Colorado Plateau

Colorado Plateau Courtesy and Copyright Jack Greene, Photographer
Colorado Plateau
Courtesy and Copyright Jack Greene, Photographer
Rivers and sandstone pretty much define the Colorado Plateau- perhaps my favorite landscape on our lovely planet. These past few weeks I’ve experienced some of its best in Dinosaur NM and Canyonlands NP with friends and students.

Those magnificent rivers- Green, Yampa, Colorado, San Juan- have worked their marvels slicing through thousands of feet of sandstone mixed with a bit of limestone and shale. To stand on a rim and look over a hundred miles of convoluted, tortured land form feasts the convolutions of one’s brain. And the contorted, gnarly juniper trees that adorn the rock seem to reflect those lands that nourish them, some nearing a thousand years of fire and storm.

“The landscape everywhere, away from the river, is of rock – cliffs of rock; plateaus of rock; terraces of rock; crags of rock – ten thousand strangely carved forms.” John Wesley Powell, July, 1869 on his first river trip through our Canyonlands.

I love the names assigned to the rock formations- Weber, Morgan, Cedar Mesa, Carmel, Navajo, Entrada, Kayenta, and so on, each associated with particular strange formations- arches, bridges, towers, turrets, endless. And the improbable snow covered peaks adding welcome contrast from the sun baked sandstone- Lasalles, Abajos, Henry’s- laccolithic bumps in the earth’s crust whose overburden of rock and soil stripped away by millions of years of storm and gravity.

Common Raven (Corvus corax)
Bryce Canyon National Park
Courtesy US National Park Service
And found on Wikipedia

Even more improbable are the myriad life forms that adorn these “waste” lands. Well over a thousand plant and insect species, hundreds of varied birds, mammal and reptiles. One bird in particular is a symbol of this wild, splendid country- they call it raven. Their intelligence and mischievousness are legendary. Last week I was the victim. I left a stack of Canyonlands books setting on a table. After an all day, epic hike I returned to a tattered book missing a few pages, and another small paperback gone. Can these enigmatic rascals read?

Another part of this magical country are the cultural leavings of the ancestral Pueblo and Fremont people. I always take pause when their startling presence appears. How could anyone survive, even a few weeks, let alone a few thousand years in this harsh, unforgiving environment? Only through an intimate relationship with their natural surroundings, especially plants. Who could grow a garden on poor sandstone generated soils with little rain and extreme temperatures? But they did. A wonderfully written book “Wild Plants and Native Peoples of the Four Corners” is a must read. It’s done with cultural sensitivity along with excellent details on preparing them for use- food, fiber, medicine and décor.

And finally, Ed Abbey and Terry Tempest Williams captured the spirit of these great lands in verse- “Desert Solitaire” and “Red, Passion and Patience in the Desert”, must reads.

Jack Greene, Getting wilder about Utah by the minute!

Credits:

Images: Courtesy Jack Greene
Audio: Contains Audio Courtesy and Copyright Friend Weller
Text:     Jack Greene

Sources & Additional Reading:

Abbey, Edward, Desert Solitaire, Touchstone (January 15, 1990), https://www.amazon.com/Desert-Solitaire-Edward-Abbey/dp/0671695886/

Williams, Terry Tempest, Red, Passion and Patience in the Desert, Vintage (October 8, 2002), https://www.amazon.com/Red-Patience-Terry-Tempest-Williams/dp/0375725180/

Stegner, Wallace, Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West, Penguin Books; Reprint edition (March 1, 1992), https://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Hundredth-Meridian-Wesley-Opening/dp/0140159940/

Filmore, Robert, Geological Evolution of the Colorado Plateau of Eastern Utah and Western Colorado, University of Utah Press; 1st edition (March 15, 2011), https://www.amazon.com/Geological-Evolution-Colorado-Plateau-Eastern/dp/1607810042/

Dinosaur National Monument, National Park Service, US Department of the Interior,
https://www.nps.gov/dino/index.htm

Canyonlands National Park, National Park Service, US Department of the Interior,
https://www.nps.gov/cany/index.htm

Western Forest Grouse

Western Forest Grouse: A dusky grouse chick, several weeks old. Captured up Logan Canyon. The chick was marked with an aluminum leg band with cotton glued to the inside of the band so the leg could grow into the adult-sized band. Photo Credit: Skyler Farnsworth
A dusky grouse chick, several weeks old. Captured up Logan Canyon. The chick was marked with an aluminum leg band with cotton glued to the inside of the band so the leg could grow into the adult-sized band.
Photo Credit: Skyler Farnsworth
In the early winter, when most wildlife are migrating down the mountains, dusky grouse are heading up. The grouse rely on the evergreen needles for their sole food source during winter.

