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/

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

A “no-trouts-land” on the Logan River

Cutthroat Trout A no-trouts-land on the Logan River, Copyright (c) Chadd VanZanten, Photographer vanzanten-cutthroat_trout.250x184
Cutthroat Trout
Copyright © Chadd VanZanten, Photographer
Northern Utah’s Logan River is known for its solitude and grandeur. Drive just a few miles up Logan Canyon in Cache Valley and find yourself in a wild setting on the bank of a picturesque mountain stream. It would be difficult to find a place in Utah that is more accessible and yet so peaceful.

However, just a few inches beneath the riffles of the Logan River, a war rages.

This conflict has gone unresolved for more than a century. The combatants fight continuously all day, all night, and all year.

The indigenous defender is the Bonneville cutthroat trout, which migrated here hundreds of thousands of years ago from the west coast of America by way of the Snake and Columbia rivers. They’ve been here ever since, making this Logan River cutthroat army the largest wild and natural population of its kind. Presently, cutthroats hold the upper river, above Twin Bridges or thereabouts.

Invading from downstream is the brown trout, whose antecedents hail from Eurasia. The brown trout isn’t an intentional trespasser; they were stocked here in the 1880s by humans who wanted more fish to catch. However, brown trout are aggressive, and they don’t know or care that the Logan River used to belong to some other species. Brown trout dominate the lower river, especially in the neighborhood of Third Dam.

And so they fight.

The middle portion of the river is a “no-trouts-land,” where the two species meet to wage their desperate struggle. They contend for living space, compete for forage, and, when it’s convenient, they devour each other with gusto.

Which will prevail? Each species has its advantages.

The brown trout are indisputably stronger, tougher, and meaner. They tolerate low water quality and wide swings in water temperature. When brown trout encounter cutthroats of their same size, they aggressively drive out the more-docile cutthroats. Every year, the brown trout gain a little ground, pressing inch by inch upstream.

Cutthroats may not be great fighters, but they are resilient, having survived clear-cut logging, overgrazing, and the damming of the river. The cutthroats were here first, too, so they hold the high ground, and it’s much easier for fish to move downstream than up. And the cutthroats rule the upper tributaries of the Logan River, which they use to spawn and replenish their numbers. But perhaps most importantly, the cutthroats have an immensely powerful ally: humans.

That’s right. The race that brought the brown trout here in the first place now sides with the cutthroats. The humans could easily exterminate all brown trout in Logan River, from its headwaters to the confluence of the Bear River, but that’s not what’s happening. Instead, conservation measures, such as strategically placed barriers to fish passage and fishing regulations that protect cutthroats during their spawning season, give the natives a fighting chance against their fierce invaders.

Fly anglers, too, favor the cutthroat trout, which they fondly refer to as “cutties.” Fly anglers seem averse to harvesting cutties, releasing them instead unharmed after capture. Opinions vary among experts about how much catch-and-release practices actually help the Cutthroats, but this is war, and these natives, besieged by a relentless and superior foe, can use every advantage they can get.

For Wild About Utah I’m Chadd VanZanten.

Credits:
Images: Courtesy and Copyright Chadd VanZanten, Photographer
Text:     Chadd VanZanten


Additional Reading:

The Cutthroat Trout, Anna Bengston, Wild About Utah, July 10, 2014, http://wildaboututah.org/cutthroat-trout/

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

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

The Cutthroat Trout

Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout, Oncorhynchus clarki bouvieri
Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout
Oncorhynchus clarki bouvieri
Courtesy USDA Forest Service
 
Bonneville Cutthroat Trout, Oncorhynchus clarki utahBonneville Cutthroat Trout
Oncorhynchus clarki utah
Courtesy Wildlife.utah.gov species list
 
Colorado River Cutthroat Trout, Oncorhynchus clarki pleuriticusColorado River Cutthroat Trout
Oncorhynchus clarki pleuriticus
Courtesy US BLM Rawlins, WY Office
 

Utah streams offer excellent year-round fishing opportunities for every level of angler. According to the Department of Natural Resources, Utah’s waters are home to approximately 80 different species of fish, but it is the trout fishing that is the biggest attraction for fishermen. Of the trout species swimming in our rivers and lakes, the cutthroat trout is a local favorite and the only trout native to the state.

The cutthroat trout represents the most diverse trout species in North America. They are a freshwater fish of the Salmonidae family that live in cold, clear streams and lakes across the west. Cutthroat trout are distinguished from other trout species by two red slashes prominently striping the lower jaw after which they are named. All cutthroat trout share a single common ancestor, but historic population isolation gave rise to 14 subspecies, each endemic to their own geographic region and river drainage.

