Old Ephraim, The Infamous Northern Utah Grizzly

Old Ephraim, the Infamous Northern Utah Grizzly: Old Ephriam's Grave Marker, The height of the the old grizzley Courtesy & Copyright Josh boling
Old Ephriam’s Grave Marker,
The height of the the old grizzley
Courtesy & Copyright Josh boling
It took all of Frank Clark’s seven steel-ball cartridges to bring down Old Ephraim, the infamous Grizzly Bear that, for many years in the early 20th century, plagued the shepherds of the Northern Wasatch Mountains. The date was August 21st, 1923, when Clark, a Logan Canyon sheepman, was roused from his slumber by the gruffs and bellows of the half-ton brown bear stuck in a trap that Clark had set down in the wallows the bear frequented. Hours later, after a thrilling chase and several charges from the massive, male Grizzly, the hunt was over and the last of Utah’s Great Bears had departed.

The Land of Deseret was once home to a robust population of Grizzly Bears. Indeed, present-day Utah sat very near the geographic center of their historical home range which once extended as far south as Central Mexico and eastward into the prairies of Minnesota and other midwestern states. When the Mormon Pioneers arrived in Salt Lake Valley, the surrounding mountains- and a majority of other ranges throughout the West- still harbored many Grizzlies. In fact, Brigham Young himself, along with early LDS leader Heber C. Kimball, was once chased up a cliff by an angry mother Grizz protecting her cubs.

Marker Detail Old Ephriam's Grave Courtesy & Copyright Josh boling
Marker Detail
Old Ephriam’s Grave
Courtesy & Copyright Josh boling
However, between the Saints’ arrival to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 and Frank Clark’s killing of Old Ephraim in 1923, the Grizzly Bear was eliminated from 95% of its original home range, including Utah. Today, grizzlies roam a mere 2% of their historical range in the contiguous United States, driven from all but a few remote wildernesses in the far reaches of the Northern Rockies. As more and more settlers moved westward across the New Frontier in the latter decades of the 19th century into the early 20th century, competition for resources became stiff between humans and their ursine counterparts. As apex predators, grizzly bears pursue many of the same foods we humans do, including domestic stock, like sheep. For this reason, it’s clear why local stockmen held Old Ephraim in such contempt. What made him so notorious, though, was his remarkable intelligence.

Nephi J. Bott's Poem At Old Ephriam's Grave Courtesy & Copyright Josh boling
Nephi J. Bott’s Poem
At Old Ephriam’s Grave
Courtesy & Copyright Josh boling
Grizzlies are famously smart and are even thought to possess self-awareness. Their potential for understanding is comparable to that of the higher primates in the Animal Kingdom, which stands to reason why they are such cunning hunters. Grizzly Bears have even been known to cover their own tracks or conceal themselves with trees and rocks when either hunting or hiding, giving biologists reason to believe that these incredible animals are even capable of forethought. Perhaps, that’s why it took Frank Clark over a decade to even get a good look at Old Ephraim, much less a clear shot at him. The mighty grizzly had time and again removed Clark’s traps from his wallowing holes, discarding them elsewhere without even setting them off. However, despite his amazing intelligence and ability to adapt- or, perhaps because of them- Old Ephraim ultimately met his end that August morning in 1923.

Even after having, quote, “sworn eternal vengeance on bears,” Frank Clark ultimately professed regret for having to kill Old Ephraim; and it’s a sentiment that’s well-circulated and gaining steam here in the west, now nearly a century removed from Ephraim’s death. In 1975, as a result of their dismal population levels in the contiguous United States and high mortality rates even in protected areas such as Yellowstone National Park, the Grizzly Bear was listed as “Threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. As of June 2017, however, that listing was revoked for the populations in and around Yellowstone National Park due to the Bear’s remarkable recovery from a mere 136 individuals in 1975 to approximately 700 today. It seems we have begun to amend our relationship with these animals; but there is more to be done in the interest of Grizzly Bears. Several recovery and reintroduction plans are currently being considered, and reflect a brighter future for Grizzly Bears in the lower 48. But, what about here in Utah?

