Benefits of Being Wild

Benefits of Being Wild: Naomi Wilderness Courtesy and Copyright Matthew Wickenhiser, Photographer
Naomi Wilderness
Courtesy and Copyright Matthew Wickenhiser, Photographer
Imagine a place devoid of randomly constant dings and dongs, a place with no artificial lighting or insistent clicking of keys or ticking of screens. Maybe even a place where one no longer has to think about the persistently pressing matters of politics for even just a brief moment.

Solitude, awe, beauty…breeze, trees, birds…life.

Benefits of Being Wild: Climbing Logan Canyon Courtesy and Copyright Matthew Wickenhiser, Photographer
Benefits of Being Wild: Climbing Logan Canyon Courtesy and Copyright Matthew Wickenhiser, Photographer
Certainly, the place that comes to mind might exist here in Utah. Anyone who has driven more than five hours in any direction can tell you the state doesn’t always look the same. Utah has landscapes ranging from mountains reaching more than 13,000 feet to desert plains dropping down to nearly 2,000 feet above sea level, and everything in between (McNamee, Arrington 2019). The colors of the landscape begin in the north with the deep greens of the forest and end in the south with the rich hues of red and orange. It is this unique and endlessly variable landscape that some argue makes it the perfect place to find happiness.

Hold on. Happiness is not a simple thing to achieve or understand. Sources are both internal and external. But for this story we are focusing on the happiness which comes from being in a mentally beneficial environment. Utah’s incredibly diverse landscape lends itself to be adaptably beneficial to a population of various preferences. It quite literally can suit just about anyone’s partialities. Whether someone likes mild winters in the desert or harsh, bitter, white winters, (which most people on this plant have only heard about in stories) Utah has it all. If someone prefers quiet towns or large and bustling urban centers, thinner air to thicker air; Utah can accommodate. But what do these accommodations have to do with happiness?

There is an ever-growing expanse of research regarding the mental health benefits of nature. Much of this research came about after the establishment of wilderness therapy programs which began to take root in Utah during the latter part of the 1980s. Griffin Woods, a student at Utah State University, experienced one of these wilderness programs. One of the important things he said about experiencing nature was, “People should definitely be pushed more to go outside, get off the phone and be in nature as opposed to being glued to a phone.” (Griffin. Personal communication. October 2019)

This happiness can spread to family members. Many children who participate in an outdoor education program will afterwards ask their parents to take them out into nature so they could “show and tell” them what they have seen and heard.

Benefits of Being Wild: Bike Ride in Moab Courtesy and Copyright Matthew Wickenhiser, Photographer
Bike Ride in Moab
Courtesy and Copyright Matthew Wickenhiser, Photographer
Simply being in place of wilderness can reduce stress and anxiety, and improve overall esteem (Arnold, 1994; Bahaeloo-Horeh & Assari, 2008). With this knowledge, Utah becomes an arsenal armed against the harmful habits that deteriorate our daily lives. It enables us to actively increase our attitudes and improve our internal state of mind.

So, this, this is what makes Utah so incredible. This state’s unique ability to make its residents and visitors happier. All you have to do is get outside. We end with this quote from Edward Abbey, “Wilderness is not a luxury but necessity of the human spirit.” So please, feed your spirit, enrich your soul, and enlighten your mind. You exist in arguably one of the most perfect places in the world to do this. Now go be Wild About Utah.

This is Matthew Wickenhiser and I’m Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Matthew Wickenhiser
Additional audio provided by Friend Weller and Kevin Colver
Text: Matthew Wickenhiser, Utah State University

Additional Reading

Utah Travel Industry Website https://www.utah.com/

Utah, History.com, A&E Television Networks, Nov 9, 2009, https://www.history.com/topics/us-states/utah

Utah: A Geologic History – Utah Geological Survey, Department of Natural Resources, State of Utahhttps://www.history.com/topics/us-states/utah

Utah Forest Overview, USDA Forest Service, https://www.fs.fed.us/rm/ogden/overviews/Utah/OV_Utah.htm

These 20 Utah Landscapes Will Blow You Away With Their Beauty, https://www.onlyinyourstate.com/utah/20-ut-landscapes/

Extinction or Survival?

Environmental Protection Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/ejaugsburg-148268/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=326923">ejaugsburg</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=326923">Pixabay</a>
Environmental Protection
Image by ejaugsburg from Pixabay
Some people complain that the NEWS only reports bad things, and that can be depressing. But maybe that is the way we can learn how to improve things. If all we ever heard was that everything was wonderful, even though it truly wasn’t, how would we feel if we accidentally stumbled across a negative situation? Let’s consider the present global status of the wildlife with which we share this planet.

