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

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

Wildfires

Wildfires: Smoke roils from 2012 wildfire in Utah. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.
Smoke roils from 2012 wildfire in Utah. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.
Wildfires hit record highs this year in the Western U.S. There can be arguments blaming Climate Change or Forest Management. Were they caused by human carelessness or natural causes such as lightning? Take your pick. But the results were tragic.

Through August this year, Utah has had nearly 1,300 fires which burned nearly a quarter million acres and cost $100 million dollars.

Nationally, 90% of wildfires are human-caused from unattended campfires, discarded cigarettes, mismanaged debris fires and planned acts of arson. And the cost of those fires exceeded $5 billion dollars over the last 10 years. From January to August in 2018 there were nearly 39,000 different fires that burned over 5 million acres.

Much has been said about those tragic statistics that affect the loss of human life, the destruction of developed properties, the discomforts of evacuations, and the enormous costs and dangers of fighting fires as the horrible results of these runaway infernos. But, what about next year? Will the drought continue? Will the climate continue to set record temperatures?

Burned Stumps & Ashes Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller, Photographer
Burned Stumps & Ashes
Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller, Photographer
One of the consequences that has not been discussed much is the loss of millions of trees. What can we expect when living trees are turned into burned stumps and ashes?

The major greenhouse gas in our atmosphere is Carbon Dioxide. It is called a green house gas because it warms the earth’s temperature. Carbon dioxide is produced by the burning of fossil fuels or trees, chemical reactions such as the manufacture of cement, and the exhaling of animals. It is removed from the atmosphere when it is absorbed by land-plants and the ocean as part of the biological carbon cycle. The role the ocean plays in the carbon cycle is a topic for another program.

It is the loss of trees that we will consider now.
I will mention only a few of the many benefits trees provide.

You may recall from biology class that the trees take-in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Forest fires require oxygen to burn, and we require oxygen to live. This year, we have already lost 5 million acres of oxygen production.

There are trees, such as the Lodgepole Pine, which have serotinous cones which release their seeds during the intense heat of forest fires. But it will take 40 years for those seeds to
grow into mature trees.

Another consideration is the loss of trees along hillsides and mountain slopes. When rain or snow hits those barren areas there can be massive soil erosion. This not only pollutes the streams and rivers below, but eliminates the top layer of soil where new seeds would best survive.

Besides the loss of human homes, there is the loss of wildlife habitat to consider. IF animals were able to escape massive fires, they must then find suitable habitat, which may encroach on human developments.

Then there is the loss of shade. Barren land will be more susceptible to collecting heat from the sun’s rays, which then will cause more heating of the atmosphere.

So, what can we do about this? First, be extremely careful with fire; Second, plant trees in your communities; Third, contact your local Ranger District or U.S. Forest Service to see if you can volunteer in tree planting projects.

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

Images: Courtesy USDA Forest Service,
https://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/compass/2013/05/28/climate-change-and-wildfire/
Audio: Contains audio courtesy
Freesound.org, Sound provided by Dynamicell
https://freesound.org/people/Dynamicell/sounds/17548/
Text: Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

Additional Reading

USDA Forest Service Offices:
Region 4: Intermountain Region
Federal Building
324 25th Street
Ogden, UT 84401
801-625-5605
[Job & Volunteering] Connections, https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/r4/jobs
Volunteer Opportunities, https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/r4/jobs/volunteer

Volunteer, TreeUtah, http://treeutah.org/volunteer/

Outka-Perkins, Lisa, Welcome to the Forest Service: A Guide for Volunteers, USDA Forest Service, Feb 2009,
https://www.fs.fed.us/t-d/pubs/pdfpubs/pdf09672813/pdf09672813dpi72.pdf

Boling, Josh, Fire, Wild About Utah, August 13, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/fire/

Strand, Holly, Investigating the Causes of Wildfires, Wild About Utah, Aug 15, 2013, https://wildaboututah.org/investigating-the-causes-of-wildfires/

Larese-Casanova, Mark, Wildfires in Utah, Wild About Utah, July 26, 2012, https://wildaboututah.org/wildfires-in-utah/

Preparing Home and Property for Wildlife, A Proactive Approach, Utah Living With Fire, Salt Lake City, UT, http://www.utahlivingwithfire.com/

Proposed Beaver Holding Facility in Millville, Utah

Beaver Holding Facility: Beaver, Castor canadensis, Courtesy FWS, Steve Hillebrand, photographer
Beaver, Castor canadensis, Courtesy FWS, Steve Hillebrand, photographer
Nuisance beavers, who in recent years were viewed as pests and quickly disposed of, are now in high demand.

