The Logan River June Bug

“Darling, I’m having a struggle with the trout. They are too much for me in the swift, rushing river. I lose ‘em. Went out yesterday… and lost two—one a large fish. The ‘June Bugs’ – a red bodied insect, as big as the biggest grasshopper you ever saw, fall from the leaves on to the river and are such large juicy mouthfuls that the trout have abundant food, and don’t care much for a fly.”1

Frederick Jackson Turner c 1890 Public Domain Courtesy Wikipedia
Frederick Jackson Turner
c 1890
Public Domain
Courtesy Wikipedia
That is an excerpt from a letter from U.S. historian and novice fly angler Frederick Jackson Turner. He was writing to his wife Caroline Mae on June 20, 1924, while visiting Utah Agricultural College in Logan. Turner didn’t know it at the time, but the large red-bodied “June Bugs” were actually salmonflies, a prehistoric-looking stonefly from the genus Pteronarcys. Turner was also unaware that his letter would become the earliest written record showing that salmonflies were once abundant in the Logan River.

Salmonflies are a type of large stonefly that live in many western rivers and are often called “rock rollers” or “shredders” because they hide under boulders and gorge themselves on leaf litter until early summer when they crawl out from under the rocks, shed their exoskeleton, and clumsily fly around hoping to bump into a mate. These bugs love cold, clean, oxygenated water, all of which are hallmarks of the Logan River. Existing records show that salmonflies were well established on the Logan River until at least 1951, after which time something wiped them out. The last time anyone saw a Pteronarcys on the Logan River was September 7, 1966, near Mendon Bridge.2

Salmon fly; Photographer unknown; 1967 Yellowstone Photo Collection Courtesy NPS and Yellowstone Association
Salmon fly;
Photographer unknown;
1967
Yellowstone Photo Collection
Courtesy NPS and Yellowstone Association
In 2001, the “Disappearance of the Salmonflies,” as it’s now known among bug enthusiasts, sparked the curiosity of Mark Vinson, former director of the Utah State University National Aquatic Monitoring Center, aka the “USU Bug Lab.” Vinson decided to compare the Logan River to nearby Blacksmith Fork River, which continues to support a healthy population of salmonflies. Vinson observed that the absence of salmonflies in the Logan River was one of the few differences between the invertebrate faunas in the two streams. He studied discharge and water temperature regimes between the two and found they were also similar and had not changed since the 1960s. He wrote, “Overall, the Logan River within Logan Canyon remains a beautiful stream and habitat, and water quality conditions have not changed much since 1960, at least not enough to prevent salmonflies from living in the river.”3 To test his observations Vinson decided to try and recolonize the Logan River with salmonflies from the Blacksmith Fork River. Between 2004 and 2007 volunteers relocated thousands of salmonflies in the hope they would once again call the Logan River home. Out of the thousands of immigrant stoneflies, Vinson only found two that survived longer than one year. The massive relocation effort was a bust, and proved that there was still something about the Logan River that these critters didn’t like.

Each semester, watershed science students at Utah State University don leaky waders and wander up Logan Canyon to conduct aquatic invertebrate sampling. I was once one of those bright-eyed students, standing in the Logan River with a kick-net and dreams of finding the long-lost Pteronarcys. I never found one. Over the years, researchers have ruled out obvious factors like water quality, stream temperature, or habitat, that might limit salmonfly reproduction on the Logan River. Chemical spills and sagebrush abatement in Logan Canyon during the 1950s may have originally contributed to the bugs’ demise, but doesn’t explain why they can’t survive for long in the river today. Of course, anglers have their own ideas about what going on, including tales of a giant Sasquatch urinating in the river somewhere near Rick’s Spring.

Even today the plot thickens. Continued aquatic invertebrate sampling by the Bug Lab has shown that salmonflies are also absent from Left Hand Fork of Blacksmith Fork River as well as upper Rock Creek.4 Incredibly, both of these streams are tributaries to the main stem Blacksmith Fork River, which is full of salmonflies. This anomaly has everyone scratching their heads. All anyone can say for certain is that some variable, biotic or abiotic, or possibly even “Sasquatch-iotic” is keeping salmonflies from populating these two tributaries. Could it be the same variable that’s keeping Frederick Jackson Turner’s “June Bugs” from reclaiming the Logan River? The answer to this question, along with whether Turner ever did land a trout, has yet to be answered.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Brad Hansen.

