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

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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

Recovery of Native Bonneville Cutthroat Trout in Right-hand Fork

Bonneville Cutthroat Trout
Bonneville Cutthroat Trout
In the 1970s, many feared Utah’s native fish, the Bonneville Cutthroat Trout, was extinct.
A search began and in a short time, with a sigh of relief, state managers were able to report the Bonneville cutthroat trout was still in Utah’s rivers and streams, but the sub-species was imperiled and had experienced dramatic reductions in abundance and distribution rangewide.

For over a decade, managers and anglers worked to keep the fish off the Endangered Species list.

In 1997, to ensure the long-term conservation of our state fish in Utah, four federal agencies, two state agencies, and the Goshute Tribe, came together to create and sign the Conservation Agreement for Bonneville Cutthroat Trout in the state of Utah.

The signers of the agreement rely heavily on ongoing, research and monitoring about important populations and the trout’s environment, to make good management decisions.

One source of this data is the Fish Ecology Lab of Phaedra Budy, professor in the Watershed Sciences Department and Unit Leader for the U.S. Geological Survey Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit at USU and her research team.
With this data, managers can focus their restoration efforts on areas where they are most likely to succeed.
One such location is the Right-hand fork, a tributary of the Logan River located in mountains of Northern Utah.
Prior to 2013, the Right-hand fork was brimming with exotic and invasive Brown Trout. In 2002, Budy’s lab recorded 4,000 brown trout per kilometer in the tributary – denser than any other recorded population on earth. This exotic fish pushed out native trout.

Brown Trout thrive in Right-hand fork because of the creek’s abundance of spawning gravel, beaver dam ponds, and bugs; but the principal reason why trout flourished here is that the stream is spring fed. The spring stabilizes the water temperatures year round keeping it cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, which promotes fish growth and survival.

Budy hypothesized the dense population of Brown Trout were overflowing into the main leg of Logan River, increasing the exotic trout population there. She predicted if managers could replace the Brown Trout with a population of Bonneville Cutthroat trout, these native fish would thrive. Once the native trout population were recovered and robust, they too would begin to overflow into the main arm of the river and increase the native trout’s population throughout Logan River.

Cutthroat Trout Conservation Project at Temple Fork
Courtesy YouTube.com and Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, https://youtu.be/zwHdFx0Qbo0

In about 2010, a partnership of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, U.S. Forest Service, Cache Anglers, and Utah State University began taking steps for recovering the Bonneville Cutthroat trout in the tributary.

In 2013, they used a chemical treatment to remove the Brown Trout from the Right-hand fork.

To ensure the exotic trout would not re-enter Right-hand fork, researchers installed structures at the mouth of the tributary allowing trout to exit but not return.

The new population of Bonneville Cutthroat trout had to come from the Logan River, so the genetics would remain the same.

Paul Thompson, deputy director of the Recoveries Program in Utah’s Department of Natural Resources said, “Because [the Logan River] has whirling disease we couldn’t move live fish, so we collected eggs from the spawning fish in Temple fork, another tributary of the Logan River.”

The Cache Anglers played a large role in the relocation of these trout.

Budy explains, “Removing [the eggs and embryos] then restocking the juveniles was largely the responsibility of the Cache Anglers. They did a wonderful job.”

The Bonneville Cutthroat trout are now thriving in the Right-hand fork with multiple age classes and big, fat, catchable native trout.

It has been over 50 years since managers feared the Bonneville Cutthroat trout waswere extinct. With ongoing conservation efforts, the native trout has now been restored to 40% of its historic range.

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

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy and Copyright Paul Thompson, Utah DNR
Text: Shauna Leavitt

Sources & Additional Reading

http://cacheanglers.com/

https://wildlife.utah.gov/fishing-in-utah.html

Bengston, Anna, Cutthroat Trout, WildAboutUtah.org, 2014, July 10, http://wildaboututah.org/cutthroat-trout/

VanZanten, Chadd, A “no-trouts-land” on the Logan River, WildAboutUtah.org, 2016, December 5, http://wildaboututah.org/a-no-trouts-land-on-the-logan-river/

Cutthroat Trout, Native trout of the interior west, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, https://wildlife.utah.gov/cutthroat-home.html

McKell, Matt, Small Stream Cutthroat Trout, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, May 10, 2016, http://wildlife.utah.gov/blog/2016/small-stream-cutthroat-trout/

Hansen, Brad, Albert Perry Rockwood, WildAboutUtah.org, 2017, February 3, http://wildaboututah.org/albert-perry-rockwood/

South Canyon Sage-Grouse

Male Grouse Closeup Courtesy & Copyright Nicki Frey, Photographer
Male Grouse Closeup
Courtesy & Copyright Nicki Frey, Photographer
At 3:00 a.m. on a frigid winter morning Nicki Frey, an Extension Associate Professor in the Department of Wildland Resources at USU, leads a group of new biologists who are trapping west of Bryce Canyon.

