Natural Quiet and Darkness in our National Parks

Natural Quiet and Darkness in our National Parks: View looking east in early summer from Cedar Breaks National Monument Courtesy US NPS, Zach Schierl, Photographer
View looking east in early summer from Cedar Breaks National Monument
Courtesy US NPS, Zach Schierl, Photographer
If visitors find locations in Utah’s National Parks, where very little man-made sounds are heard, it can be a breathtaking experience. A park visitor may canoe along riparian habitat and hear a variety of bird calls, or hike a trail and come around a bend to see a few deer jump over the sage-brush.

These types of experiences may also occur after dark when visitors participate in stargazing or a full-moon hikes.

The southern Milky Way visible during a star party at Cedar Breaks National Monument. We use red lights on the telescopes during star parties to help preserve night vision. Courtesy US NPS, Zach Schierl, Photographer
The southern Milky Way visible during a star party at Cedar Breaks National Monument. We use red lights on the telescopes during star parties to help preserve night vision.
Courtesy US NPS, Zach Schierl, Photographer
Mark and Sallie Shelton said, “Utah dark skies are our passion! The [dark] sky and quiet solitude are magical. Visitors, from around the world, are in awe when they get their first [heavenly] glimpse of [the Milky Way] and see the stars shining like diamonds on dark velvet.”

Protecting the quiet and darkness of our National Parks has become a priority for many managers and researchers.

Four planets and the Moon are visible in the twilight sky over ancient Bristlecone Pine trees at Cedar Breaks NM Courtesy US NPS, Zach Schierl, Photographer
Four planets and the Moon are visible in the twilight sky over ancient Bristlecone Pine trees at Cedar Breaks NM
Courtesy US NPS, Zach Schierl, Photographer
Christopher Monz, professor in the Department of Environment and Society in the Quinney College of Natural Resource at USU joined with five other scientists who have all worked on issues of noise pollution and light pollution to compile the book, “Natural Quiet and Natural Darkness: The “New” Resources of the National Park.”
title=”Four planets and the Moon are visible in the twilight sky over ancient Bristlecone Pine trees at Cedar Breaks NM Courtesy US NPS, Zach Schierl, Photographer”
The Summer Milky Way as seen from Point Supreme at Cedar Breaks NM. The landscape is illuminated by the light of a 1st Quarter moon. Courtesy US NPS, Zach Schierl, Photographer
The Summer Milky Way as seen from Point Supreme at Cedar Breaks NM. The landscape is illuminated by the light of a 1st Quarter moon.
Courtesy US NPS, Zach Schierl, Photographer
Monz explains, “[We wanted] to compile, in one place, the best science on both the social and ecological dimensions regarding the importance of the resources of darkness and quiet, and the consequences of them slowly disappearing in our most precious protected areas – the national parks.”

The book gathered many interesting findings.

Visitors enjoying a quiet day at Hovenweep National Monument Courtesy & Copyright Shauna Leavitt
Visitors enjoying a quiet day at Hovenweep National Monument
Courtesy & Copyright Shauna Leavitt
One is the concept of “listening area” which is the distance an individual (human or animal) can hear normal sounds and calls that they’re evolved and adapted to. For a bird species it might be a mating call, for deer it might an alert response from a predator.

As noise increases the listening area may decrease dramatically.

Monz said, “In the United States noise from roads has increased three fold since 1970.”

A three decibel increase in noise results in a 50 percent decrease in listening area. If there is a 10 decibel increase, the result is a staggering 90 percent decrease in listening area.

Monz explains, “If you put noise into the environment there is the potential for significant ecological implications, particularly for wildlife. They can no longer be reliant on the sense of hearing to carry out normal activities…some species will move out of those noisy areas to quieter environments which creates a displacement effect.”

For humans, this means we have less opportunities to engage with the sights and sounds of nature.

One success story outlined in the book occurred in Muir Woods National Monument in California. Monz said, “Simply by putting up signs which raised the visitor’s awareness of the environment they were in, and the importance of quiet for other visitors, the noise decreased by 2 decibels. This gave folks an opportunity to experience better natural quiet environment and a little bit more biodiversity from the standpoint of hearing bird calls from the surrounding forest.”

