Greater Sage-Grouse in Utah

Female Sage-Grouse Flying in Winter, Courtesy & Copyright Todd Black, Photographer
Female Sage-Grouse Flying in Winter, Courtesy & Copyright Todd Black, Photographer
Utah’s dry, sagebrush covered landscapes are home to one of North American’s largest grouse species, commonly known as the greater sage-grouse.

The females are attractive chicken-size birds with gently curved bodies. Their feathers show streaks of black, brown and gray. This pattern acts as a natural camouflage in their sagebrush habitat to help protect them from predators.

Male Sage-Grouse on Lek, Courtesy & Copyright Todd Black, Photographer
Male Sage-Grouse on Lek, Courtesy & Copyright Todd Black, Photographer
Males are distinguished from females by their majestic form and decorative feather patterns. They are often twice the size of females and can weigh over seven pounds. A thick layer of white plumage covers the males’ breast and wraps up around both sides of their thick necks. Their tails are a long spray of pointy feathers, which rise into a beautiful fan during courting season and provide the basis for their scientific name Centrocercus urophasianus derived from the Greek word “kentron” meaning spiny, “kerkos” meaning tail, and urophasianus meaning tail of a pheasant.

To help protect against predators their wing and back feathers have streaks of black, grey, and brown – similar to the females.

Buried under the male’s white breast feathers are two air sacs that remain concealed until mating season begins.
The greater sage-grouse are probably best known, by most, for their extravagant courtship rituals.

Around the beginning of March, the male grouse return to their communal mating grounds called a lek where they compete with other males to attract and breed with the females. The ritual is called lekking. The lek is in an open area where visibility is good – such as a dry lakebed.

Dominate Male Sage-Grouse with Females, Courtesy & Copyright Todd Black, Photographer
Dominate Male Sage-Grouse with Females, Courtesy & Copyright Todd Black, Photographer
To show their dominance, the males raise their tail feathers in a magnificent fan, fill their breast sacs with air then thrust the air out of the sacs making a popping/bubbling sound as they strut around the lek in a regal fashion.

The females are attracted to the leks by the calls of the males, which can carry for over 1.5 miles. When they arrive, they roost among the males to watch their strutting performances. The hens may visit the lek several times during the breeding season before nesting.

During the courtship rituals, the females will begin searching for a nesting site. Most will choose to build their nests under the protective cover of a sagebrush bush. The female lines the bowl-shaped nest with dead grass and a few feathers. When she sits on her nest of 6-8 eggs, her camouflage colors go to work and make her nearly invisible from her surroundings. A potential predator may often pass by her as she sits motionless and in silence on her nest for a 30-day incubation period.

Week-old Sage-Grouse Chick with Transmitter, Courtesy & Copyright Todd Black, Photographer
Week-old Sage-Grouse Chick with Transmitter, Courtesy & Copyright Todd Black, Photographer
Dr. Terry Messmer, Utah State University Extension wildlife specialist and director of the Berryman Institute explains, “Greater sage-grouse do not have a muscular crop and are not able to digest hard seeds like other upland game species such as the ring-necked pheasant… they depend on sagebrush for their survival. In fact, during the winter sage-grouse survive by only eating sagebrush. They are the only species that can gain weight during the winter by [consuming] sagebrush.”

Biologists estimate that since the European settlement of North America there has been a 50% decline of the sage-grouse sagebrush habitat and population.

In the late 1990’s, in an effort to reverse this trend, Messmer through Utah State University entered into a collaboration with the State of Utah and numerous other stakeholders to develop a community-based conservation plan. Its purpose was to bring local communities, agencies, and researchers together to determine the best methods to preserve sage-grouse, their sagebrush habitats, and benefit the local community – without having to list it for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.

After two decades of hard work, the partners have witnessed a resurgence of the greater sage-grouse as their habitats have been protected, enhanced and expanded.

If you’d like to see greater sage-grouse, the largest populations are found in western Box Elder County, on Blue and Diamond Mountains in Uintah County in northeastern Utah, in Rich County, and on Parker Mountain in south central Utah. Just remember to bring your binoculars.