Cold, deep snow is all they can see on the valley floor.

The group is looking for the greater sage-grouse whose GPS transmitters are sending Frey signals – indicating they are nearby.

Grouse Tracks in Snow Courtesy & Copyright Nicki Frey, Photographer
Grouse Tracks in Snow
Courtesy & Copyright Nicki Frey, Photographer
For best results, researchers trap sage-grouse on moonless nights. The only light they have comes from the ATVs and headlamps.

Frey explains, “Southern Utah is the farthest southern location where greater sage-grouse live in the U.S. This valley is part of their winter habitat.”

In disbelief, one biologist responds, “It would be impossible for grouse to winter here.”

Documenting Grouse Trapping Courtesy & Copyright Nicki Frey, Photographer
Documenting Grouse Trapping
Courtesy & Copyright Nicki Frey, Photographer
The biologist’s statement is understandable, since research shows the winter habitat for greater sage-grouse is in areas where sagebrush is above the snow, so the grouse can hide underneath and receive protection from the brush and nutrition from its seeds.

Just as Frey begins to respond – 20 grouse burst out of the snow in front of them and fly away. “It scared us out of our skin.” Frey said.

“Everyone retreat! Everyone off of the snow!” Frey calls out.

Grouse Snow Angel and Cave Courtesy & Copyright Nicki Frey, Photographer
Grouse Snow Angel and Cave
Courtesy & Copyright Nicki Frey, Photographer
Then she and her colleague Lisa Church, a biologist from Bureau of Land Management get down on their hands and knees and begin searching for where the grouse were hiding. They see wing marks in the snow and a hole close by. With the use of a flashlight, they look down the hole and discover the birds came from a cave under the snow-covered sagebrush.

Going against the grain, the grouse have been living under the deep snow.

Sagebrush in this area only grow 1.5 to 3 feet, and since the snow can get up to 12 feet it’s not far into winter before the sagebrush is completely covered.

Surprisingly, the grouse have been able to adapt.

Frey explains, “They make these little snow caves and eat the sagebrush leaves inside the cave until they’re gone, then they pop out and pop back into the next sage brush cave and eat the leaves in there.”

Buried sagebrush isn’t the only obstacle the southern grouse have had to adapt to.

Grouse on Edge of New Treatment Courtesy & Copyright Nicki Frey, Photographer
Grouse on Edge of New Treatment
Courtesy & Copyright Nicki Frey, Photographer
Frey explains, “[In Northern Utah you have …nice rolling hills with lots of sage brush that seems to go on forever. In Southern Utah, we have little valleys of prime sage-grouse habitat, but they’re divided by rugged mountains and tree covered hills.”

This environment pushes the grouse to fly longer and further than they normally would.

They fly back and forth between the fragmented sagebrush habitats to find what they need to have a healthy population.

Having to constantly travel between these habitats takes a toll on the southern grouse.

This is an area Utah wildlife managers have helped the greater sage-grouse by removing pinyon-juniper forests which fragment their habitat.

According to Frey, “Anytime we [reconnect] habitat [in the southern region] the grouse use it immediately because they want to expand.”

The impact the Bureau of Land Management and Utah Division of Wildlife Resources projects have had on decreasing the forest barriers is astounding. “The numbers of sage-grouse have steadily increased every year.”

Frey’s research highlights this bird’s remarkable ability to adapt to southern Utah’s climate.

By using the research to assist with management planning, Utah can continue removing barriers for grouse survival and ensure their continued presence in our wildlands.

This is Shauna Leavitt for Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Principal Investigator: Nicki Frey
Photos: Courtesy and Copyright Nicki Frey
Text: Shauna Leavitt

Sources & Additional Reading

Sixty In-stream Habitat Structures in Four Days: Demonstrating Creek Restoration Techniques

In-stream Habitat Structures: Crews from multiple agencies gather in the encroaching pinyon-juniper forest to begin building the in-stream structures in Birch Creek, UT. Courtesy & Copyright Shauna Leavitt, Photographer
Crews from multiple agencies gather in the encroaching pinyon-juniper forest to begin building the in-stream structures in Birch Creek, UT.
Courtesy & Copyright Shauna Leavitt, Photographer
The job of building 60 in-stream habitat structures in one week seems like a daunting task. But an energetic group of 16 natural resource managers, researchers and volunteers, finish all 60 in four days.