There are four subspecies that exist in Utah. Only three of these are considered native to the state: the Colorado River cutthroat, the Yellowstone cutthroat, and Utah’s state fish, the Bonneville cutthroat. In Utah, the Colorado River cutthroat trout can be found in some of the smaller streams and tributaries of the Green River, the San Juan River, and the Colorado River drainages. Their bright coloration and posterior black spotting distinguish these cutthroats from others.

Pure, native Yellowstone cutthroat trout are present in small numbers in the streams of the North Slope of the Raft River Mountains in northwestern Utah. However, this subspecies is more widely distributed across the state due to extensive stocking. Yellowstone cutthroat trout can be differentiated by larger-sized black spots concentrated near the tail and their gold, gray, and copper tones.

The Bonneville cutthroat trout evolved in the Bonneville Basin of Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and Nevada. Its primary ancestors were a population of lake dwelling cutthroat trout living in the late-Pleistocene aged Lake Bonneville. The Bonneville cutthroat trout is less vividly colored and has spots that are more sparsely and evenly distributed across the body than other cutthroats. Thought to be extinct in the 1970s, populations of the Bonneville cutthroat trout are now estimated to exist in around 35% of their historic range, including the nearby Weber and Provo Rivers.

Like so many species, the native cutthroat trout of Utah are under significant pressure due to drought, habitat loss, disease, and competition with non-native species. Though only the Colorado River cutthroat is included on the Utah State Sensitive species list, conservation of all of Utah’s native cutthroat populations is a focal point for state wildlife resource managers.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Anna Bengtson of Park City.

Credits:
Images: Courtesy USDA Forest Service, US Bureau of Land Management & Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
Text: Anna Bengston

Sources & Additional Reading:

“2014 Utah Fishing Guidebook.” Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, 1 Jan. 2014. Web. 7 July 2014: http://wildlife.utah.gov/guidebooks/2014_pdfs/2014_fishing_low.pdf.

“Bonneville Cutthroat Trout.” Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. n.d. Web. 7 July 2014: http://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/rsgis2/search/Display.asp?FlNm=oncoclut.

“Bonneville Cutthroat Trout.” Native Trout Species. The Western Native Trout Campaign, n.d. Web. 7 July 2014: http://www.westerntrout.org/trout/profiles/bonneville.htm.

“Colorado River Cutthroat Trout.” Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. n.d. Web 7 July 2014: http://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/rsgis2/search/Display.asp?FlNm=oncoclpl.

“Cutthroat Trout.” Colorado Parks and Wildlife, n.d. Web. 7 July 2014: http://cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/ResearchCutthroatTrout.aspx.

“Cutthroat Trout.” Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. n.d. Web. 7 July 2014: http://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/rsgis2/search/Display.asp?FlNm=oncoclar.

“Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii).” Natural Resources Conservation Service, 1 Jan. 2007. Web. 7 July 2014: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/nrcs143_010039.pdf.

“Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii) – FactSheet.” Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii) – FactSheet. U.S Geological Survey, 14 June 2013. Web. 7 July 2014: http://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?speciesID=890.

“Endangered Species of the Mountain-Prairie Region.” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, n.d. Web. 7 July 2014: http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/fish/bct/.

“Fishes.” Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, n.d. Web. 7 July 2014: http://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/rsgis2/search/SearchSelection.asp?Group=OSTEICHTHYES&Species=VERT.

“Native Cutthroat of Utah.” Trout Unlimited Blog, 18 Dec. 2012. Web. 7 July 2014: http://www.tu.org/blog/native-cutthroat-of-utah.

“Utah’s Native Trout.” Utah Fly Fishing Club, 24 Dec. 2011. Web. 7 July 2014: http://utahflyfishingclub.com/2011/12/24/utahs-native-trout/.

“Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout.” Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. n.d. Web. 7 July 2014: http://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/rsgis2/search/Display.asp?FlNm=oncoclbo.
Brown, Dylan. “Shocking habitat projects help increase native Cutthroat populations.” Standard Examiner, 14 May 2014. Web. 7 July 2014: http://go.standard.net/Recreation/2014/05/13/Shocking-habitat-projects-help-increase-native-Cutthroat-populations.html.

Chorney, Chad. “For the Love of Cutthroat.” Trout Unlimited Blog, 29 Jan. 2013. Web. 7 July 2014: http://www.tu.org/blog-posts/love-cutthroat-trout.