckers live in the San Juan River. It is estimated about 25% of the razorbacks are unable to spawn – because the waterfall blocks fish passage. This could influence the population of the endangered fish.

The Bureau of Reclamation consulted with experts on how to help razorback suckers get past the waterfall so they can move upstream and spawn. The most feasible suggestion seems to be, to build a naturalized fish passage around the side of the waterfall. Managers and volunteers would build a trap location on the upstream side of the passage where fish moving upstream could be captured; volunteers could then release the captured razorbacks and other native fish upstream where they choose to spawn.

Phaedra Budy, professor in the Watershed Sciences Department and Unit Leader for U.S. Geological Survey Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit said, “The Razorback sucker has intrinsic value to the San Juan River and beyond, is a critical member of the ecosystem, and deserves every effort for recovery.”

Managers and researchers hope their information gained and recovery efforts will give the endangered razorback suckers an increased chance for survival in its changing environment.

This is Shauna Leavitt and I’m Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Mark McKinstry
Text: Shauna Leavitt, USGS Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

Sources & Additional Reading

Waterfall Still Blocks San Juan River, River Runners for Wilderness(RRFW), https://rrfw.org/riverwire/waterfall-still-blocks-san-juan-river

http://www.americansouthwest.net/utah/monument_valley/piute_farms.html

Razorback Sucker(Page 68), Utah’s Endandengered Fish, 2018 Utah Fishing Guidebook, Utah Division of Wildlife Services, https://wildlife.utah.gov/guidebooks/2018_pdfs/2018_fishing.pdf

Fish Ecology Lab, Utah State University, 
http://www.usu.edu/fel/

Decreasing the Habitat Risks of Utah’s Southern Sage-Grouse

Decreasing Habitat Risks Utah’s Southern Sage-Grouse: Juniper Grouse=grouse in a marginal area pre-treatment. You can see where one tree has been mulched. There is little sagebrush or grass to provide cover for the grouse. Courtesy and copyright Nicole Frey, Photographer
Juniper Grouse = grouse in a marginal area pre-treatment. You can see where one tree has been mulched. There is little sagebrush or grass to provide cover for the grouse.
Courtesy & © Nicole Frey, Photographer
In the past decade, over 45,000 acres of land in southern Utah have had conservation treatments by removing the encroaching pinyon-juniper forest and allowing the native grasses and sagebrush to return.
With the use of GPS units, scientists and manager are able to witness the positive impacts these treatments are having on Utah’s Greater sage-grouse population. They monitor the movement patterns of the grouse and determine how the birds use their seasonal habitats throughout the year.

Decreasing Habitat Risks Utah’s Southern Sage-Grouse: Hen on a nest. This is what a nest looks like in good habitat. You can see that the brush gives cover from the top and the grass and forbs provide cover from the sides Gourtesy and copyright Nicole Frey, Photographer
Hen on a nest. This is what a nest looks like in good habitat. You can see that the brush gives cover from the top and the grass and forbs provide cover from the sides
Gourtesy & © Nicole Frey, Photographer
Female and male grouse have similar habitat needs during the winter, but choose different landscapes when their needs change during the nesting and chick-rearing seasons.

Wildlife managers call the grouse a “landscape species” because they have to manage a variety of different communities for the grouse to thrive.

During the months of January and February when the habitat is at its coldest, females and males have the same needs – to stay warm, find food, and avoid predators.

Fortunately, sagebrush provide the resources to meet all these needs.

While grouse huddle under the brush for protection from frigid winds, deepening snow and roaming predators, they avoid having to search for food since the bulk of their nourishment comes from the leaves of the sagebrush. The grouse simply reach up, nibble on the leaves, and remain safe in their protective sagebrush tent.
When they have consumed all the leaves from one bush, they simply move to another sagebrush.

Decreasing Habitat Risks Utah’s Southern Sage-Grouse: Little Grouse Family=hen and chicks in treated habitat. It has healthy sagebrush and a grasses and forbs provide food and visual cover Courtesy and copyright Nicole Frey, Photographer
Little Grouse Family = hen and chicks in treated habitat. It has healthy sagebrush and a grasses and forbs provide food and visual cover
Courtesy & © Nicole Frey, Photographer
In the spring, the needs of the females change dramatically. Once their chicks have hatched the females search for a moist place where the chicks can eat a variety of bugs and green vegetation to receive the necessary nutrients for fast growth.

