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

*****

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

Jack Loves the Four Seasons

Red Admiral Butterfly, Thomas G. Barnes, US FWS Digital Library
Red Admiral Butterfly
Thomas G. Barnes
US FWS Digital Library

Glacier Lilies
Erythronium grandiflorum
Copyright © 2010 Andrea Liberatore


I love the four seasons. Having spent my 72 years residing in the mid latitudes, I’ve learned to celebrate each of our seasons, but especially spring!

This is the rebirth flush with abundant water, new greenery, and air filled with bird song and sweet aromas as new flowers perfume the air hoping to lure in a pollinator.

With mid-April upon us and our 42 degree latitude, spring is in full swing here in northern Utah! Winter departs grudgingly slapping us with snow squalls intermingled with glorious, early summer days, a wild roller coaster ride which I truly enjoy!
I’m an avid phenology follower. Phenology is the study of how life adapts to seasonal changes. I revel in the first floral bloom, the first neotropical birds returning from Latin America with a heart full of song, and newly emerged, gaudy butterflies.

With a relatively stable climate, until recently, the timing of these events has evolved to near perfection
Let’s take a closer look at some of these phenomena. I’ll begin with our neotropical birds such as lazuli buntings, yellow warblers, and Western tanagers to mention a few. These species spend over half of their year in Mexico, Central and South America flying thousands of miles to for the breeding and nesting season in the Intermountain West. This may seem a bit extreme for these tiny flurries of life.

On closer inspection, you will find they have good reason for this daunting and dangerous task. The tropics have a relatively stable climate without the dramatic seasonal change that we experience. This results in relatively stable populations of flowers and insects, the primary food sources for most species. Further, the ratio of daylight to darkness is nearly constant with 12 hours of each. Our days lengthen as we journey toward summer solstice with nearly 16 hours of daylight! This allows a burst of energy to flow through ecosystems resulting in eruptive populations of insects and floral bloom. It also offers long hours of daylight for parents to gather food for their young which grow rapidly toward fledglings, thus reducing the possibility of predation and also preparing them for the arduous flight south as fall approaches.

Let’s examine flowers and insects. With our very warm winter and spring, I was expecting a much earlier arrival of both and was not disappointed. I counted 17 species of flowers by the second week of April! And butterflies were on a similar schedule with 9 different species during the last week of March- remarkably early! Although delighted, it occurred to me that returning birds may not be so pleased. If the flowers begin to fade, and insects begin their downward slide at the peak of birds rearing their young, trouble is afoot! A five year Audubon study revealed that 1/3 of our birds are predicted to be severely impacted by these rapid climate shifts.

On a more positive note, spring will continue as will bird song, vernal waterfalls, eruptions of wildflowers and butterflies. And spring repeats itself as we move to higher elevations. As cornices on our mountain ridges recede, up pops flowers for yet another spring bloom, and with them butterflies, bees, and birds!

Credits:

Pictures: Courtesy Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, US FWS
Pictures Lilies: Copyright © 2010 Andrea Liberatore
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Kervin, Linda, USA National Phenology Network, Wild About Utah, July 2, 2009, http://wildaboututah.org/usa-national-phenology-network/

Hellstern, Ron, Journey North, Wild About Utah, March 19, 2018, http://wildaboututah.org/journey-north/

Greene, Jack, I Love the Four Seasons, Wild About Utah, May 3, 2015, http://wildaboututah.org/i-love-the-four-seasons/

Conners, Deanna, Why Earth has 4 seasons, EarthSky.org, September 20, 2016, http://earthsky.org/earth/can-you-explain-why-earth-has-four-seasons

A World Without Trees

Whether you live in a desert, a city, a suburb or a farm, your life would change if you lived in a world without trees. You may be a person who appreciates their ecological connections, or have complete disregard for them. As William Blake said, “The tree, which moves some to tears of joy, is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in the way.1

So, take a moment and consider the way the world would look, and function, without trees. Currently, forests cover about 30% of the Earth’s land surface. But that’s a loss of 1/3 of all trees just since the beginning of the industrial era. The top five largest forests are located in Russia, Brazil, Canada, the U.S., and China.
Whether you think climate change is natural or human-caused, it affects forests by altering the intensity of fires, creating windstorms, changing precipitation, and enabling introduced species to invade. And the World Resources Institute estimates that tens of thousands of forested acres are destroyed every day.

Sometimes even fragmenting forests can produce harmful results as die-backs occur along the edges, and certain wildlife species will not breed unless they live in large tracts of forested areas. It has been said that roads, which are a cause of fragmentation, are the pathways to forest destruction.

Most people know that trees take in Carbon Dioxide for growth, and release Oxygen via photosynthesis. But trees also remove many air pollutants, provide cooling shade and protection from wind and the sun’s harmful Utra-Violet rays. They can be used as privacy screens, they prevent soil erosion, and are the foundation of wildlife habitat on land. Some provide food, can provide serenity and solitude, and have been proven to reduce stress levels. Their fallen leaves decompose into valuable soil. They reduce the Heat-Island Effect in cities, and are more resistant to climate change impacts. Research has shown they improve retail shopping areas, and speed recovery time for those in health care centers.

For the budget-conscious folks, a mature tree can raise home-property values by as much as $5000. And think about those beautiful Autumn colors.

View of Argyre Basin on Mars Courtesy NASA/JPL Caltech http://wildaboututah.org/wp-admin/upload.php?item=8521
View of Argyre Basin on Mars
Courtesy NASA/JPL Caltech
Composed from images taken by the Mars Color Imager (MARCI) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Although there seems to be a number of humans who would volunteer to live on planet Mars, would we really want planet Earth to mirror that treeless image?