The female’s feathers are more camouflaged, while males are a slate grey.

In the Spring, during mating season, male duskies develop bright red air-sacs surrounded by pure white under-feathers on their necks. To attract the females, they make a deep hooting sound with their air sacs. This sound is made at the lowest decibel humans can hear. When close enough, researchers say they often feel the low vibrations of the hooting, before hearing it with their ears.

Although duskies are forest grouse, they are more closely related to prairie grouse than other forest grouse. They often use habitats, such as sagebrush and serviceberry outside of the forest canopy and can move up to 20 miles or more in a given year.

The other forest grouse species found in Utah, the ruffed grouse, prefer staying in a small area about 40 acres their whole life and are small, being slightly larger than a pigeon.

Western Forest Grouse: A dusky grouse female marked with a solar-powered GPS radio using a rump-style attachment. This was a brood hen with several small chicks with her. She was captured in July and released after several minutes of marking and data collection. Photo Credit: David Dahlgren
A dusky grouse female marked with a solar-powered GPS radio using a rump-style attachment. This was a brood hen with several small chicks with her. She was captured in July and released after several minutes of marking and data collection.
Photo Credit: David Dahlgren
They have a sole winter diet of aspen buds; and remain at a lower elevation during the winter. At night they burrow into snow caves to conserve body heat and energy.

The feathers of the ruffed grouse form a black band on their tails and black “ruffs” on their neck. These features are more prominent on males. During the spring breeding season, males produce a loud “drumming” sound with their wings to attract the females. The rhythm begins slowly then quickens to a climax.

Similar to their prairie cousins, forest grouse can be impacted by habitat fragmentation, human development, climate change, and improper grazing and may be a key species for these areas.

Due to the lack of scientific data, managers do not know the full impact these risks have on the forest grouse.

Western Forest Grouse: Researcher, Dr. Dwayne Elmore from Oklahoma State University, holding a male ruffed grouse after capture. The bag is used to contain the grouse while getting a weight. Photo Credit: David Dahlgren
Researcher, Dr. Dwayne Elmore from Oklahoma State University, holding a male ruffed grouse after capture. The bag is used to contain the grouse while getting a weight.
Photo Credit: David Dahlgren
David Dahlgren, assistant professor in the Quinney College of Natural Resources was discussing this deficit with Jason Robinson, upland game coordinator, for Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. Both recognized the potential benefits of using modern research techniques with forest grouse.

Dahlgren explains, “We wanted to get ahead of the ball.” If forest grouse, particularly duskies, are to be considered key species for our mountain ecosystems, we needed scientific information for management.

Dahlgren began the research with DWR in Fall 2015, in an area where the forest grouse get the highest hunting pressure – the Bear River Range, [in northern Utah, between Cache Valley and Bear Lake].

From 2015 to 2017, 120 grouse were leg banded. This provided data on harvest, habitat use, and survival.

Skyler Farnsworth, the project’s graduate student, discovered pointing dogs would help him find and capture grouse during the research. He started the project dog-less and ended with two bird dogs of his own.

Western Forest Grouse: An adult male dusky grouse in full breeding season display just after a snow in late April. Notice the red air sacs surrounded by white under-feathers, yellow eye combs, and the fanned tail with a grey band. Photo Credit: Skyler Farnsworth.
An adult male dusky grouse in full breeding season display just after a snow in late April. Notice the red air sacs surrounded by white under-feathers, yellow eye combs, and the fanned tail with a grey band.
Photo Credit: Skyler Farnsworth.
Of the 120 bands, only three bands have been returned since 2015 and one of those was found by a hiker after the bird had been caught by a predator.

Dahlgren explains, “With such a small return, the chance of [hunter harvest] impacting the population is very low, which is comforting and provides real data for forest grouse management.”

The research on the forest grouse is expanding. Dahlgren explains, “we recently started a similar project focused on dusky grouse in Nevada, working with the Nevada Department of Wildlife.”