By fall, the chicks are grown and the adult females return to the dry sagebrush habitat and prepare for winter.
The biggest struggle sage grouse have in the southern region is a fragmented habitat. They have to fly dangerous distances to reach the variety of habitats they need.

Decreasing Habitat Risks Utah’s Southern Sage-Grouse: Grouse with a GPS transmitter Gourtesy and copyright Nicole Frey, Photographer
Grouse with a GPS transmitter
Gourtesy & © Nicole Frey, Photographer
Nick Frey, extension associate professor in the Department of Wildland Resources at USU, has researched sage grouse for the past 13 years. She explains this struggle, ”To get to the next tiny pocket of habitat [the grouse] have to fly over forests and high ridges, which endanger their lives. Prior to the treatments, it was difficult for me to have a bird stay alive for an entire year, now I have birds I have tracked for more than three years…They’re able to find better resources and healthier habitats without putting themselves at risk so often.”

One of the first conservation treatments occurred in Sink Valley in 2005.

Prior to this, female Greater sage grouse in Sink Valley would spend the summers in the agricultural fields south of Alton, which were laced with danger. A couple of times grouse got bailed up and researchers would find the transmitters in a hay bale. At other times, an eagle would carry off birds and the transmitter would be found with a hole in the side from the eagle’s claw.

Within two years after the Sink Valley treatment, researchers stopped finding females anywhere close the agricultural fields. The sage grouse were now able to find grasses and forbs in close proximity to their nests.
Rhett Boswell, Habitat Biologist at Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, who created management tools using Frey’s GPS data explains, “With this GPS [data] we have learned so much, it keeps opening up new opportunities to refine our management prescriptions. With this best available science, we can identify which management treatments have the greatest positive impact and create resource selection models to plan future management.”
In other words, the future of Utah’s Greater Sage Grouse is looking bright.

This is Shauna Leavitt and I’m Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Nicole Frey Department of Wildland Resources, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University
Text: Shauna Leavitt, USGS Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

Sources & Additional Reading

To learn more about Utah sage-grouse conservation, please go to www.utahcbcp.org.

Leavitt, Shauna, Greater Sage-Grouse in Utah, Wild About Utah, June 12, 2017, http://wildaboututah.org/greater-sage-grouse-in-utah/

Leavitt, Shauna, South Canyon Sage-Grouse, Wild About Utah, January 22, 2018, http://wildaboututah.org/south-canyon-sage-grouse/

Monitoring Utah Moose and their Calves

Monitoring Utah Moose: Shiras Moose Cow in Northern Utah Courtesy & Copyright Sam Robertson
Shiras Moose Cow in Northern Utah
Courtesy & Copyright Sam Robertson
In the early 1900s, moose began expanding south into Utah from Wyoming.
This moose sub-species was named in honor of [Congressman] George Shiras III who explored Yellowstone in the early 1900’s and found large numbers of moose.

The Shiras (Shy-ras) moose is the smallest sub-species and occupies the southern-most moose habitat. Specific to the southern Rocky Mountains, the population extends from the bottom of British Columbia, Canada to Colorado.
For the past 100 years, Utah’s Shiras moose population has fluctuated, peaking at 3,500 in 2005. The number has now stabilized at about 2,700.

Dan MacNulty, associate professor in the Department of Wildland Resources in the Quinney College of Natural Resource at USU, and his research team, joined with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) to identify what threatens Utah’s moose population, and then work together to ensure the herds remain stable.
The condition of a moose herd is highly dependent on the health of its adult females, hence, this has been the focus of their research.

Shiras Moose Cow & Calf Courtesy & Copyright Sam Robertson
Shiras Moose Cow & Calf
Courtesy & Copyright Sam Robertson
In May or June, the females begin having their calves. The calves remain with their mothers for a full year. If the mother is expecting, she’ll chase the yearling off before the new calf arrives.

Once the yearling has left, the mother begins searching for secluded thicket to have her calf. Usually the thicket is so dense, a hiker walking by would never know the mother and calf are nearby.
The female moose will stay in the thicket with her calf until its strong enough to walk by her side. Unlike deer, who hide their young while they graze, moose keep their calves in sight.

Shiras Moose with Moose Ticks Courtesy & Copyright Sam Robertson
Shiras Moose with Moose Ticks
Courtesy & Copyright Sam Robertson
One threat, neither the mothers nor calves can hide from – is the winter tick, also known as the moose tick since moose are its preferred host. Deer and elk are able to keep most ticks rubbed off. The winter tick is not prone to pester humans.

