The Cutthroat Trout

Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout
Yellowstone Cutthroat
Oncorhynchus clarki bouvieri
USDA Forest Service
Cutthroat Trout A “no-trouts-land” on the Logan River, Copyright (c) Chadd VanZanten, Photographer vanzanten-cutthroat_trout Cutthroat Trout on the Logan River, Copyright (c) Chadd VanZanten, Photographer
Colorado Cutthroat TroutColorado River Cutthroat
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.

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:

“Bonneville Cutthroat Trout.” Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. n.d. Web. 7 July 2014:

“Bonneville Cutthroat Trout.” Native Trout Species. The Western Native Trout Campaign, n.d. Web. 7 July 2014:

“Colorado River Cutthroat Trout.” Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. n.d. Web 7 July 2014:

“Cutthroat Trout.” Colorado Parks and Wildlife, n.d. Web. 7 July 2014:

“Cutthroat Trout.” Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. n.d. Web. 7 July 2014:

“Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii).” Natural Resources Conservation Service, 1 Jan. 2007. Web. 7 July 2014:

“Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii) – FactSheet.” Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii) – FactSheet. U.S Geological Survey, 14 June 2013. Web. 7 July 2014:

“Endangered Species of the Mountain-Prairie Region.” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, n.d. Web. 7 July 2014:

“Fishes.” Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, n.d. Web. 7 July 2014:

“Native Cutthroat of Utah.” Trout Unlimited Blog, 18 Dec. 2012. Web. 7 July 2014:

“Utah’s Native Trout.” Utah Fly Fishing Club, 24 Dec. 2011. Web. 7 July 2014:

“Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout.” Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. n.d. Web. 7 July 2014:
Brown, Dylan. “Shocking habitat projects help increase native Cutthroat populations.” Standard Examiner, 14 May 2014. Web. 7 July 2014:

Chorney, Chad. “For the Love of Cutthroat.” Trout Unlimited Blog, 29 Jan. 2013. Web. 7 July 2014:

National Park or National Monument?

< National Park or National Monument: Sipapu Natural Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument, Courtesy and Copyright Anna BengstonSipapu Natural Bridge
Natural Bridges National Monument
Courtesy & Copyright Anna Bengston
National Park or National Monument: Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Courtesy and Copyright Anna BengstonDelicate Arch
Arches National Park
Courtesy & Copyright Anna Bengston

Established in 1916 the National Park Service manages all properties included in the National Park System. This system includes over 400 areas that encompass more than 84 million acres of land. These areas can go by one of 31 different titles. Within this system, Utah boasts 1 national historic site, 2 national recreation areas, 7 national monuments, and 5 national parks. While the reason for some of these titles is self-explanatory, the reason for others is less clear.

For example, what makes one area a “national park” and another a “national monument?” Most people – including myself – would probably guess that the difference is in size. And while this is sometimes true, the primary difference is the reason for which each is established, because these two designations grew from historically separate concepts. The notion of the national park, which was simply the idea of large-scale natural preservation for public enjoyment, grew in popularity throughout the 1800s. As a result you can typically think of a national park as a spectacular scenic feature or natural phenomena preserved for inspirational, educational, and recreational value.

On the other hand, the idea of the national monument arose as a result of the need and desire to also protect prehistoric cliff dwellings, pueblo remains, and other historic ruins found by explorers of the American West and Southwest. Efforts to protect these sites resulted in the passing of the Antiquities Act of 1906. Therefore a national monument is usually designated to preserve objects of prehistoric, historic, cultural, and/or scientific interest. However, the Antiquities Act has been used more widely to preserve natural features as well, meaning the content of national monuments can be quite varied from wilderness areas to military sites to buildings and ruins.

There are also a couple of legal differences between these two designations. National parks are established through acts of Congress, whereas national monuments are established by Presidential proclamation. Administratively, the National Park Service manages all national parks. While national monuments, depending on their location and content, can fall under not only under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, but also that of the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Defense, or the Bureau of Land Management.

So, it’s not just size that makes the difference, its intent, content, process of establishment, and administration. The next time you visit one of Utah’s national parks or monuments, will you be able to tell the difference?