A growing number of ranchers, and federal and state agencies are asking to have beavers translocated to their lands to act as affordable ecosystem engineers to restore riparian habitats, hold water on the dry arid lands, and restore creeks to their historic condition.

Currently the number of requests for live beavers outnumbers the amount of available animals.

Spawn Creek Beaver Dams Courtesy & Copyright Joe Wheaton, Photographer
Spawn Creek Beaver Dams
Courtesy & Copyright Joe Wheaton, Photographer
Nick Bouwes, Assistant Professor in Watershed Sciences at Utah State University said, “To assist in fulfilling this need, USU’s Department of Watershed Sciences and Department of Wildland Resources in the Quinney College of Natural Resources is working with Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) to build a beaver holding facility a few miles south of USU’s main campus.”

The architects are drafting blueprints, consultants are analyzing the needs of beavers in captivity, and scientists are seeking funding for the project.

According to Joseph Wheaton, Associate Professor in the Department of Watershed Sciences, “We plan to build a place where [beaver] that would typically be lethally removed, will be given a second chance by moving them to places where their engineering skills will be helpful in stream restoration and …where they won’t get into trouble.”

Beaver Cutting Courtesty & Copyright Joe Wheaton, Photographer
Beaver Cutting
Courtesty & Copyright Joe Wheaton, Photographer
Bouwes adds, “It’s…not as easy as simply catching and releasing a beaver. A lot goes on to increase their ability to survive and stay put after the release. They are social animals, so trapping a whole family unit is the best method. If a single beaver is released, they tend to take off and look for other beavers.”

Researchers hope the facility will expand to be an educational tool where they can hold workshops, study the beavers themselves, and educate the public with tours and visiting hours.


The project includes a design for a mobile trapping facility. This will allow the researchers to travel around the state trapping beavers that are currently in incompatible locations.

Bouwes explains, “It’s basically a trailer with kennels to keep the beavers cool. They are…sensitive to heat. If we go off location for any length of time, being able to keep the beavers cool and [safe]…will be very useful.”

When the trailer arrives back at the holding facility, scientists will move the beavers to kennels that have a slight slope and a divot at the end that serves as a small pond where the beavers can swim.

Nate Norman, consultant on the project from Balance Environmental, adds, “We are not looking for this to be a new home, we just want it to be safe and comfortable for the beavers until we can get them back into the wild.”

Researchers will quarantine the beavers for 72 hours to ensure they are free of disease and parasites, before managers move them to a new watershed.

Once the quarantine is complete, scientists will use the Beaver Assessment Tool to determine where the beaver family would most likely succeed.

Bouwes explains, “This [tool] looks at all the stream networks across Utah and identifies…the best place to re-introduce beaver. It evaluates the dam building capacity of a stream, and identifies places of potential conflict.”

The success of this project is dependent on its partners: DWR provides the expertise and oversight, USU supplies the land and research facilities, and ranchers allow access to streams for placing the beavers.

When the beaver holding facility is open, scientists and managers hope to be translocating 50-100 beavers a year.

Those interested in learning more about beavers and stream restoration are invited to attend a workshop at USU in October.

Look for details at restoration.usu.edu.

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

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Mark McKinstry
Audio: Courtesy Western Soundscape Archive, University of Utah, Sound provided by Jeff Rice, licenesed under CCA-ND
Text: Shauna Leavitt, USGS Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

Sources & Additional Reading

Hellstern, Ron, Leave it to Beaver, Wild About Utah, July 30, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/leave-it-to-beaver/

Leavitt, Shauna, Beaver–Helping Keep Water on Drying Lands, Wild About Utah, April 17, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/the-beaver-helping-keep-water-on-drying-lands/

Strand, Holly, Beavers: The Original Army Corps of Engineers, Wild About Utah, August 16, 2012, https://wildaboututah.org/beavers-the-original-army-corps-of-engineers/

Beaver Monitoring App, Utah State University Extension, https://extension.usu.edu/utahwaterwatch/citizenscience/beavermonitoringapp/

Fluvial Habitats Center/Ecogeomorphology & Topographic Analysis Laboratory, Joe Wheaton et. al. http://etal.joewheaton.org/