Footnotes:
1. Ray A. Billington, “Frederick Jackson Turner and ‘Logan’s National Summer School,’ 1924,” Utah Historical Quarterly 37, no. 3 (1969): 327.
2. Nancy A. Erman, “Occurrence and Distribution of Invertebrates in Lower Logan River” (master’s thesis, Utah State University, 1968), 17. Available online at http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1333&context=etd
3. Mark Vinson, “A short history of Pteronarcys californica and Pteronarcella badia in the Logan River, Cache County, Utah.” January 14, 2008. Available online at https://www.usu.edu/buglab/Content/Files/salmonfly%20history.pdf
4. Phone conversation with Joe Kotynek, USU Bug Lab Taxonomist, January 24, 2017.

Credits:
Photo: Courtesy Wikipedia (Public Domain) and
Photo: Courtesy NPS and Yellowstone Association
Text: Brad Hansen

Additional Reading

Logan River Salmonfly Disappearance, USU Buglab Archived Projects, http://www.usu.edu/buglab/Projects/ArchivedProjects/

Tree Talk

Quaking Aspen Sleek stands of quaking aspens (Populus tremuloides) grow in Zion's higher elevations Courtesy National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior
Quaking Aspen
Sleek stands of quaking aspens (Populus tremuloides) grow in Zion’s higher elevations
Zions National Park
Courtesy National Park Service
U.S. Department of the Interior
The next time you take a walk in the deep woods or even a stroll through a local park, listen closely. You may hear the trees ‘whispering in the wind.’ We use this familiar phrase to describe the soothing sounds of a gentle breeze through the forest canopy; but it may delight and surprise many to know that this figure of speech is now a proven scientific fact. The trees are talking.

They don’t talk like you and I talk, of course. The spoken word is foregone by the plant kingdom, for now. Theirs is a much subtler form of communication. ‘The Wood Wide Web’, as the scientific journal Nature once dubbed it, is the woodland social network. Within it, trees send electric signals coursing through their roots in order to relay important messages to their neighbors.

Travelling at the speed of about a third of an inch every minute, these timber telegrams take quite a while to accomplish such a task; but what this system lacks in speed, it makes up for with complexity. A tree’s roots will often expand through the soil to an area twice the width of its crown, resulting in the ability of a single tree to grasp the roots of and pass messages to multiple far-away friends at once.

In undisturbed soils, these messages can be expedited symbiotically. Subsoil fungal networks, which intertwine with the roots of trees for nourishment sake, can relay messages much more quickly by connecting otherwise distant, unconnected trees to one another. This becomes quite important when the message pertains to danger: an invasion of damaging pests, for instance.

Usually, though, if a tree needs to get a warning out to its neighbors more quickly, it will do so by other means. When trees are attacked, they emit scent compounds through their leaves. These arboreal aromas can be registered by distant parts of the same tree, far-flung trees in the same grove, or, amazingly, even members of the animal kingdom, which trees will summon to their defense. Even more astonishing is that each scent is custom-catered. Trees will identify their attacker by its saliva and emit a corresponding pheromone meant to attract that attacker’s natural predators. Once they are warned of an invading pest, other trees in the grove may respond similarly.

The usefulness of a tree’s ability to communicate with its neighbors goes beyond emergency warnings or the spreading of other important information. Trees have developed a sophisticated redistribution system in which the strongest trees compensate for weaker ones by sharing their surpluses of sugar. In fact, this system is so efficient that, in the end, each individual tree is nourished at the same rate of photosynthesis. This means that every tree in a grove receives the same amount of sugar per leaf in its crown as every other tree, regardless of its own ability to photosynthesize. As it turns out, trees are highly sociable beings. They take responsibility for friends and family members and see to it that their loved ones are well cared for.

Not all groves are created equal, though. These natural behaviors can be inhibited by intensive thinning of wild groves or absent altogether in planted, monocultural forests. However, when granted enough space and time to be itself, even the most artificial forest can ‘return to its roots.’

So, whenever you find yourself following that wooded path into the forest, think of what secret messages might be coursing through the soil or floating invisibly upon the airwaves? Consider these possibilities, and your walks may now be a little more mysterious.

For Wild About Utah this is Josh Boling

Credits:
Photo: Courtesy & Copyright
Text: Josh Boling

Sources & Additional Reading

Why Dippers Dip

American Dipper Ashley Tubbs, Photographer Photo credit: ashleytisme via Visual Hunt / CC BY-ND
American Dipper
Ashley Tubbs, Photographer
Photo credit: ashleytisme via Visual Hunt / CC BY-ND
Cinclus mexicanus is the only aquatic songbird found in North America, but it goes by several names—the American dipper, the water dipper, or the water ouzel. It is a grapefruit-sized bird that inhabits mountainous riparian areas. It has brownish gray plumage, stubby wings and tail, and ornithologists sometimes refer to it as “stocky,” “chunky,” and even “chubby-looking.” However, the dipper has no shortage of energy, and can be seen careening at low altitudes over mountain streambeds and crashing beak-first into fast-flowing water, always in the upstream direction.