Sam Robertson, USU graduate student in MacNulty’s lab explains, “They are a one-host tick and will remain on the same animal during all three stages of the tick’s life.”
In the late summer, the winter tick larvae climb up blades of grass, or other vegetation, and wait for a moose to walk by. When it does, the ticks will jump on, take hold, and stay latched on to the moose for its blood meals and growth until early spring when the tick falls off. By this time, the female moose is at her weakest – likely due to lack of food and tick load.

Kent Hersey, Big Game Projects Coordinator for DWR, explains, “In April, [after the long winter of using their fat stores] the female moose are usually in their worst possible condition. Hopefully they’ll find enough green vegetation to regain energy to help the calf’s growth in its last trimester, and produce sufficient milk reserves.”
To monitor females and calves in 2017, GPS collars were fitted on 80 adult females and 26 6-8 month old calves.
The data from the Wasatch herd indicated that, “The average tick load for adult females who lost their calves within the first couple of days after birth was almost double the average tick load.”
Monitoring of mother moose and calves will continue through 2018 to see how tick abundance changes from year to year.

Once the multi-year tick data are gathered and analyzed, the researchers and managers hope to begin searching for management methods to decrease the tick loads on moose – which in turn, will enhance the stability of Utah’s Shiras Moose population.

This is Shauna Leavitt and I’m Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Sam Robertson Department of Wildland Resources, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University
Text: Shauna Leavitt, USGS Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

Sources & Additional Reading

Leavitt, Shauna, Securing Utah’s Moose Population, Wild About Utah, July 10, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/securing-utahs-moose-population/

Moose, Alces apces, compiled by Anthony Bell, Vertebrate Zoology Collections Assistant, Utah Museum of Natural History, https://nhmu.utah.edu/sites/default/files/attachments/Alces%20alces.pdf

Moose entering water, Jeff Rice, Western Soundscape Archive; University of Utah, https://collections.lib.utah.edu/details?id=1117822

Moose in Utah, Jason Pietrzak, Wild About Utah, Bridgerland Audubon Society/Utah Public Radio, 30 Sept 2008, http://wildaboututah.org/moose-in-utah/

Moose, Wild Aware Utah, Hogle Zoo & Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, http://www.wildawareutah.org/utah-wildlife-information/moose/

Utah Moose Statewide Management Program, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, https://wildlife.utah.gov/hunting/biggame/pdf/moose_plan.pdf

http://www.wildawareutah.org/

http://wildlife.utah.gov/hardwareranch/comment/HRWMA_management_plan.pdf

https://wildlife.utah.gov/hunting/biggame/pdf/moose_plan.pdf

http://utah.ptfs.com/awweb/awarchive?type=file&item=10838

http://www.researchgate.net/publication/257449101_A_HISTORY_OF_MOOSE_MANAGEMENT_IN_UTAH

http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/55461427-78/aoude-decline-moose-north.html.csp

http://wildaboututah.org/moose-in-utah/

http://www.utah.com/wildlife/northern.htm

Utah’s Unbelievable Ungulates, Nature’s Call, Fall 1997, Utah Project Wild, Utah Division of Natural Resources, http://wildlife.utah.gov/projectwild/newsletters/97fall-gw.pdf

Where Do They Go When It Snows?!, Nature’s Call, Winter 1993, Utah Project Wild, Utah Division of Natural Resources, http://wildlife.utah.gov/projectwild/newsletters/93winter-nc.pdf

Winter Tick, (Moose Tick), Forests, Wildlife and Parks of Quebec, Ministère des Ressources naturelles,
https://mffp.gouv.qc.ca/english/wildlife/wildlife-habitats/winter-tick.jsp

Tick Species of Maine – Winter Tick or Moose Tick, UMaine Cooperative Extension: Insect Pests, Ticks and Plant Diseases, University of Maine, https://extension.umaine.edu/ipm/tickid/maine-tick-species/winter-tick-or-moose-tick/

The Invasive Phragmites

Invasive Phragmites: Great Salt Lake Phragmites Courtesy & Copyright Karin Kettenring
Great Salt Lake Phragmites
Courtesy & Copyright Karin Kettenring
Those unfamiliar with the history of the Utah’s wetlands may see Phragmites and say, “What a beautiful, elegant plant! It looks so graceful blowing along the shore.”

However, the plant’s attractiveness and ability to absorb pollutants may not compensate for its negative impacts.