The book also provides ideas for managing the resource of darkness in the National parks.

Guests enjoying Arches National Park Courtesy & Copyright Shauna Leavitt
Guests enjoying Arches National Park
Courtesy & Copyright Shauna Leavitt
Monz said, “Right now 80% of the world’s population lives in locations where there is some compromise of natural darkness…most will never see the Milky Way.”

Cedar Breaks National Monument, which has the highest star gazing site at 10,500 feet, received an award from The International-Dark Sky Association (IDA) for preserving its Dark skies.

The authors of “Natural Quiet and Natural Darkness” hope the book will get in the right hands to provide park managers with this easily accessible tool where they can find the best science and actionable ideas to increase quiet and darkness in our National Parks.

This is Shauna Leavitt and I’m Wild About Utah.

Natural Quiet and Darkness in our National Parks-Credits:
Photos:
    Courtesy US NPS, Zach Schierl, Photographer, Education Specialist, Cedar Breaks National Monument
    Courtesy & Copyright Shauna Leavitt,
Audio: Courtesy and Copyright
Text: Shauna Leavitt, Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

Natural Quiet and Darkness in our National Parks-Additional Reading

Star Gazing, Cedar Breaks National Monument, US National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/cebr/star-gazing.htm

Cedar Breaks National Monument Designated as an International Dark Sky Park, https://www.nps.gov/cebr/learn/news/cedar-breaks-national-monument-designated-as-an-international-dark-sky-park.htm

Burkitt, Bree, Cedar Breaks recognized as Dark Sky Park, The Spectrum, https://www.thespectrum.com/story/news/local/cedar-city/2017/03/09/cedar-breaks-recognized-dark-sky-park/98980850/

Spotlight – The Cedar Breaks National Monument Master Astronomer Program, Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative, https://cpdarkskies.org/2018/10/17/spotlight-the-cedar-breaks-national-monument-master-astronomer-program/

In the Eyes of a Bear

In the Eyes of a Bear: Lone Bear Courtesy and Copyright Patrick Kelly
Lone Bear
Courtesy and Copyright Patrick Kelly
We call him Old Ephraim up here in Cache Valley. He's a tale known by just about everyone: one of the last brown bears in Utah, shot and killed by Frank Clark, in August, 1923. The account that's usually told spins the bear as both highly intelligent and dastardly, almost even sub-animal, of a creature who is the last because he is the most conniving and monstrous. His death came at the hands of a shepherd who had tracked the bear for nearly a decade, taking over 40 others in his pursuit, only to finally overcome the giant with luck and a repeating rifle. In Old Ephraim's death, he was skinned, burned, and buried. His hide was eaten by moths in the slope of Clark's barn. Today, his skull resides in an exhibit at Utah State University, and his bones have been long poached by treasure hunters. His grave holds no bear but that which we imagine.

What I take away from this story, though, is not what others have typically taken away when I read the accounts. For those long-past authors, it has always been of the glorification of Clark’s struggle; for overcoming the agent of a primeval, and thus incompatible, nature; for the noble easing of future fears by finally taking that monster bear. For me, I take away how Clark, years later, bravely chose to regret his choices, which at the time of their making were too far already decided by habit rather than concise intent. Clark stated about it, “Was I happy? No, and if I had to do it over, I wouldn’t kill him… I could see the suffering in his eyes…” That suffering had been passed on to him, it seems.

Blame for the end of Utah’s last great bear, though, cannot be placed upon the man, nor the firearm, nor the bear. Blame can only be attached to what bonded them as kin: that both man and bear had been dealt their hands by their being, and they played them the only way they had been shown, descendant of a long line of teachers whose most underlying motivation was honest survival. This is what connected the two in the moment of their struggle. They were united by fate because of what made them similar, not different.