Many partners have supported these forest grouse research projects including, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Nevada Department of Wildlife, Sportsman organizations and individuals. USU’s Agricultural Experiment Station provided the bulk of funding support.

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

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Skyler Farnsworth and David Dahlgren
Text: Shauna Leavitt, USGS Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

Sources & Additional Reading

Additional Grouse Articles on Wild About Utah:

Leavitt, Shauna, Greater Sage-Grouse in Utah, Wild About Utah, July 2, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/greater-sage-grouse-in-utah/

Leavitt, Shauna, South Canyon Sage-Grouse, Wild About Utah, Jan 22, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/south-canyon-sage-grouse/

Leavitt, Shauna, Greater Sage Grouse Recovery, Wild About Utah, Sep 25, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/greater-sage-grouse-recovery/

Leavitt, Shauna, Decreasing the Habitat Risks of Utah’s Southern Sage-Grouse, Wild About Utah, June 12, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/greater-sage-grouse-in-utah/

Greene, Jack, Sage Steppe, Wild About Utah, Jun 15, 2015, https://wildaboututah.org/sage-steppe/

Liberatore, Andrea, Ruffed Grouse and the Christmas Bird Count, Wild About Utah, Dec 8, 2014, https://wildaboututah.org/ruffed-grouse-christmas-bird-count/

Kervin, Linda, Sage Grouse, Pronghorn Antelope and Fences, Wild About Utah, May 5, 2011, https://wildaboututah.org/sage-grouse-pronghorn-antelope-and-fences/

Composting

Composting: Compost Product Courtesy NRCS USDA Analia Bertucci, Photographer
Compost Product
Courtesy NRCS USDA
Analia Bertucci, Photographer
Autumn leaves are beginning to fall. Trees drop their leaves because of reductions in temperature, sunlight, and moisture. And if the leaves remained on deciduous trees during winter months, the added weight of snow could break entire branches down. So many people will be outside raking leaves off their lawns.

The simple thing to do is to throw all of it into the trash can. But that causes two problems: First, it is an unnecessary addition to landfills. But it is also a waste of natural products that can be used in gardens and fields. The best thing to do is to compost it to use next Spring and Summer. Of course, you can always purchase organic mulch from garden centers, but making your own is free and builds a sense of accomplishment.

So what is composting and how is it done?

Composting is a method to reduce trash in our landfills by allowing natural processes to help decompose plant materials into useful, natural products. Nature has been doing this since plants were first on Earth. And clever gardeners and farmers use that natural process to make rich, organic soils.

We’ve covered the “what and why” questions.
“How” to compost comes next.

  1. Collect brown, carbon-based materials such as dead leaves, tea and coffee grounds, wood chips, shredded paper, nut shells, etc.
  2. Add green-waste materials such as fruit peels, grass clippings, vegetable scraps, and garden waste to help in nitrogen production.
  3. Add water every week to hasten the breakdown of those materials.
  4. Build your compost pile no larger than 3’ wide, 3’ long, and 3’ high. And place it in a shady spot in your yard with easy access to a hose.
  5. This material can be placed in ready-made bins you can purchase, or you can build a simple square one out of old wood and chicken wire, or use the corner of your fence. I’m using an unoccupied dog kennel.
  6. The mixture is important. You should have 3 parts brown matter for every one part green matter.
  7. To speed up decomposition, mix the materials weekly with a shovel or pitchfork. During cold weather you may see steam coming from the pile. That’s a good sign.
  8. Now the best part. If you compost during warm weather, it can be ready to add to your lawn or garden in 1 to 3 months.

And it’s important that you do NOT add animal products like meats, dairy, pet waste and eggs. These are the things that will attract flies and create bad odors.

So, avoid adding to our landfills. Build a compost pile and enjoy free supplements to produce beautiful gardens, flower beds, and lawns.