Forest Service Marker Old Ephriam's Grave Courtesy & Copyright Josh boling
Forest Service Marker
Old Ephriam’s Grave
Courtesy & Copyright Josh boling
The Great Bear’s return to the Beehive state is entirely possible but, as the Ogden Standard Examiner reported early last year, not very likely. “Although grizzlies are established in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming,” the article states, “Utah is not a part of the government’s recovery plan for the animal.” There are probably many reasons for this, not least of which is the relatively high population densities adjacent to the best of Utah’s potential Grizzly habitat. Right now, there are just too many people for the bears to be able to ramble unimpeded by the things and interests of humans. “But that’s not to say that some rogue bear might not roam across state lines one day,” states the Standard’s article.

I, for one, hope they make their way back.

Writing and reading for Wild About Utah, I’m Josh Boling.

Credits:
Photo: Courtesy & Copyright 2017 Josh Boling
Text: Josh Boling

Sources & Additional Reading

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

Old Ephriam, Utah State University, University Libraries, Digital Collections, http://digital.lib.usu.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/Ephraim

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

Water-Liquid Life

Spring Runnoff in Cottonwood Creek near Sandbagged Home From "Spring Run-off Dangers Ahead," Unified Fire Department Chief Mike Watson Courtesy Cottonwood Heights City
Spring Runnoff in Cottonwood Creek near Sandbagged Home
From “Spring Run-off Dangers Ahead,” by Unified Fire Department Chief Mike Watson
Courtesy Cottonwood Heights City
It’s springtime in the Rockies, and Utah’s northern rivers are engorged with liquid life- and have been for what seems like months now. After a winter of record snowfall, the spring heat and a miniature monsoon season have raised our local waters to levels not seen in decades. During this exceptional seasonal runoff, it’s easy to forget that we still live in the second-most arid state in the Union. Nonetheless, this seasonal plethora of the wet stuff is an ardent reminder that, even here, it is water we Utahns have to thank for our most prestigious landscapes and the diversity of flora and fauna that call these places home.

It has, in most cases, taken quite a lot of time, though. Consider the Great Salt Lake: Utah’s most iconic landmark. It’s a remnant of prehistoric Lake Bonneville-itself the pluvial product of slow glaciation and rainwater collection. Thousands upon thousands of years of evaporative sun exposure, though, shrank Lake Bonneville and changed the local climate and ecosystem into what we have today, a salty inland sea implanted within an arid, Mediterranean climate. Though deprived of its acreage- and being immensely saltier than its predecessor- The Great Salt Lake supports an incredibly diverse and highly complex ecosystem. Concocted by the mixture of ancient salts and fresh water provided by the Jordan, Weber, and Bear Rivers, the wetland ecosystems on the fringes of the Great Salt Lake play host to millions of migratory birds each year that are travelling along the Pacific Flyway. Without these oases, the diversity of Utah’s waterfowl-and wildlife at large- would dwindle drastically.

One cannot speak of water’s effect upon Utah’s landscapes without singing the praises of the wondrous redrock canyons that dissect our state’s southern reaches. The force of water upon the high desert of Utah’s allocation of Colorado Plateau is intermillenial, hydrological poetry. Ancient Jurassic and Cretaceous seas deposited layer upon colorful layer of various sediments before heat, pressure, and the recession of shorelines turned them to stone. Water then went back to work within a new climate upon an old geography with rare but violent torrents of flashing floods that sliced ever deeper and more intricate cleavages into the sandstone. I remember visiting one particularly beautiful slot canyon with my wife. The fossilized wave action we spotted above the rim was preserved below as well with streaks of sediment mismatched and displaced into a beautiful kaleidoscope of reds, oranges, and purples. Water’s work was not finished here, though. Dispersed along the distant trail into the best parts of this remote canyon, there were desert riparian jungles of small cottonwoods, mosses, and ferns that harbored ephemeral pools dotted with water striders and even the occasional canyon tree frog.