In the Eyes of a Bear: Old Ephriam's Grave Marker, The height of the the old grizzley Courtesy & Copyright Josh Bolling
Old Ephriam’s Grave Marker,
The height of the the old grizzley
Courtesy & Copyright Josh Bolling
In his telling of his regret, Clark dared who he was, with who he strove to be, even in his later life. He was, after all, a self-professed lover of nature, and held holy the wild places where he spent dozens of summers. His regret was not a fault, but a truss of strength which honored this deeper value. He understood that, if you allow it, nature will take you to the great questions through flowers and birds and a strenuous life, if even for a small while, and even after you have erred. Nature is a hopeful place; an accepting place. Out there, “its” become “thous”, and the ego and all its fleeting impulsivities are surrendered to the ultimate authority of deep experiences within the land.

Hemingway said that, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” In this reflection, Clark’s story is not only about the fall of a great creature, nor a man who struggled to bring him down, but about how a man painfully earned the bravery and strength to see what he thought set him above, become reflected equal from him, in the knowing eyes of the last great Utah bear.

I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah.
 
Credits:

Images: Image Courtesy & Copyright Patrick Kelly, Photographer, all rights reserved
Audio: Contains audio Courtesy & Copyright J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://logannature.org
Included Links: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Greene, Jack, Bears, Wild About Utah, October 22, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/bears/

Boling, Josh, Old Ephraim, The Infamous Northern Utah Grizzly, Wild About Utah, August 7, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/old-ephraim-the-infamous-northern-utah-grizzly/

Strand, Holly, The Bear Facts Old Ephriam , Wild About Utah, June 17, 2008, https://wildaboututah.org/the-bear-facts-old-ephriam/

Old Ephraim: The Legendary Grizzly of the Bear River Range, Digital Exhibits, Digital Collections,University Libraries, Utah State University, http://exhibits.usu.edu/exhibits/show/oldephraim

Old Ephraim: Utah’s most legendary bear, Lynn Arave, Standard Examiner, July 16, 2015, http://www.standard.net/Ogden-Area-History-Bin/2015/07/16/July-17-history-bin

Final resting spot of legendary grizzly ‘Old Ephraim’ worth a trip, Kate DuHadway, Herald Journal, Jul 9, 2011, http://news.hjnews.com/news/final-resting-spot-of-legendary-grizzly-old-ephraim-worth-a/article_0e974452-a9d3-11e0-8c09-001cc4c002e0.html

Old Ephriam’s Grave, Utah.com http://www.utah.com/bike/trails/old_ephraims.htm

American White Pelicans

American White Pelicans at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers
Pelicans at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge
Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers
I first caught sight of the eight pelicans swimming in s straight line towards the waters edge, looking a lot like a tank division in in an old WWII movie I slammed on the brakes just in time to see them all dip their bills into the water, come up spilling water and cock their heads back And then, gulp! Fish slid down their throats.

Wow, I thought. These pelicans are working together to to drive the fish into the shallow water’s edge where they can easily scoop the up And then it got better. Fanning out, the pelicans regrouped in a circle Swimming towards the center, they tightened the noose. And bam! Dip, scoop, knock back some more fish

I was amazed at how soundless and seamless it all was and could have watched for hours, but I was on the one lane auto route at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and the cars behind me were starting to honk their horns, so I reluctantly moved on.

American White Pelicans Fishing at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers
American White Pelicans Fishing
at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge
Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers
As soon as I got home I plunged into research on this majestic bird, beginning with the bill. When the pelican dips its bill into the water, the lower portion expands into a flexible sac that allows the bird to to scoop up as much as 3 gallons of fish and water. When the pelican cocks back its head, the sac contracts, the water is expelled through a barely open bill, and the fish swallowed. The huge pelican bill, which at first glance looks like a formidable weapon, is actually an exquisitively designed fishing net.

Archeologists have found pelican skulls dating back 30 million years, so this unique bill has definitely passed the test of time.

Back at the refuge I was able to turn into a visitor pull out and pick up the rather stunning bit of information: these pelicans fly in from Gunnison Island in the Great Salt Lake, over the Promontory Mountains, daily to forage for fish. That’s a 30 mile trip each way!