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

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

Additional Reading

Liberatore, Andrea, Natures Recyclers, Wild About Utah, November 11, 2011, https://wildaboututah.org/natures-recyclers/

Liberatore, Andrea, Earthworms, Wild About Utah, May 9, 2011, https://wildaboututah.org/earthworms/

Farrell-Poe, Kitt, Koenig, Rich, Backyard Composting in Utah, https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=1489&context=extension_curall (Reviewed October 2011 by Michael Johnson)

Basic Composting, USU Extension, https://extension.usu.edu/agwastemanagement/ou-files/pdfs/FSBasicsComposting.pdf

Young, Janice, Composting 101, Master Gardener Program, Thanksgiving Point,
https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=2425&context=extension_histall

Compost Fundamentals, WhatCom County Composting, Washington State University, WhatCom County Extension, https://extension.usu.edu/agwastemanagement/ou-files/pdfs/Compost_Fundamentals.pdf

Bears

Bear jams, bear stories, bear encounters, bear dreams – I’ve experienced all. Such was the case on our annual Teton trip where I was joined by over 25 USU students and others. Bison, birds, bugling elk, sparring moose, and always the highlight- bears.

Nothing quite compares with the mighty bruins to captures one’s imagination- a combination of fear and reverence. They have been with us for many millennia, our companions of the wild. Perhaps it’s their almost human traits and mystery, their intelligence and unpredictability.

Black bear, Ursus americanus, eating hawthorn berries, Wilson Road, Teton N.P. 10/7/18 Courtesy and Copyright Jack Greene, Photographer
Black bear, Ursus americanus, eating hawthorn berries, Wilson Road, Teton N.P. 10/7/18
Courtesy and Copyright Jack Greene, Photographer
This year’s bears were especially close as their feeding frenzy took them on the roads edge where an abundance of hawthorn berries awaited their rapacious apatite. All of this topped by both black and grizzly, two juveniles oblivious to our presence as they went about preparing for their long winter sleep.

Berry feeding grizzly bear, Ursus arctos horribilis, a few hundred yards further down the road, Wilson Road, Teton N.P. 10/7/18, Courtesy and Copyright Jack Greene, Photographer
Berry feeding grizzly bear, Ursus arctos horribilis, a few hundred yards further down the road, Wilson Road, Teton N.P. 10/7/18,
Courtesy and Copyright Jack Greene, Photographer
Utah’s bears are in the same macrophage mode. Unfortunately, our grizzlies disappeared with “Old Ephraim”, a magnificent animal of unusual size and intelligence, well up in years before his life was taken by a legendary trapper, Frank Clark. Frank was so moved as the great bears spirit was released by his bullet, that he ended his long career after killing well over 100 in the Bear River Range of northern Utah.

Sixty-two people nationwide have been killed by black bears over a 109 period, only one of those in Utah. Avalanches, bee stings, and lightning kill far more people. But many Utah bears have been killed by hunters averaging around 130 per year. A few of these are killed by those who feel threatened. In rare instances, black bear will bluff charge, or clack their jaws, which is actually expressing fear of humans. Running away is their normal behavior.

Although a precise count isn’t available, Utah’s black bear population is somewhere between 3,000 and 3,500 animals. In 2008, 314 bear hunting permits were issued and 134 animals taken. Although a hunter, I have no desire to kill a bear. I consider them my spirit animal, having been near them most of my days- from early years in N. Wisconsin, working in Denali and Yellowstone N.P.’s, and spending many years in bear infested wild country otherwise. Forested areas of Central and S. Utah have much higher bear populations than does the north end. I’ve seen only bear sign in our mountains, still hoping to get a glimpse one day.

“Observing a bear dancing in the golden rays of the sun, a Shoshone sage understood it to be a dance of gratitude as well as a prayer for the healing and protection of their young. From that point further the Shoshone have instigated their own Sun Dance where the bear is a central figure of the ritual, symbolizing protection, strength and continuation of life.” Jack G.

This is Jack Greene- and I continue to be Wild About Utah!

Credits:

Images: Courtesy Jack Greene
Audio: Courtesy Western Soundscape Archive, University of Utah, licensed under CCA-ND
Courtesy National Park Service
Text:     Jack Greene

Sources & Additional Reading:

Venefica, Avia Native American Bear Meaning, Whats Your Sign, https://www.whats-your-sign.com/native-american-bear-meaning.html

Welker, Glenn, Native American Bear Stories, Indigenous People, last updated 06/11/2016, http://www.indigenouspeople.net/bear.htm

Gates, Chuck, The bear truth: Utah’s black bears pose little danger to humans, Deseret News, Oct 15, 2009, https://www.deseretnews.com/article/705336743/The-bear-truth-Utahs-black-bears-pose-little-danger-to-humans.html