American Dipper Peter Hart, Photographer Photo credit: PEHart via Visual hunt / CC BY-SA
American Dipper
Peter Hart, Photographer
Photo credit: PEHart via Visual hunt / CC BY-SA
The dipper hunts for food by diving into swift, shallow rivers and hunting underwater. It muscles its way upstream, picking off aquatic insect larva, crayfish, and even tadpoles and minnows. Several adaptations assist the dipper in this seemingly reckless feeding strategy. Nictitating eye membranes enable the dipper to see underwater, and specialized flaps of skin on the dipper’s beak seal its nostrils. Dippers produce more feather oil than less adventuresome songbirds, which keeps them warm and dry, even in near-freezing water. Perhaps most noticeably, the dipper has long legs and specialized, unwebbed toes to grip the stream bottom, hold steady in the current, and push along upstream.

The American dipper was once more commonly referred to as the “water ouzel,” after its European cousin, Cinclus aquaticus, but ornithologists changed the preferred common name to “American dipper” to better distinguish it based on a unique aspect of the bird’s behavior: American dippers dip.

American Dipper Peter Hart, Photographer Photo credit: PEHart via Visual hunt / CC BY-SA
American Dipper
Peter Hart, Photographer
Photo credit: PEHart via Visual hunt / CC BY-SA
The dipper bobs rapidly up and down by bending its legs—like deep knee bends. Dippers dip while paused on rocks between dives, they dip while feeding in the water, and they even dip while they’re still fledging in their nests.

So, why do dippers dip? There are a number of theories. First, dipping may help the birds visually isolate reference points beneath moving water, so that they can more accurately dive for prey. Dipping might also help to conceal dippers from predators against a busily moving backdrop. But the best theory about dipping is that it’s a form of communication between dippers within the noisy environment of mountain streams.

Ornithologists say dippers dip at different rates in different situations, sometimes as rapidly as 60 times per minute. Dipping could be used to convey messages such as “Go away, this is my territory,” or “Hi, I would like to mate with you.”

Unlike other songbirds of the United States, the dipper does not migrate to warmer climes in autumn—it stays put all year, usually moving only short distances to avoid iced-over streams or to take advantage of shifting forage availability.

Like the American dipper, I too am a year-round denizen of mountain streams. I enjoy fly-fishing all year, even when it’s very cold, and aside from trout, the dipper is the creature I most enjoy seeing while I’m fishing. I figure that if a 6-ounce bird with feathers and bare legs can brave summer’s roasting heat and winter’s bitter chill, then so can I. But more importantly, the American dipper is known as a “biotic indicator species,” meaning this bird is known to thrive in streams with clean water and robust forage, while it abandons streams which are impaired or polluted. So, when I see American dippers dipping and diving in my home waters, I know I’m fishing in a river system that is healthy and strong.

For Wild About Utah this is Chadd VanZanten.

Credits:
Photo credit #1: ashleytisme via Visual Hunt / CC BY-ND
Photo credit #2 and #3: PEHart via Visual hunt / CC BY-SA
Text: Chadd VanZanten

Additional Reading:

The Water Ouzel from The Mountains of California as quoted in The Wilderness World of John Muir, http://www.amazon.com/Wilderness-World-John-Muir/dp/0618127518/ref=sr_1_1?

American Dipper-Cinclus mexicanus, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, http://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/rsgis2/Search/Display.asp?FlNm=cincmexi

A Bird for All Seasons, The American Dipper, Norm Davis as read by Linda Kervin, Wild About Utah, Apr 21, 2009, http://wildaboututah.org/a-bird-for-all-seasons-the-american-dipper/

Albert Perry Rockwood

Albert P. Rockwood, Public Domain, courtesy Wikimedia
Albert P. Rockwood, Public Domain, courtesy Wikimedia
On May 12, 1871, Albert Perry Rockwood, the recently appointed Territorial Fish Superintendent of Utah, arrived at Silver Creek, a small tributary of the Weber River near present-day Rockport Reservoir. After setting up camp, Rockwood went to work catching native Bonneville cutthroat trout, which he placed in crates and milk cartons and loaded on wagons bound for Salt Lake City. This was no vacation. Rockwood was on official business on behalf of Brigham Young and the newly created Zion’s Cooperative Fish Association, Utah’s first fish-culture company. Rockwood’s mission was to transport as many live cutthroat as possible to rearing ponds in Salt Lake City, get them to spawn, then put the fry in Utah Lake. The project didn’t go as planned. Many of the fish died from lack of oxygen in the cramped storing crates, the bigger fish ate the smaller fish, and the cutthroat that made it into the rearing ponds alive wouldn’t spawn.1