Phragmites is an invasive perennial grass that now thrives in much of the wetlands around the Great Salt Lake and other marshes in northern Utah. It grows in dense clusters and normally reaches 5 to 10 feet in height. If the conditions are right it can reach 15 feet.

The patches of grass are so dense that wetland managers are called out each year to rescue duck hunters – who are lost in the Phragmites.

Karin Kettenring, associate professor of wetland ecology in the Department of Watershed Sciences at USU and her research team have been studying Utah Phragmites for the past decade.

Kettenring explains why Phragmites is a concern, “We fear it is fundamentally changing the habitat of Great Salt Lake wetlands which are renowned for being a home for migratory birds including waterfowl and shore birds.”

The exotic grass most likely started in the Great Salt Lake wetlands after the flooding of 1983. The flood washed out the marshes. When the water levels receded, the salty water had destroyed all the native vegetation in the wetlands. Phragmites then moved in. By 2011, the exotic grass had spread over 24,000 acres.

Mowing Phragmites Courtesy & Copyright Karin Kettenring
Mowing Phragmites
Courtesy & Copyright Karin Kettenring
Scientists believe humans inadvertently brought Phragmites to Utah, since birds don’t migrate East and West, and the birds usually don’t eat the seeds. Someone’s boat may have transported the seeds into Utah. They sat dormant in the soil until the conditions were perfect, then the spread of Phragmites began.

Today an average small patch of Phragmites, about 20 feet square, can spread a couple yards a year just from the stems it sends out above and below the ground. However, research has shown it’s not the stems that cause the most reproduction – but the seeds.

Karin_Kettenring-in-the-Great-Salt-Lake-Wetlands Courtesy & Copyright Karin Kettenring
Karin_Kettenring-in-the-Great-Salt-Lake-Wetlands
Courtesy & Copyright Karin Kettenring
Karen Mock, associate professor in the Department of Wildland Resources and a long-term collaborator on this project helped Kettenring with the genetic work.

They tested the genetics of a lot of Phragmites pulled from the same patches and found many different genotypes – proving the plants came from different seeds, not the stems of neighboring plants.

With these results, Kettenring’s lab discovered the best way to control the invasive grass is to first control the seed production by mowing the grass mid-summer to keep it from spreading. Then in the fall spraying the area with herbicide three years in a row. An herbicide approved for use in wetlands can be used – such as Rodeo.

If the Phragmites has been there only a few years then the seeds of the native vegetation will still be in the soil, and they’ll come back on their own.

However, if the Phragmites has been there for a long time then re-seeding of native plants will be necessary.

To determine the best way to re-seed wetlands, Kettenring partnered with Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Division of Forestry, Fire & State Lands and David England – one of Kettenring’s past graduate students. England has spent extensive time in the lab determining how to help seeds germinate.

Emily Martin, Kettenring’s current graduate student will also help with the UDWR reseeding as she searches for techniques to make seeding more effective.

Ultimately their goal is to restore native plant communities to keep Phragmites from coming back and restore habitat for important migratory birds.

This is Shauna Leavitt and I’m Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Karin Kettenring
Text: Shauna Leavitt

Sources & Additional Reading

How to control Phragmites
Kettenring, Karin, Rupp, Larry, Whitesides, Ralph, Hazelton, Eric, Phragmites Control at the Urban/Rural Interface, 2014, https://works.bepress.com/karin_kettenring/92/

Extensive readings about Phragmites:
https://works.bepress.com/karin_kettenring/

Video: USU researchers mowing Phragmites in the Great Salt Lake wetlands. The passenger is Chad Cranney a past graduate student of Karin Kettenring’s:
https://bft.usu.edu/rqcq9

*****

Larese-Casanova, Mark, Phragmites-Utah’s Grassy Invader, Wild About Utah, August 23, 2012, http://wildaboututah.org/phragmites-utahs-grassy-invader/

Common Reed, Phragmites australis. National Invasive Species Information Center, USDA National Agricultural Library, https://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/aquatics/commonreed.shtml

Phragmites Factsheet, US Fish & Wildlife Service, https://www.fws.gov/GOMCP/pdfs/phragmitesQA_factsheet.pdf

Phragmites Phragmites australis, Aquatic Invasive Species, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Sept 17, 2013, https://wildlife.utah.gov/habitat/ans/phragmites.php

Phragmites Phragmites australis, Plants Database, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service(NRCS), https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=phau7