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

Cache Valley Christmas Bird Count (CBC) and Climate Change

Cache Valley Christmas Bird Count Courtesy Audubon.org Camilla Cerea, Photographer All Rights Reserved
Christmas Bird Count
Courtesy Audubon.org
© Camilla Cerea, Photographer
All Rights Reserved
It might be worth checking one’s mental state if they were to spend many hours in frigid temperatures hoping to find a bird. There are many of those crazies in our valley here in northern Utah. Citizen Scientists they call us. After all, we do follow strict protocol that defines boundaries, time and what is legitimately called a bird siting or sounding. Yes, there are errors in counts when a flock of European starlings darken the sky, or when trying to identify a distant raptor, that is scarcely more than a black dot in the heavens.

Called the Christmas Bird Count, this event is the longest citizen science program in the world, where data has been collected since 1899. Here in Cache Valley it began in 1955. It occurs throughout the state and world with many countries participating. Visit your local Audubon chapters if you care to be involved. Wasatch, Salt Lake and St George all have chapters. Bear Lake, Vernal and Provo also do counts. And I am sure there are others in your area if you inquire.

Along with the fun it brings, the count has special significance for our changing climates’ impact on birds, which is disrupting populations and their spacial distribution are changing at an accelerating rate.
The data collected by observers over the past 118 years has allowed researchers to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America and Central and South America. When combined with other surveys such as the Breeding Bird Survey, it provides a picture of how the continent’s bird populations have changed in time and space. This long term perspective is vital for conservationists. It informs strategies to better protect birds and their habitat, and helps identify environmental issues with implications for people as well.

Audubon’s 2014 Climate Change Report is a comprehensive study that predicts how climate change could affect the range of 588 North American birds. Of the bird species studied, more than half are likely to be in trouble. The models indicate that 314 species will lose more than half of their current range by 2080.
Audubon’s Common Birds in Decline Report revealed that some of America’s most beloved and familiar birds have taken a nosedive over the past forty years.

142 species of concern are found in our state, including our state bird, the California gull and our national bald eagle.

If you aren’t up to braving the elements, Project FeederWatch and Great Backyard Bird Count are other options you may find by googling. I’m hoping for good visibility and temperatures above zero as I prepare my optical instruments and hot chocolate.

And please keep those bird feeders full as we enter the coldest month of the year!

This is Jack Greene writing and reading for Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Image: Courtesy Audubon.org, Copyright © Camilla Cerea, Photographer, All Rights Reserved
Text:     Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society


Additional Reading:

Project FeederWatch is a winter-long survey of birds that visit feeders at backyards, nature centers, community areas, and other locales in North America. FeederWatchers periodically count the birds they see at their feeders from November through early April and send their counts to Project FeederWatch. FeederWatch data help scientists track broadscale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance. https://feederwatch.org/

Launched in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, the Great Backyard Bird Count was the first online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds and to display results in near real-time. http://gbbc.birdcount.org/about/

Audubon’s 118th Christmas Bird Count will be conducted this coming season, with all counts held between the dates of Thursday, December 14, 2017 through Friday, January 5, 2018.
http://www.audubon.org/conservation/join-christmas-bird-count
http://www.audubon.org/conservation/science/christmas-bird-count

58th Cache Valley (Logan) Christmas Bird Count: 16 Dec 2017
http://bridgerlandaudubon.org/our-projects/cache-valley-christmas-bird-count/

Regional Christmas Bird Counts
http://www.utahbirds.org/cbc/cbc.html

Winter Bird Feeding

A suet feeder, individual cake and a box of cakes. To the right are three gravity feeders with black oil sunflower seeds as well as other seeds. Courtesy Ron Hellstern, photographer
A suet feeder, individual cake and a box of cakes. To the right are three gravity feeders with black oil sunflower seeds as well as other seeds.
Courtesy Ron Hellstern, photographer
Most people enjoy watching birds, except for their occasional deposits on cars or windows. In an earlier program, I mentioned at least fifteen benefits that birds provide to humans and planet Earth. But as human population and developments increase, the survival of many bird species becomes threatened. Now, as winter approaches, colder weather and lack of food adds to the life-threatening dilemmas birds face. Some birds migrate to warmer habitats, but for those that stay in the northern regions a helping-hand from humans is no doubt appreciated.

Presenting “gifts” of birdfeeders and seeds to others (and your own family) will help songbirds and fowls to survive so they can provide their songs and beauty in the Spring. Consider these tips:

  • Buy large birdfeeders so you don’t have to fill them so often. Wet seed can grow harmful bacteria, so use feeders with wide covers.
  • If deer, or other pests, invade your feeders, hang them up higher in trees.
  • Place feeders 10’ away from dense cover to prevent sneak attacks from cats.
  • Provide multiple feeders to increase amounts and diversity of foods.
  • “Favorite” winter foods depends on the species. Black Oil sunflower seeds are loved by most birds, but niger, millet, peanuts, corn, and wheat will attract a diverse range of birds. Experiment and see what comes to your feeders.
  • A combination of beef-fat, with seeds or fruit, is called suet. It is a high-energy food which helps birds stay warm. The 4” cakes are placed in small cages and are loved by flickers, woodpeckers and many other birds. Peanut butter is also relished by birds, but is more expensive than suet.
  • Once birds find your feeders, they will rely on them for regular food supplies. If your feeders become empty, especially during ice storms or blizzards, birds will have a hard time finding natural food. If you take a trip, have a neighbor keep your feeders filled.
  • Buy extra seed and store it in a cool, dry place like a covered plastic trash can which can be kept on a deck, porch, or in a garage.
  • Make sure the feeders are kept clean with hot water, and then dried, about once a month.
  • Some birds, like juncos, towhees, doves and pheasants prefer eating seed which has fallen to the ground. Compact the snow below your feeders so they can find that seed easier.
  • Unless you live near a natural water source, place a pan of water near a feeder on warmer days. Or you could consider a heated bird bath to provide drinking water.
  • If you have fruit trees or berry bushes, leave some of the fruit on the plants to provide natural foods.
  • You may wish to leave birdhouses and nest-boxes up all year for winter roosting sites.
  • Now the fun part comes. After your feeders have been discovered by some birds, word soon gets around the neighborhood and others will arrive. But do you know what they are? The Peterson Field Guidebooks are a great help for beginners because the illustrations are often grouped by color. Then you can become a citizen-scientist and submit your observations to Cornell’s Project Feederwatch or participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count each December. Look online for details.