One of the pleasures of hiking in scenic vistas, such as our forests or National Parks, is to see the wildlife that call those places home. People want to see bears or wolves in Yellowstone. They are thrilled when they see Desert Bighorn Sheep in Arches or Zion. But the latest comprehensive report on biodiversity by the United Nations revealed some startling results. The report included over 1,000 pages compiled by more than 450 researchers who analyzed 15,000 scientific and government reports. And this summary had to be approved by representatives of all 109 nations.

The message is that nature is being threatened more now than any other time in human history. Literally, a million species of plants and animals are facing serious threats to their survival. And this is due to several harmful actions: Invasive species that crowd out native wildlife from their home habitats; the pollution of water and land by the dumping or runoff of toxic materials; overfishing the oceans; and permitting the continual burning of fossil fuels which alter the climate for some wild species. And, as a result of increasing human populations, many forests and grasslands are converted into farmland, cities, or business ventures. That reduction in the number of large plants and trees affects the Earth’s ability to reduce heat-trapping carbon dioxide.

Currently, over 1,200 mammal species, 1,500 bird species, and 2,300 fish species are threatened, endangered or extinct in the wild.

This indeed sounds dismal, but if we consider it as a warning there is still time left to alter this downward spiral. What can we do? Simple tasks, really: Replace lawns by planting trees, shrubs and flowers native to your area. This provides habitat as well as food for pollinators. Avoid using harmful pesticides and herbicides which can collect and wash down into streams and rivers, which then pollute that water as well as the ocean. Respect the privacy needed by wildlife by observing them from a distance. Never poach any species. Place birdfeeders and/or birdhouses in your area. Consider renewable energy sources for your home and community. Don’t allow your vehicle engines to idle. And encourage your community to preserve open, green spaces when new developments are proposed.

Life is easier if we decide to let others do the work that will benefit us all. But if everyone made some small improvements in their lifestyle we might be able to avoid future dismal reports.

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

Images: Courtesy & Copyright
Lead Audio: Courtesy and Copyright Kevin Colver
Text: Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

Additional Reading

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/

Riparian Zones

Riparian Zones: Clear Creek in the Spring Courtesy & Copyright Holly Strand, Photographer
Clear Creek in the Spring
Courtesy & Copyright Holly Strand, Photographer
Summer’s heat has turned on. It was evident in a dramatic fashion as I ran a ridge in N. Utah where the early am temps were near 70 degrees, flowers had faded, and the absence of bird song. As I descended to the canyon bottom the temperature dropped a solid 20 degrees and bird voices returned where yellow warblers were competing with lazuli buntings for top songster. I had entered the riparian, or river side biotic community- from the burnt brown of cheat grass above to the lush “green zone” below supporting abundant life in our desert state. I won’t be running ridge tops any time soon!

Throughout the Intermountain West and Great Basin, these givers of life are critical areas for water, wildlife, agriculture, and recreation. About 80 % of all animal life is dependent on stream side habit sometime during its life cycle. As a birder and botanist, this is where I spend much of my time documenting and enjoying the abundance.
On a recent, brief bird survey along the Logan River golf course trail, I recorded 33 species with another ten or so known to nest in this river corridor. I’m planning to prepare a bird checklist for golfers to add more “birdies” to their score card.

Many of these special places have been seriously degraded through invasion of exotic species, agricultural practices, various forms of development, and channelization. But help is on the way.

The Logan River Task Force is one excellent example. Launched in 2016, the task force is well on its way to restoring a much healthier, biologically rich river system. Replacing crack willow, a Eurasian non-native tree, with native cottonwood and willow accompanied by a rich understory of shrubs, will significantly enhance the biodiversity along the floodplain. Another major change is underway as they replace the straight, channelized portion of the river to its meandering original channel. This will create more pools for fish, wetlands for flood control and filtering, while improving aesthetics and recreation opportunity.

In an earlier WAU reading, I mentioned the good work being done by western boxelder ranchers reintroducing beaver whose dams will assist with maintaining stream flow and water quality along with improved fish and wildlife habitat. I’m aware of the same occurring on a Mink Creek ranch in SE Idaho.

The world appears to be awakening to the many values of these critical wildlife and water quality riparian zones, as I awoke to the same on my early morning run.

This is Jack Greene and I’m Wild about Utah!!

Credits:

Images: Holly Strand
Audio: Courtesy and Copyright Kevin Colver
Text:     Jack Greene

Sources & Additional Reading:

Wheaton, Joe, Beaver Restoration Assessment Tool, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, http://etalweb.joewheaton.org.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/Downloads/BRAT/UTAH_BRAT_Management%20Brief.pdf

Riparian Zones, What is a Riparian Zone?, Water Quality, USU Extension, https://extension.usu.edu/waterquality/learnaboutsurfacewater/watersheds/riversandstreams/riparianzones