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

Talking Dirt

Talking Dirt: There are over four billion micro-organisms in a teaspoon of healthy soil. Courtesy King County, WA
There are over four billion micro-organisms in a teaspoon of healthy soil.
Courtesy King County, WA
It’s time to talk dirt- and I’m not talking politics, but real, factual dirt! Of all our amazing planets ecosystems, there is one that rises above all others. It’s the one your home is standing on, the one you don’t want your kids to track in the house. By now you’ve probably guessed it!

The diversity and abundance of life that exists within soil is greater than in any other ecosystem. A ‘biological universe’ exists in a gram of soil. Soil biota within this tiny universe transform energy, create and modify their habitat, influence soil health, and aid in the regulation of greenhouse gases. There are more microbes in a teaspoon of soil than there are people on the earth. We’re talking such characters as bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, earthworms, and arthropods. No wonder kids are so drawn to this miraculous stew of life! My one year old granddaughter can’t resist a mouthful given the opportunity! So let’s dive into a handful of soil.

Biogeochemical Cycling Courtesy USGS, Public Domain https://www.usgs.gov/media/images/biogeochemical-cycling-diagram-showing-climatic-processes-hydrologic
Biogeochemical Cycling
Courtesy USGS, Public Domain
https://www.usgs.gov/media/images/biogeochemical-cycling-diagram-showing-climatic-processes-hydrologic
The majority of life on Earth is dependent upon six critical elements: hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, oxygen, and sulfur that pass through, and are transformed by, soil organisms. This process, called biogeochemical cycling, is defined as the transformation and cycling of elements between non-living and living matter. These processes are dependent upon life in the soil.

Although we understand the vital services that these organisms provide by breaking down organic debris and recy¬cling nutrients, scientists have only begun to study the rich and unique diversity that is a part of the soil ecosystem. Of particular interest for myself is understanding the functions of certain fungi and their roles in storing atmospheric carbon dioxide.

As you may have heard in past WAU readings, climate change is a major threat to Utah’s wildlife including birds, cold water fish, pollinators, and pica.

Conservation Tillage: Minimizing tillage and maintaining a crop residue on the soil surface can greatly reduce erosion impacts Agricultural Management Practices for Water Quality Protection--Watershed Academy Web, Courtesy US EPA
Conservation Tillage:
Minimizing tillage and maintaining a crop residue on the soil surface can greatly reduce erosion impacts
Agricultural Management Practices for Water Quality Protection–Watershed Academy Web, Courtesy US EPA
And here’s where our farms and ranches have the opportunity to play a crucial role beyond feeding us.
Deploying what’s called regenerative agricultural practices like tillage reduction, cover crops, companion planting, planned grazing, and keyline plowing—will not only improve soil quality making it more resilient to climate conditions like flooding and drought, but also increase soil’s organic matter which require less fertilizer. This in turn, means less runoff into waterways and greater profitability for farmers.

Perhaps most important of all, managing farms this way actually draws carbon out of the atmosphere. If all cropland in the U.S. was farmed using these regenerative practices, the greenhouse gas reduction would be equivalent to eliminating nearly 90 percent of our country’s cars. And now some states are considering economic incentives like tax breaks for carbon sequestration farming, and enlisting Farm Bureaus to provide additional support. Will Utah be next?

This is Jack Greene writing and reading for WAU.

Fortuna, A. (2012) The Soil Biota. Nature Education Knowledge 3(10):1, https://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/the-soil-biota-84078125

Biogeochemical Cycles, U.S. Global Change Research Program, http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/report/sectors/biogeochemical-cycles#intro-section-2

How do microbial mats work? Microbial Mat Biogeochemical Cycling, NASA Ames Research Center, https://spacescience.arc.nasa.gov/microbes/about/microbial.html

Biogeochemical Cycling, Center for Forested Wetlands Research, Southern Research Station, USDA Forest Service, https://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/charleston/research/biogeochemical/

Subsurface Biogeochemical Research Program, Climate and Environmental Sciences Division, Office of Biological and Environmental Research, U.S. Department of Energy, http://doesbr.org/

The Carbon Cycle, NASA Earth Observatory, EOS Project Science Office, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/CarbonCycle/

Farewell Autumn

Cache Valley Autumn Colors Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern
Cache Valley Autumn Colors
Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern
Many people enjoy Autumn as their favorite season of the year. Temperatures are comfortable, most pesky insects are absent, animal migrations are evident, and beautiful Fall colors on the trees and shrubs are stunning. But why do these deciduous plants change color? Consider daylight, temperature, and chemistry.

Spring and summer growth and leaf production are due to photosynthesis, a process where plants use light to synthesize the cell’s chlorophyll into transforming carbon dioxide and water to carbohydrates such as sugars and starch. The cells containing chlorophyll also give the plant its green color. But there are other pigments, besides green, within the leaves all year. Xanthophyll produces orange and yellow colors, anthocyanin develops shades of red. When daylight decreases and temperatures drop in the North, the leaves stop their food-making and the green chlorophyll breaks down, leaving the other pigments to dominate the new Autumn colors.

Soon after these vivid colors appear, the tree develops special cells where leaves are attached. Those cells allow the stems to break away from the tree, due to gravity or the wind, and creates a small leaf scar. Although we may not appreciate bare limbs all winter, heavy snows collected by leaves could cause massive breaking of branches due to the additional weight.

In Southern climates, some broad-leaf trees may keep their leaves and only experience changes during wet and dry seasons. Many stay green all year. And, of course, conifers like spruce, pines and firs, retain their needle-like leaves all year.

Now picture yourself in your favorite, quiet, outdoor setting in the Fall as I read a section from the beautiful writings of Aldo Leopold, found in his book “A Sand County Almanac”. It is titled November – If I Were the Wind.

The wind that makes music in November corn is in a hurry. The stalks hum, the loose husks whisk skyward in half-playful swirls, and the wind hurries on.

In the marsh, long windy waves surge across the grassy sloughs, beat against the far willows. A tree tries to argue, bare limbs waving, but there is no detaining the wind.

On the sandbar there is only wind, and the river sliding seaward. Every wisp of grass is drawing circles on the sand. I wander over the bar to a driftwood log, where I sit and listen to the universal roar, and to the tinkle of wavelets on the shore. The river is lifeless: not a duck, heron, marsh-hawk or gull but has sought refuge from the wind.

Out of the clouds I hear a faint bark, as of a far-away dog. It is strange how the world cocks its ears at that sound, wondering. Soon it is louder: the honk of geese, invisible, but coming on.

The flock emerges from the low clouds, a tattered banner of birds, dipping and rising, blown up and blown down, blown together and blown apart, but advancing, the wind wrestling lovingly with each winnowing wing. When the flock is a blur in the far sky I hear the last honk, sounding taps for summer.

It is warm behind the driftwood now, for the wind has gone with the geese.
So would I—if I were the wind.

Credits:

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
Text:    Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

Additional Reading

Autumn Colors, Linda Kervin, Wild About Utah, http://wildaboututah.org/autumn-colors/

Red leaves in autumn: What’s in it for the tree?, Holly Strand, Oct 18, 2012, http://wildaboututah.org/red-leaves-in-autumn-whats-in-it-for-the-tree/

Autumn Leaf Color Change, Linda Kervin, Sept 23, 2010, http://wildaboututah.org/autumn-leaf-color-change/

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/