Bonneville Cutthroat Trout Courtesy & Copyright Brad Hansen, Photographer
Bonneville Cutthroat Trout Courtesy & Copyright Brad Hansen, Photographer
Although Rockwood didn’t have much success farming native trout, his subsequent efforts with fish stocking yielded fruit. After some consideration, he decided that the answer to Utah’s declining trout populations was not to replace dying native trout with more native trout, but rather import exotic fish species and let them fill in. It helped that he had the support of the Mormon Church, which funded his fish stocking escapades through Zion’s Cooperative Fish Association. Over the pulpit, Mormon leaders encouraged members to do their part and declared fish “to possess brain making material to a greater extent than any other animal food.” They even went so far as to approve the use of prison inmates to build fish ponds near what is today Sugarhouse Park.2

During his time as Territorial Fish Superintendent, Rockwood experimented with American shad, black bullhead catfish, king salmon, Sebago salmon, eastern brook trout, lake whitefish, lobsters, oysters, American eel, Asian carp and a host of other species.3 Many of the exotics came from Rockwood’s east coast friends, including the biblical looking Seth Green and pragmatic Spencer Fullerton Baird, Director of the newly created U.S. Fish Commission. Today we might think some of Rockwood’s experiments cruel, like the time he attempted to farm lobsters and oysters in the Great Salt Lake, but at the time it was cutting edge fish culture.

On the surface it is obvious Rockwood was attempting to improve Utah’s fisheries, whatever that may have looked like at the time. However, if you look closer you can also see a man trying to make Utah into something more familiar. Historians have long established that throughout the American West, settlers introduced nonnative plants, animals, and fishes in an attempt to make the foreign and wild landscape into something domestic and manageable. It’s not surprising, then, that Rockwood, an East Coast transplant from Massachusetts, would bring to Utah many of the fish he had caught back home. Rivers and lakes were laboratories, not ecosystems, and in the end, if a fish survived, Rockwood believed it meant God wanted it there.

Bonneville Cutthroat Trout Courtesy & Copyright Brad Hansen, Photographer
Bonneville Cutthroat Trout Courtesy & Copyright Brad Hansen, Photographer
Today, in a twist of irony, our values have moved toward valuing natives over nonnatives, and we’re trying to quickly undo what Rockwood and others did. For example, millions of dollars are being spent to remove carp from Utah Lake and restore Bonneville cutthroat to the tributaries of the Weber River, those same tributaries where Rockwood camped and caught trout 145 years ago. I think we are doing right by the world, but in his time, so did Albert Perry Rockwood.4 And in case you’re wondering, Rockwood eventually solved the mystery of the cutthroat trout that would not spawn. In his notes he wrote: “I was on the headwaters before the females arrived, consequently, caught nothing but male fish…This solves the problem, why my trout did not spawn…”5

For Wild About Utah this is Brad Hansen.

Footnotes:
1. Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Utah, Twenty-Second Session, for the Year 1876 (Salt Lake City: David O. Calder, Public Printer, 1876), 101-102.
Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Utah, Twenty-Third Session, for the Year 1878 (Salt Lake City: J.W. Pike, Public Printer), 97-110.
2. Ibid.
3. Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Utah, Twenty-Second Session, for the Year 1876 (Salt Lake City: David O. Calder, Public Printer, 1876), 101-102; Boris Popov, “The Introduced Fishes, Game Birds, and Game and Fur-Bearing Mammals of Utah” (Master’s thesis, Utah State University, 1949), 38-77; Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Utah, Twenty-Third Session, for the Year 1878, 97-110.
4. Anders Halverson, An Entirely Synthetic Fish: How Rainbow Trout Beguiled America and Overran the World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), 187.
5. Ibid, 102-103.

Credits:
Photo: Courtesy and copyright Brad Hansen
Text: Brad Hansen

Sources & Additional Reading

Hansen, Bradley Paul, “An Environmental History of the Bear River Range, 1860-1910” (2013). All Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 1724. http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/etd/1724/

Bonneville cutthroat trout, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Endangered Species of the Mountain Prairie Region https://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/fish/bct/index.htm

June Sucker, US Fish and Wildlife Service, ECOS Environmental Conservation Online System, http://ecos.fws.gov/ecp0/profile/speciesProfile?spcode=E050

DuHadway, Kate, Groups continue effort to re-establish Bonneville cutthroat trout in Logan River tributary, HJ News, 22 June 2012, http://news.hjnews.com/features/groups-continue-effort-to-re-establish-bonneville-cutthroat-trout-in/article_99b87942-bbd5-11e1-ae71-0019bb2963f4.html