This is Shauna Leavitt for Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: All photos courtesy of and used with permission of Todd A. Black.
Text: Shauna Leavitt, USGS Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

Additional Reading

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

Conserving Water

A Flowing Stream, Conserving Water Starts at Home, Courtesy and Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
A Flowing Stream, Conserving Water Starts at Home, Courtesy and Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
Liquid water is essential to life as we know it on planet Earth. With rising temperatures ahead, our water resources are critical to us all. Whether nations contain hot-desert areas or not, the appropriate management of water is essential. In fact, life-sustaining water is literally far more important and valuable than oil. While most Americans generally take clean water for granted, the current generation may see unprecedented changes in water policy, development of desalinization plants, and the distant transport of water through major pipelines. While the “amount” of Earth’s water remains stable, its accessibility and distribution may change dramatically. A current example is truckloads of water being hauled from California to the Crater Lake National Park system in Oregon.

As good Earth Stewards, what can/should we do to use water responsibly? Here are 25 ideas:

  • Run kitchen-tap water into pitchers until it is hot before you start your dishwasher. Use that water later for your houseplants or garden.
  • If washing dishes by hand, use a container of rinse water rather than letting it run over dishes.
  • Try a Navy Shower: Get wet, turn water off, lather up, rinse. Two minutes of water use is all you’ll need.
  • Install a water-saver showerhead.
  • Keep a pitcher of cold drinking water in the fridge instead of letting the water run down the drain while waiting for it to cool.
  • Wash your car on the lawn.
  • Use a pistol-nozzle on your garden hose rather than letting it run open ended.
  • Use a bucket in your bathtub to catch water until it warms, then use it on plants later.
  • Water plants with runoff caught from rinsing fruit and vegetables under your faucet.
  • See if your community allows plumbing your gray water directly to your outdoor plants.
  • Use a broom, not water, to clean sidewalks and driveways.
  • Turn running water off while shaving, washing hands, or brushing teeth.
  • Water lawns only in the early morning or late evening, and preferably on windless days.
  • Compost fruit & vegetable waste rather than using the garbage disposal.
  • Consider replacing your lawn with water-wise plants. If you live in a desert, grow desert plants.
  • Run dishwashers and clothes-washers only with full loads.
  • Upgrade old toilets with the newer water-saving models
  • Make sure that lawn sprinklers never hit driveways, sidewalks, buildings, fences, etc.
  • Put your lawn mower on the “highest setting” to conserve water and strengthen grasses.
  • Check the policy in your area about using barrels to catch rainwater from your roof to use later on flower beds and gardens.
  • Never use running water to thaw frozen foods. Plan ahead, and defrost it in the fridge.
  • Fix plumbing leaks immediately.
  • Don’t use toilets as garbage cans.
  • Save money and resources by avoiding plastic water-bottles. Use your own refillable container for meetings, hiking, etc.
  • If you have a pool, cover it when it’s not in use to reduce evaporation loss.
  • For dozens of other water-saving ideas go to www.wateruseitwisely.com

A Flowing Stream, Home for Wildlife, Courtesy and Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
A Flowing Stream, Home for Wildlife, Courtesy and Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
This is Ron Helstern with Wild About Utah.

Credits:

Images:
Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
Text:     Ron Hellstern

Additional Reading

Conservation Program, Utah Division of Water Resources,
https://conservewater.utah.gov/

Waterwise Utah, Utah Education Network & Partners, http://waterwiseutah.org/

Water Quality-Conservation, USU Extension, http://extension.usu.edu/waterquality/conservation/

Slow the Flow, Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District & Partneres, http://www.slowtheflow.org/

Green Canyon and Clean Drinking Water

Digging waterline trenches in Cache Valley, circa 1935. Photo: Utah State University Special Collections and Archives.
Digging waterline trenches in Cache Valley, circa 1935. Photo: Utah State University Special Collections and Archives.

If you’ve ever hiked or driven up Green Canyon near the City of North Logan, you’ve probably noticed the dried-up streambed. It wasn’t always dry, however. In fact, if you turn back the pages of history you’ll find water, and the story of why the stream no longer flows.