Long before the Mormon pioneers arrived in Utah, pelicans were building their nest on Gunnison Island. They were briefly disturbed when an artist, Albert Lambourne, tried to homestead for a year in 1850, and a guano mining company dropped off a crew – a Pole, a Russian, a Scot and an Englishman- to mine the bird poop. But the operation wasn’t profitable, and when it closed down, the pelicans reclaimed the island. Each March the birds fly in from as far away as Mexico, build their nests, and raise their chicks. The rookery is the largest in the US. In 2017 the pop was estimated to be as high as 20,000.

Jordan Falslev's Pelican Perch at the Benson Marina on Cutler Reservoir, Click to view a larger image. Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers
Jordan Falslev’s Pelican Perch
at the Benson Marina on Cutler Reservoir,
Click to view a larger image.
Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers

Back in Cache Valley in 2010, Jordan Falslev built a viewing platform near Benson Marina, The Pelican Perch, as his Eagle scout project. There used to be hundreds of pelicans out there on the water, but when I stopped by last week I didn’t see a single one. Numbers are way down now largely because the dropping water level in the Great Salt Lake have exposed a land bridge to Gunnison Island that allows predators to ravage the nesting site.

You can still catch sight of a pelican in flight in Cache Valley. (Their wingspan is 10 ft. Rudy Gobert, in comparison, has a wingspan of 7 ft 9 in.) But for my money, the best show in town is watching packs of pelicans hunt for fish at the Bear River Migratory Bird refuge.

This is Mary Heers and I am Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers
Featured Music: Courtesy & Copyright © Anderson/Howe, Wakeman
Text: Mary Heers

Additional Reading

American White Pelican Pelecanus erythrorhynchos, Utah Conservation Data Center, Utah Division of Wildlife Management, https://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/rsgis2/Search/Display.asp?FlNm=peleeryt

American White Pelican (AWPE), Aquatic Birds, Great Salt Lake Bird Survey 1997-2001, Utah Division of Wildlife Management, https://wildlife.utah.gov/gsl/waterbirdsurvey/awpe.htm

Larsen, Leia, As Great Salt Lake shrinks, fate of nesting pelicans unknown, Standard Examiner, October 11, 2015, https://www.standard.net/news/environment/as-great-salt-lake-shrinks-fate-of-nesting-pelicans-unknown/article_d2f8ff29-aee5-5a59-b377-62369934fdc9.html

Butler, Jaimi, The Great Salt Lake Is An ‘Oasis’ For Migratory Birds, Science Friday, September 21, 2018, https://www.sciencefriday.com/segments/the-great-salt-lake-is-an-oasis-for-migratory-birds/

Hager, Rachel, Great Salt Lake Pelicans Under Threat, Utah Public Radio, May 28, 2018, https://www.upr.org/post/great-salt-lake-pelicans-under-threat

Leefang, Arie, Gunnison Island, Heritage and Arts, Utah Division of State History, September 16, 2019, https://history.utah.gov/exploring-the-history-and-archaeology-of-the-great-salt-lakes-gunnison-island/

Hoven, Heidi, Gunnison Island: Home of up to 20,000 nesting American White Pelicans, Audubon California, National Audubon Society, September 25, 2017, https://ca.audubon.org/news/gunnison-island-home-20000-nesting-american-white-pelicans

Sego Lily

Sego lily bulbs are edible, either raw or cooked, and were used as food by the Cheyenne. The sweet-tasting bulbs were often dried for later use. Caption & Photo Courtesy US NPS,  Michael Wheeler, Photographer
Sego lily bulbs are edible, either raw or cooked, and were used as food by the Cheyenne. The sweet-tasting bulbs were often dried for later use.
Caption & Photo Courtesy US NPS,
Michael Wheeler, Photographer
With Pioneer Day’s a few weeks away, it’s time to honor a very special plant that saved many Utah pioneers.

It’s been a banner year for our state flower. The sego lily has graced our meadows since early June, now in its late stages at lower elevations. It has generated many stories in our state. Before I launch them, I must compliment it’s delicate beauty and love for adverse conditions- the dry, rocky soils in which it’s found. The sego lily personifies the tough, resilient, beautiful pioneer spirit.