    Time to get started with your own feeders, or as gifts to others, and begin enjoying the colorful company of finches, woodpeckers, towhees, juncos, sparrows, doves and many others.

    Credits:

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

    Additional Reading

    Feed the Birds, Jim Cane & Linda Kervin, Wild About Utah, Bridgerland Audubon Society, Dec 1, 2011, http://wildaboututah.org/tag/feeding-birds/

    Winter Song Birds, Jim Cane & Linda Kervin, Wild About Utah, Bridgerland Audubon Society, Feb 3, 2009, http://wildaboututah.org/tag/feeding-birds/

    Audubon Guide to Winter Bird-Feeding, Steve Kress, Audubon Magazine, Nov-Dec, 2010, http://www.audubon.org/magazine/november-december-2010/audubon-guide-winter-bird-feeding

    Backyard Birding, Bird Feeding, US Fish & Wildlife Service(FWS), Last Updated: February 19, 2016, https://www.fws.gov/birds/bird-enthusiasts/backyard/bird-feeding.php

    Backyard Birding, Helping our Feathered Friends, US Fish & Wildlife Service(FWS), Last Updated: June 1, 2016, https://www.fws.gov/birds/bird-enthusiasts/backyard/songbird-conservation.php

    Backyard Bird-Feeding Resources, Birds at Your Feeder, Erica H. Dunn, Diane L. Tessaglia-Hymes, Project Feederwatch, https://feederwatch.org/learn/articles/backyard-bird-feeding-resources/

    Jack’s Cougar Encounter

    jacks cougar encounter
    Photographer: Larry Moats
    Courtesy US FWS Digital Library
    There are those moments in one’s life when time stops and moments become hours. So it was while trail running in the Wellsville mountains of northern Utah

    Deep in the forest shadows materialized a form- a coyote! Well, that was the initial thinking. I stopped for closer inspection and began talking in a soft, welcoming tone so as not to frighten away my favorite song dog.
    The animal form persisted- no frenzied running up the steep slope just beyond. Interesting.
    I walked toward the figure to find the fright distance and for closer encounter. Eight steps in crunchy leaves and the animal began to move. Wow! A long tail emerges. The canine face transforms to feline. MOUNTAIN LION!!!

    After 50+ years of trapesing through wild, rugged country in the western U.S., dream becomes reality- that of seeing this shadow being in real form.

    Mesmerized, I continue a cautious approach. The cat holds its ground. Our distance closes to 50 yards when it begins a leisurely retreat. I continue singing praises to its magnificence. At one point I find myself emitting “Here Kitty, Kitty, Kitty” to which fortunately it doesn’t respond.

    Mountain Lion
    Courtesy USDA Forest Service
    A large tom with striking colors- its lithe, fluid, soundless movement- poetry in motion, a marvel of artistic expression. It stops frequently, looking back to lock eyes with wonderment- perhaps its first close encounter with this strange being.

    Eventually it gains the steep slope and picks its way upward. Occasional sunburst accents the rich tawny gold and well-muscled body. Eyes strain to follow its progress, fading into the dream it once was.

    Cougars are solitary animals, making them a rare sight for humans. They usually hunt alone and at night, ambushing their prey from behind. Typically, cougars kill their prey with a bite to the lower neck. After making a kill, a cougar often will take the carcass to the base of a tree and cover it with dirt, leaves or snow, saving it to eat later.

    Their main prey is deer, so cougars are often found close by. They can live up to 12 years in the wild but have lived up to 25 years in captivity.

    Only 20 people in North America have been killed by cougars during the past 125 years, including six in California and 8 in Canada. No deaths have ever been reported in Utah. It is far less likely than dying from snake bites, avalanches, lightning strikes, hypothermia, or bee stings, or just about any other means. Children are particularly vulnerable when alone.

    If approached by one, intimidation by intense eye contact, loud shouting, and any other actions to appear larger and more menacing is warranted.

    This is Jack Greene writing and reading for WAU

    Credits:

    Images: Courtesy US FWS Digital Library
    Text:     Jack Greene

    Sources & Additional Reading:

    Mountain Lion, Wildlife Notebook, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources,

    http://wildlife.utah.gov/publications/pdf/newlion.pdf

    Starving Cougar Attacks Vernal Man, Hans Moran, Deseret News Nov. 12, 1997, http://www.deseretnews.com/article/594408/Starving-cougar-attacks-Vernal-man.html

    Mountain Lion, National Geographic, http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/mountain-lion.html