The crew members come from numerous agencies including the Bureau of Land Management, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, the National Forest Service, interagency firefighting hotshots, and Utah State University.
The purpose of the project is to demonstrate how effective various in-stream structures are at improving habitat for Bonneville cutthroat trout and restoring riparian habitat on a two-mile stretch of Utah’s Birch Creek, located southeast of Beaver, Utah.

In-stream Habitat Structures: Crews from multiple agencies building in-stream structures to restore Birch Creek. Courtesy & Copyright Shauna Leavitt, Photographer
Crews from multiple agencies building in-stream structures to restore Birch Creek. Courtesy & Copyright Shauna Leavitt, Photographer
At one time Birch Creek was rich with beaver, riparian vegetation and diverse in-stream habitat making it an ideal home for Bonneville Cutthroat trout and sage grouse.

The beaver are now gone, and the once woody riparian vegetation has been largely replaced by an encroaching pinyon-juniper forest. The creek is one narrow ditch-like channel.

According to Joseph Wheaton, Associate Professor in the Department of Watershed Sciences and Principal Investigator, “Without the help [of man-made structures or beaver dams] recovery from this type of degradation could take centuries.”

The crews built a variety of simple structures, some designed to mimic beaver dams and others to imitate natural accumulations of wood and debris jams.

In-stream Habitat Structures: An in-stream structure build from juniper branches, cobble, gravel and mud. Courtesy & Copyright Shauna Leavitt, Photographer
An in-stream structure build from juniper branches, cobble, gravel and mud. Courtesy & Copyright Shauna Leavitt, Photographer
The largest structures are built with an excavator. The machine pulls up large junipers and drops them in the stream so the water can run over, around and through the juniper and its root wads.
Wheaton explains, ”By putting the [Juniper} in the channel we’re making habitat for fish and at the same time raising water tables, which support a whole range of riparian vegetation and wetland vegetation.”
Another structure is the Beaver Dam Analogues (BDAs), which is a simple, cost-effective method of using posts and juniper branches then adding rocks and mud to partially plug up the deliberately leaky dams, designed to be passable to fish.

In-stream Habitat Structures: A pool forming behind a newly build in-stream habitat structure. Courtesy & Copyright Shauna Leavitt, Photographer
A pool forming behind a newly build in-stream habitat structure. Courtesy & Copyright Shauna Leavitt, Photographer
Crews see immediate improvements after each structure is built. New pools form, old-channels that haven’t seen water for decades begin to flow parallel to the main channel, and formerly dry floodplains become wet sponges and wetlands.

These wet sponges will release their water later in the season providing additional moisture in dryer times.
Justin Jimenez, Fisheries Riparian Program Manager with Bureau of Land Management explains why these pools are essential, “We’re working to improve the habitat for native fish by increasing the pool frequency and depth. The depth provides thermal cover.” Which is cooler for summer rearing habitat, and warmer for winter survival.
Before this project began, downstream water-rights holders were concerned about how these structures would impact water for irrigation.

In response to their concerns, Gary O’Brien, a Geomorphologist in the Fluvial Habitat Center at USU installed a common measuring device called a V-notch weir at the top and bottom the of the two-mile stretch to measure the discharge of the stream.

According to O’Brien, “once all the structures fill their pools and the system adjusts for infiltration, we expect the top and the bottom weirs to measure a relatively consistent discharge.”
By the addition of a pressure transducer in the pool behind the weirs, O’Brien will have continuous flow of data at every stage.

With these readings the ranchers can be kept up-to-date on the impact the structures are having on the water resources. The agencies have agreed to remove the structures if gaging shows the structures are negatively impacting downstream water users.

Throughout the project, UDWR, BLM and the USFS will be monitoring cutthroat trout response, and USU will be monitoring how the habitat responds and changes through time.

By monitoring the responses, managers and researchers will be able to make more informed decisions about which types and mix of structures can be most effectively used to restore similar streams cheaply across the state.

This is Shauna Leavitt for Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy and Copyright Shauna Leavitt
Text: Shauna Leavitt

Sources & Additional Reading

Streams & Rivers Restoration, Restoration Center, NOAA Habitat Conservation, National Marine Fisheries Service,
http://habitat.noaa.gov/restoration/techniques/srrestoration.html

White, Courtney, Thinking Like a Creek, originally published by The Carbon Pilgrim, March 6, 2014,
http://resilience.org/stories/2014-03-06/thinking-like-a-creek/

Stream Restoration, United States Department of Agriculture(USDA), Natural Resources Conservation Service(NRCS),
https://nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/water/manage/restoration/

Rubenstein, Marcus, CPESC, Stream Restoration, Purpose Practice and Methods, Southeast Storm Water Association,
http://seswa.org/assets/Services/Annual-Conference/2010/11%20-%20stream%20restoration%20%20methods%20purpose%20and%20practices%20rubenstein.pdf