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

Arches National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park
Capitol Reef National Park
Canyonlands National Park
Zion National Park

Golden Spike National Historic Site

Cedar Breaks National Monument
Dinosaur National Monument
Grand Staircase National Monument
Hovenweep National Monument
Natural Bridges National Monument
Pipe Spring National Monument(Border Utah/Arizona)
Rainbow Bridge National Monument
Timpanogos Cave National Monument

Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Image: Courtesy and Copyright Anna Bengston
Text: Anna Bengston

Sources & Additional Reading:

Biggers, Ashley. “National Parks Versus National Monuments.” Outside Online. 22 Apr. 2014. Web. 8 June 2014.

McDonnell, Janet. The national parks: shaping the system. 3rd ed. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, 2005. Web, 8 June 2014.

O’Connor, Mary. “Killing A Bill that Could Save National Parks.” Outside Online. N.p., 14 Apr. 2014. Web. 8 June 2014.

“Parks and Monuments.” Utah. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 June 2014.

Righter, Robert. “National Park Service History: National Monuments to National Parks.”National Park Service History: National Monuments to National Parks. N.p., Aug. 1989. Web. 8 June 2014.

United States. National Park Service. “National Park Service History: National Park System Nomenclature.” National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, n.d. Web. 8 June 2014.

United States. National Park Service. “Frequently Asked Questions.” National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, 28 May 2014. Web. 8 June 2014.

Yard, Robert Sterling, and Isabelle F. Story. “Parks vs. Monuments.” The national parks portfolio. 6th ed. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1931. Web, 8 June 2014.

Trouble with Tumbleweeds

Tumbleweed in Marsh, Courtesy and Copyright Anna Bengston
Tumbleweed in Marsh
Courtesy & Copyright Anna Bengston

Immortalized on the sets of old western movies, the tumbleweed has long been a classic symbol of the rugged, wide-open landscapes of the American West.  As a result, we can all easily recognize the spherical skeletons when we come across them caught on underbrush or piled up on fence lines here in Utah.  But this archetype is not an accurate representation of typical western United States or Utah flora, because tumbleweed– or Russian thistle –is an invasive weed.

The story begins in the late 19th century, when South Dakotan farmers reported seeing an unknown plant growing in their croplands.  Years later, it was identified as Russian thistle, scientific name Salsola tragus, a native plant of Russia and the Eurasian steppes east of the Ural Mountains.  It had been accidentally brought to the United States in a shipment of flaxseed.  By the time the U.S. Department of Agriculture published its inquiry into the plant in 1894, about 20 years after the plant’s introduction, 35,000 square miles of land had become “more or less covered” in Russian thistle.  Since that time the plant has spread into every state except Florida and Alaska.

So what is the problem?  Russian thistle, despite the nostalgic connotations of the old west it inspires, is a pest.  It easily takes root in disturbed or bare ground, moving in before native species are able to establish.  Drought conditions like those we have had in recent years only promote the plant’s proliferation.  The dryness hinders the growth of crops and native species, while the Salsola seed requires very little moisture in order to germinate and grows in where the crops and native species otherwise would have.  This can have deleterious effects on cropland and natural ecological functioning. Not to mention the wildfire risk the dry plant debris poses.

Salsola’s sheer numbers have also turned into more than just a nuisance.  Each plant may bear some 250,000 seeds that can be spread across miles as they drop off the rolling tumbleweed.  Consequently, we see images like those from Colorado earlier this year depicting piles of tumbleweeds filling streets, covering cars, and climbing the walls of houses.  In one instance, a windstorm clogged a town in New Mexico with 435 tons of the weed.

Utahns have yet to experience the full effects of this plant’s troublesome nature, but this does not mean we are immune; Russian thistle has been reported in every county of the state.  Luckily, for those fighting this plant’s advance, technology and research are on our side.  Several biological control options– from insects to fungal pathogens –are being tested as methods of natural Salsola population suppression with encouraging results.  But, all in all the management principles have not changed much since 1894: prevent the production and dispersal of seed across all infested areas.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Anna Bengtson.

Image: Courtesy and Copyright Anna Bengston
Text: Anna Bengston

Sources & Additional Reading:

Banda, S. (2014, April 9). Tumbleweed troubles: Colorado drought creates perfect storm for road-clogging weeds. . US News. Retrieved May 2, 2014, from

Coffman, K. (2014, March 27). Tumbleweeds plague drought-stricken American West.Reuters. Retrieved May 2, 2014, from

Dewey, L. (1894). The Russian thistle : its history as a weed in the United States, with an account of the means available for its eradication. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Division of Botany, Washington: Government Printing Office. Retrieved May 2, 2014, from

EDDMapS. 2014. Early Detection & Distribution Mapping System. The University of Georgia – Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health. Available online at; last accessed May 1, 2014.