Street Flooding Box Elder County 2017 Courtesy https://dem.utah.gov/2017/03/31/news-release-gov-herbert-declares-state-of-emergency-for-february-flooding/
Street Flooding Box Elder County 2017
Courtesy https://dem.utah.gov/2017/03/31/news-release-gov-herbert-declares-state-of-emergency-for-february-flooding/
Water is a fickle beast, though- crucial to maintaining life but behaving without regard for its endeavors. The same forces of hydrology that created the Great Salt Lake, our richly diverse wetland ecosystems, and the stunning desert landscapes we love to explore can likewise wreak havoc upon our daily lives. Consider the recent deluge in Cache Valley. Several weeks ago, our northern valley was inundated with precipitation, leaving some families stranded in their low-lying homes with no access to the nearest road. A friend of mine who runs a canoe rental business told tale of making deliveries to homes so that people could commute from the end of their driveway to their front door. Perhaps no other force of nature can be so frustrating yet so gratifying; so plentiful yet so fleeting. It’s a wild thing, water. It is a miraculous ubiquity that, even in the driest places, leaves an indelible mark upon the landscape and the lives that inhabit it.

For Wild About Utah this is Josh Boling

Credits:
Photo: Courtesy & Copyright Cottonwood Heights City
Text: Josh Boling

Sources & Additional Reading

Water Week, Eli Robinson, USU Water Quality Extension program, May 8, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/utah-water-week/

Water Properties, Andrea Liberatore, Stokes Nature Center, Nov 17,2014, https://wildaboututah.org/water-properties/

Tree Talk

Quaking Aspen Sleek stands of quaking aspens (Populus tremuloides) grow in Zion's higher elevations Courtesy National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior
Quaking Aspen
Sleek stands of quaking aspens (Populus tremuloides) grow in Zion’s higher elevations
Zions National Park
Courtesy National Park Service
U.S. Department of the Interior
The next time you take a walk in the deep woods or even a stroll through a local park, listen closely. You may hear the trees ‘whispering in the wind.’ We use this familiar phrase to describe the soothing sounds of a gentle breeze through the forest canopy; but it may delight and surprise many to know that this figure of speech is now a proven scientific fact. The trees are talking.

They don’t talk like you and I talk, of course. The spoken word is foregone by the plant kingdom, for now. Theirs is a much subtler form of communication. ‘The Wood Wide Web’, as the scientific journal Nature once dubbed it, is the woodland social network. Within it, trees send electric signals coursing through their roots in order to relay important messages to their neighbors.

Travelling at the speed of about a third of an inch every minute, these timber telegrams take quite a while to accomplish such a task; but what this system lacks in speed, it makes up for with complexity. A tree’s roots will often expand through the soil to an area twice the width of its crown, resulting in the ability of a single tree to grasp the roots of and pass messages to multiple far-away friends at once.

In undisturbed soils, these messages can be expedited symbiotically. Subsoil fungal networks, which intertwine with the roots of trees for nourishment sake, can relay messages much more quickly by connecting otherwise distant, unconnected trees to one another. This becomes quite important when the message pertains to danger: an invasion of damaging pests, for instance.

Usually, though, if a tree needs to get a warning out to its neighbors more quickly, it will do so by other means. When trees are attacked, they emit scent compounds through their leaves. These arboreal aromas can be registered by distant parts of the same tree, far-flung trees in the same grove, or, amazingly, even members of the animal kingdom, which trees will summon to their defense. Even more astonishing is that each scent is custom-catered. Trees will identify their attacker by its saliva and emit a corresponding pheromone meant to attract that attacker’s natural predators. Once they are warned of an invading pest, other trees in the grove may respond similarly.

The usefulness of a tree’s ability to communicate with its neighbors goes beyond emergency warnings or the spreading of other important information. Trees have developed a sophisticated redistribution system in which the strongest trees compensate for weaker ones by sharing their surpluses of sugar. In fact, this system is so efficient that, in the end, each individual tree is nourished at the same rate of photosynthesis. This means that every tree in a grove receives the same amount of sugar per leaf in its crown as every other tree, regardless of its own ability to photosynthesize. As it turns out, trees are highly sociable beings. They take responsibility for friends and family members and see to it that their loved ones are well cared for.

Not all groves are created equal, though. These natural behaviors can be inhibited by intensive thinning of wild groves or absent altogether in planted, monocultural forests. However, when granted enough space and time to be itself, even the most artificial forest can ‘return to its roots.’

So, whenever you find yourself following that wooded path into the forest, think of what secret messages might be coursing through the soil or floating invisibly upon the airwaves? Consider these possibilities, and your walks may now be a little more mysterious.

For Wild About Utah this is Josh Boling

Credits:
Photo: Courtesy & Copyright
Text: Josh Boling

Sources & Additional Reading