Brigham Young declared the sego lily “a heaven sent source of food.” Friendly Native Americans taught Mormon settlers how to harvest and prepare the bulbs for much needed survival food when a devastating cricket infestation destroyed crops.

From pioneer journals:

Sego Lily Courtesy US NPS, Nancy Julian, Photographer
Sego Lily
Courtesy US NPS, Nancy Julian, Photographer
“”In the spring of 1848, our food was gone. Along the month of April we noticed all the foothills were one glorious flower garden. The snow had gone, the ground was warm. We dug thousands of sego roots, for we heard that the Indians had lived on them for weeks and months. We relished them and carried them home in bucketful’s. How the children feasted on them, particularly when they were dried, for they tasted like butternuts.”
Elizabeth Huffaker, Salt Lake City

And here is another one:
“In my childhood our whole group of children used to go east of town, each carrying a sego digger. It was a piece of wood sharpened on one end, and flat on the other. We would just go out of town and look for segos, which were plentiful. When we found them we each went to digging by putting the sharp end of the stick into the ground close beside the sego, and pressing down on the flat end of the digger until it was a few inches in the ground. Sometimes we pounded on the top of the digger with a rock…when the stick was far enough into the ground to suit us, we just pushed it to one side and up came the segos. Then we ate them, and oh how we enjoyed hunting them.”
Lorena Washburn Larsen, 1868, Manti, UT

Native Americans considered the sego lily a sacred plant and developed culinary uses for its bulbs, seeds, and flowers. Many tribes created a healthful porridge from roasted or boiled sego lily bulbs. Several tribes considered it sacred. For the Navajo it was one of the “Life Plants” used for ceremonial purposes. Sego was derived from the Indian word Sego. Many Indian women were named Sego or Sego-go-chee. The Spanish named it mariposa, their word for butterfly for these beautiful mountainside flowers looked like butterflies.

The sego lily was formally designated as the Utah State Flower in 1911 chosen for its natural beauty as well as its historical significance.

The lily gets its scientific name Calochortus Nuttalli, from Thomas Nuttall, a naturalist, who collected the sego lily in 1811 while traveling along the Missouri River. It’s found throughout the western states. Please do not disturb this iconic beauty. Photos are encouraged!

Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon Society, I continue to be infatuated with Utah’s wildness!

Credits:

Images: Courtesy US NPS, Michael Wheeler, Photographer
      Courtesy US NPS, Nancy Julian, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text:     Jack Greene, USU Sustainability Program Volunteer, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Sego Lily, Cedar Breaks National Monument, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/cebr/learn/nature/sego-lilly.htm

Utah State Facts and Symbols, Utah.com, Deseret Digital Media, https://utah.com/state-facts-symbols

Utah State Flower – Sego Lily, Pioneer-Utah’s Online Library, Utah State Library Division, Utah Department of Heritage and Arts, https://pioneer.utah.gov/research/utah_symbols/flower.html

Sego Lily, Calochortus nuttallii Torr. & A. GrayShow https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=CANU3

https://www.nps.gov/arch/learn/nature/liliaceae_calochortus_nuttallii.htm

Sego Lily and Friends, Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sego_Lily_and_Friends_(14368043194).jpg

LORENA EUGENIA WASHBURN, Autobiography, Published by her Children, Brigham Young University Press, 1962, http://www.ourfamilylegacy.info/files/washburnlorena1860autobio.pdf

Young, Levi Edgar, The Sego Lily (See quote from Mrs. Elizabeth Huffaker, a pioneer of 1847, p.7), The Great West in American History, Bulletin of the University of Utah, Volume 11, Issue 9, Department of Western History, University of Utah, https://books.google.com/books?id=4LfOAAAAMAAJ

Sagers, Larry A., Utah Sego Lily Thrives In Dry, Sandy Hillsides – Not Gardens, Deseret News July 25, 1990, Larry A. Sagers, https://www.deseret.com/1990/7/25/18873035/utah-sego-lily-thrives-in-dry-sandy-hillsides-not-gardens