Perhaps a re-evaluation of trees is warranted. Ponder these imaginative thoughts penned by well-known writers:
Ralph Waldo Emerson: At the gates of the forest, the surprised man of the world is forced to leave his city estimates of great and small, wise and foolish. The knapsack of custom falls off his back.

William Henry Hudson: When one turned from the lawns and gardens into the wood it was like passing from the open sunlit air to the twilight and still atmosphere of a cathedral interior.

Stephanie June Sorrrell: Let me stand in the heart of a beech tree, with great boughs all sinewed and whorled about me. And, just for a moment, catch a glimpse of primeval time that breathes forgotten within this busy hurrying world.

One way for us to resolve tree issues, is to plant them. And the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. But the next best time to plant them is today.

“Silence alone is worthy to be heard.” – Henry David Thoreau

This is Ron Hellstern, and I am Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Images: Courtesy
Text: Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

Additional Reading

Upton, John, Could Common Earthly Organisms Thrive on Mars?, Pacific Standard, May 21, 2014, https://psmag.com/environment/mars-81952

Voak, Hannah, A World Without Trees, Science in School, https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Marriage_of_Heaven_and_Hell.html?id=YUa8AQAAQBAJ

Hudson, William Henry, The Book of a Naturalist, p4, https://books.google.com/books?id=NA4KAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA4&lpg#v=onepage&q&f=false

https://forestry.usu.edu/

Wilderglyphs

A Tree Wilderglyphs Josh Boling WildUtah032618
A Tree Wilderglyphs
Courtesy & © Josh Boling
Glyph: a word that might evoke images in the mind of ancient Egyptian pictures recounting the trials and triumphs of pharaohs and their people; or Native American rock art meaningfully pecked into a sandstone wall, directing desert travelers toward water. There are others, too, all around us, hiding in plain sight. They are perhaps less noticed because they are not made by humans, but instead by the elements and the wilds. I call them wilderglyphs.

Wilderglyphs come in all shapes, patterns, colors, and forms- as varied as the consortium of elemental forces and ingredients that created them. They’re easy to spot as well because the wilderglyph hunter need only look for artworks created by the happenstances of nature. I once found a particularly interesting evergreen snag while backpacking in the Sierras. It reminded me of a demon with its glaring, fire-scarred, knot-hole eyes and menacing dreads of burnt and broken branches. Like ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, this wilderglyph told a story of its place- a fiery moment in time captured temporarily in the flesh of the once-living.

Ice Patterns Wilderglyphs Josh Boling WildUtah032618
Ice Pattern Wilderglyph
Courtesy & © Josh Boling
My favorite that I’ve found was also the most fleeting. Searching through the snowy and isolated redrock of Canyonlands National Park for a rumored set of Anasazi ruins, I happened upon a shallow ice puddle tucked under a ledge of sandstone. The ice was something like I had never seen before- patterned with concentric rings similar to those of a tree stump. At first, I thought maybe something had fallen into the once-liquid puddle of water (a pebble perhaps), rippling its loosed energy outward at the exact moment the puddle froze; but, more likely the shallow puddle froze rapidly and contracted radially as temperatures continued to plummet, leaving concentric fractures in the ice face. I left the curious thing behind for maybe an hour to continue my search; when I returned, both the ice and its mysterious message had melted away.

There are more than just stories written into wilderglyphs, though. There is a certain science to them that, if known, can be useful to finding one’s way within the less familiar places we visit.
While descending a slot canyon, one of our party slid his hand along the water-worn wall and then back the other way. “Hey!” came his cry of discovery. He had found that, in one direction (downstream), the wall was smooth and unadorned with blemishes; but, in the other direction (upstream), the sandstone wall was as rough and coarse as sandpaper, providing us with a subtle and very general orientation of the area’s watershed. If lost in the canyons of southern Utah, one could at least know, even in the dark, in which direction he or she might find a larger, main drainage and possibly a way out.

In his celebrated book, Finding Your Way Without Map or Compass, the acclaimed orienteer and aviator Harold Gatty references many such wilderglyphs as navigatory resources. In one chapter, he discusses the useful “signpost ant” and its “compass anthills.” “When their mounds are built in open ground,” Gatty says, “they are oriented most accurately to the southeast, so much so that the native humans of the area often use them to pick up bearings when they are lost in a fog or away from home.” Perhaps more applicable to the Utah traveler are Gatty’s discussions of wind and sand. The orientation of sand dunes and the wind-blown ripples across their faces can divulge direction as readily as a compass if the direction of a prevailing wind is known.

The beauty of wilderglyphs are in their conspicuous subtlety. They are a reminder to us that despite the somewhat chaotic progress of human civilization, the Earth and its faculties persevere readily discernible to those who are able and willing to look.

I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling
Text: Josh Boling, 2017

Sources & Additional Reading

Dasgupta, Shreya, The 15 most amazing landscapes and rock formations, BBC, Feb 5, 2015,
http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20150205-the-15-most-amazing-landforms

vibills, 11 Natural Geological Formations That Are Absolutely Too Weird To Be Real, Buzzfeed, Jan 1, 2014,
https://www.buzzfeed.com/vibills/11-natural-geological-formations-that-are-absolute-hfde

Wierd Google Earth, Archives for Natural formations, WeirdGoogleEarth.com, http://www.weirdgoogleearth.com/category/natural-formations/