Gilman, S. (2014, February 11). Troubleweeds: Russian thistle buries roads and homes in southeastern Colorado. . — High Country News. Retrieved May 2, 2014, from

Gilman, S. (2014, March 17). A plague of tumbleweeds: A handy pamphlet on how to dig out from a tumbleweed takeover of sci-fi proportions. . — High Country News. Retrieved May 2, 2014, from

Main, D. (2011, March 2). Consider the tumbleweed. » Scienceline. Retrieved May 2, 2014, from

Mazza, E. (2014, April 9). Tumbleweeds Reclaim West Amid Drought, Blocking Roads And Canals. The Huffington Post. Retrieved May 2, 2014, from

Ostlind, E. (2011, March 9). Tumbling along. — High Country News. Retrieved May 2, 2014, from

Ostlind, E. (2001, May 20). It may be High Noon for tumbleweed. — High Country News. Retrieved May 2, 2014, from

Russian Thistle (Salsola tragus). (n.d.). Russian Thistle (Salsola tragus). Retrieved May 2, 2014, from

USDA, NRCS. 2014. The PLANTS Database (, 8 May 2014). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.

Birds and West Nile Virus

Birds and West Nile Virus: Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Bald Eagle
Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Courtesy US FWS
It’s that time of year again when we encounter a barrage of public health messages alerting us to take precautions during cold and flu season. However, a different disease outbreak has been making headlines this winter in Utah: West Nile virus.

Though West Nile virus is not a new name to most of us, our familiarity with it typically comes from summer time outbreaks amongst human populations. Yet this particular flare up has gained attention for causing the deaths of over 50 Bald Eagles and it happened during winter.

West Nile virus is maintained in nature by a transmission cycle between mosquitoes and birds. In this cycle, birds simply act as pathogen reservoirs, while the mosquitoes act as pathogen vectors passing the virus on to their eggs and infecting humans and animals through bites. Historically, in the locations of its origin – Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East – this pathogen is rarely fatal to its avian hosts. In fact, antibodies to West Nile virus have been found in the blood of birds native to this region.

It wasn’t until 1997, when a stronger strain of West Nile virus emerged and caused fatalities in a wide range of avian species, that the infection started to be considered pathogenic to birds. When the disease first reached the United States in 1999 it proved to be highly virulent in North American bird populations. The American crow was particularly susceptible. Within 4 months of detection in New York, nearly 5,500 crows died from the infection. Since this first outbreak, West Nile virus spread across the United States and has been isolated in over 250 species of birds, including Bald Eagles.

While wintertime infection amongst human populations is rare, infection during this season is not so uncommon for birds. This is because birds can contract the disease by a variety of routes other than mosquito bites and direct contact. This is especially the case amongst opportunistic scavengers like raptors. If a raptor consumes the carcass of a bird killed by West Nile virus it can contract the virus orally, as the Bald Eagles did after consuming the remains of infected Eared Grebes. Luckily, while bird-to-bird transmission does occur amongst birds that exhibit roosting and group behaviors, the likelihood of a Bald Eagle, which is typically a solitary bird, directly passing the disease to another Bald Eagle is quite low. Meaning that once the last of the infected food source is gone, hopefully no further infections will occur.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Anna Bengtson.

Image: Courtesy US FWS
Text: Anna Bengston

Sources & Additional Reading:

World Health Organization. West Nile Virus
Utah DWR. Wildlife News: DWR Learns What Killed Bald Eagles

Koenig, W.D., Hochachka, W. M., Zuckerberg, B., and Dickinson, J.L. 2010. Ecological Determinants of American Crow Mortality Due to West Nile Virus During its North American Sweep. Oecologia, 163: 903-909.

Powell, H. 2010. Counting Crows. BirdScope: Autumn 2010.

Rappole, J.H., Derrickson, S.R., and Hubálek, Z. 2000. Perspectives: Migratory Birds and Spread of West Nile Virus in the Western Hemisphere. Emerging Infectious Diseases, Vol. 6, No. 4, July-August 2000, pp. 319-328.

Reisen, William K. 2013. Ecology of West Nile Virus in North America. Viruses, Vol. 5, Issue 9, pp. 2079-2105.