In the 1920s several families living in North Logan contracted meningitis from drinking contaminated canal water. The townspeople had tried drilling wells, but each time the water emerged from the ground warm and metallic. Farres Nyman, an early resident of North Logan recorded that during winter her father would chop holes in the frozen Logan-Hyde-Park Canal to retrieve drinking water. Her mother would then “take a little strainer and strain out the wrigglers and boil our drinking water.”1 One of the people infected was Utah State Agricultural College engineering professor Orson W. Israelsen. His bout with the illness left him completely deaf.2 The meningitis outbreak motivated the community, and especially Israelsen, to find a clean source of water for North Logan.

With the help of his students at the Agricultural College, Israelsen explored Green Canyon. Sometime in 1928, the group located a spring five miles up in a narrow adjacent canyon (now called Water Canyon). From 1928–1934 Israelsen sent students, often on snowshoes, to gather flow data from the spring. He determined that the spring’s average discharge of around 88 gallons per minute was sufficient to meet the needs of the community.3

The spring was already spoken for by a local power company and the Little Flower Mine, who owned rights to the water jointly, but in 1928, the power company decided not to re-file. And so on October 1st of the same year (when the water rights came up for renewal) North Logan resident Robert Burns Crookston camped out near the state offices in Salt Lake City and claimed the water for North Logan before a representative for the Little Flower Mine had a chance to re-file.4

Concrete equalizing reservoir for North Logan Waterworks at the Mouth of Green Canyon, circa 1935. Photo: Utah State University Special Collections and Archives
Concrete equalizing reservoir for North Logan Waterworks at the Mouth of Green Canyon, circa 1935. Photo: Utah State University Special Collections and Archives

With the water now theirs, residents of North Logan decided to incorporate as a town. In 1934 town leaders laid out their plan to construct a waterline to bring the spring water in Green Canyon to their homes in the valley. Orson W. Israelsen was put in charge of the project. He estimated it would cost $24,000$35,000 to build the waterline. To defray costs, the city sought help from the Federal Government. Through the Works Progress Administration (WPA), Uncle Sam contributed $32,850 while North Logan City raised another $28,800. Surveying took place during November 1934 and men began digging trenches in Green Canyon during the winter of 1935.5 Israelsen described the work:

There was no digging equipment at that time, a pick and shovel and crowbar were used. When they came to a level, a plow or root digger was used, which was drawn by a team of horses. This loosened the soil, which the men lifted out of the trenches with a shovel… They were interested in their town welfare and did the job on the 5 miles of pipe in the canyon and 8 miles in the valley. What a joy it was to turn a tap and get a clear cold drink of pure water6.

Despite the difficult work, the men made good time. By June 1935 water was flowing from the spring in Green Canyon to residents in North Logan.

Not much has changed since 1935. The spring continues to send clean water to homes in North Logan, just as Israelsen and the WPA workers hoped it would. Until 1984 North Logan City used the original pipe. However, severe flooding during the winter of 1983–84 washed out sections of the old pipe, requiring installation of new pipe.7 The new pipe is even more efficient, capturing all the spring water that once tumbled down Green Canyon spreading life. These days the streambed is full of dusty hikers and mountain bikers instead of water. And, the cottonwoods and willows that made Green Canyon so green have dried up, reminding us of our history and the cost of clean drinking water.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Brad Hansen

Footnotes:

1.

    1. Jesse L. Embry, North Logan Town: 1934-1970. (North Logan, Utah: North Logan City, 2000), 25.

2.

    1. “Biographical Sketch,” Orson Winso Israelsen Papers, (1894-1966), (Available at Special Collections and Archives, Utah State University), accessed April 25, 2012, http://library.usu.edu/specol/manuscript/collms31.html

3.

    1. Lydia Thurston Nyman and Venetta King Gilden, Miscellaneous Papers on the History of North Logan, Utah. (Published by Authors: 1998), 60.

4.

    1. Don Younker Oral History, interviewed by Jessie Embry, 1998, 6.

5.

    1. Thurston and Nyman, 61.

6.

    1. Ibid, 61.

7.

    1. Al Moser Oral History, Interviewed by Daniel Franklin and Sean Harvey, February, 2012.

Credits:
Photo: Courtesy Utah State University Special Collections and Archives
Text: Brad Hansen

Sources & Additional Reading

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/