Beavers: The Original Army Corps of Engineers

Beaver with branch in water
Courtesy US FWS,
Steve Hillebrand, Photographer


Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

Beavers and beaver dams are a common feature of the Utah landscape. You’ll see the dams on smaller streams and side channels, constructed of branches, downed trees and mud. The still, deep water of the resulting pond creates ideal conditions for a beaver lodge. Beavers can escape and hide from predators by slipping into the pond and disappearing into the lodge. Beavers also use their ponds to cache their favorite
food—aspen and willow.

Because of their tree cutting and dam making skills, humans tend to have two divergent opinions of beavers: 60-pound nuisance or environmental engineer.

Beaver lodge
Courtesy US FWS
Hans Stuart, Photographer

Beavers are considered a nuisance when they gnaw down trees that humans want to keep. Dams can flood roads or stop up irrigation canals. When beaver activity conflicts with human interests, they—the beavers–are likely to be trapped and killed.

However, beaver activity has many positive environmental consequences that we are just beginning to appreciate. Wetlands created by beaver dams help soak up sediments, improving downstream water quality. Because of beaver dams, the winter snowpack isn’t lost in a short spring pulse, This results in a more constant stream flow through the summer –and that’s important as Utah’s climate is predicted to become drier. Finally, beaver dams enhance habitat for many other fish and wildlife species and plants.

Beaver in pond
Courtesy US FWS
Steve Hillebrand, Photographer

According to Dr. Joe Wheaton, a geomorphologist at Utah State University, there’s a lot of untapped potential for employing beaver engineers in stream and floodplain restoration. Say you want to restore a stream by reconnecting it with its floodplain. You need to excavate channels, redirect stream flow, revegetate and nurture the
area for a long period of time. To accomplish this, you often need a
number of highly trained professionals and some large Tonka toys.

Alternatively –under the right conditions– you might transplant a
colony of beavers and let them apply their vigorous work ethic to your
landscape and get quite satisfying results.

Recognizing that nuisance beavers can be rehabilitated into hard
working wetland engineers and stream habitat restorationists, the Utah
Division of Wildlife Resources has rolled out the state’s first beaver
management plan in 2010. This plan encourages live trapping of entire
families of beavers in nuisance areas and moves them to specific sites where their
environmental services can be appreciated and put to use.

Beaver in snow
Courtesy US FWS

Thanks to the USU College of Natural Resources for supporting this Wild about Utah topic.

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.

Credits:
Images:
Text: Stokes Nature Center: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading


ARKive Images of Life on Earth, Information Sheet on Castor Canadensis (including some outstanding videos) http://www.arkive.org/ – (BBC Natural History Unit)

  • American Beaver – Overview
  • American Beaver in the Lodge with Young
  • American beaver felling trees and storing food for the winter
  • American beaver scaring moose away from its lodge
  • American beaver returning to its lodge with food


Collen, P. and R.J. Gibson. 2001. The general ecology of beavers (Castor spp.), as related to their influence on stream ecosystems and riparian habitats, and the subsequent effects on fish – a review. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 10: 439–461, 2001. http://www.springerlink.com/content/v48769740n817601/fulltext.pdf [ Accessed May 1, 2010]

Prettyman, B. 2009. Utah wildlife: Leave it to the beavers. Article in Salt Lake Tribune, October 16, 2009. http://www.sltrib.com/ci_13570110 [ Accessed April 29, 2010]

Smithsonian Castor Canadensis Information Page http://www.mnh.si.edu/mna/image_info.cfm?species_id=32 [ Accessed April 29, 2010]

Big Bend Habitat Restoration Project: A Natural Work of Heart, Open Spaces-A Talk on the Wild Side, US FWS, http://www.fws.gov/news/blog/index.cfm/2016/3/25/Big-Bend-Habitat-Restoration-Project-A-Natural-Work-of-Heart [Accessed March 31, 2016]

Beaver Dams Strengthened by Humans Help Fish Rebound
60-Second Science – July 25, 2016 – By Jason G. Goldman02:29 http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode/beaver-dams-strengthened-by-humans-help-fish-rebound/ Also available through the podcast https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/60-second-science/id189330872?mt=2

Hot Springs

Utah Hot Springs
Click map for larger view
Map by H. Strand, Data from
Blackett and Wakefield 2002.

Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

Cold weather getting to you? Can’t swing a trip to Hawaii or the Carribean this year?

Fortunately for us, there’s a natural antidote to winter right here in Utah Hot springs abound in the Beehive State. According to a Utah Geological Survey database, there are 106 known springs with waters above 25 degrees Celsius or 77 degrees Fahrenheit. The hottest temperature recorded in a Utah spring is 91 degrees Celsius or 195 degrees Fahrenheit at Crystal Hot Springs in Salt Lake County.

Hot springs develop when rain and melted snow infiltrate into the ground. This ground water then sinks deep enough to be warmed by the heat contained in the earth’s interior. Because hot water is less dense it is pushed back to the surface by the continued sinking of incoming heavier, cold water. Replenishment through surface precipitation creates a continuous cycle.

Why do some areas have hot springs and others do not? While there is heat in the earth beneath any spot on the surface, in some areas, this heat is concentrated closer to the surface. For instance, in and around volcanoes–this is the case in Yellowstone area.

Luckily, we don’t know of any volcanoes lurking beneath us. But we know that the Basin and Range area of western Utah, southeastern Idaho, Nevada and eastern California, is expanding or spreading. This spreading movement leaves a relatively thin crust. And a thinner crust means heat is closer to the surface. Furthermore, crustal movement create surface faults that allow cold water to seep down and warm water to flow out. Thus with few exceptions, the higher temperature geothermal areas in Utah occur either in the Basin and Range Province or within the Basin and Range-Colorado Plateau transition zone.

Geothermal sources have many practical uses. The Blundell power station at the Roosevelt Hot Springs geothermal area near Milford produces commercial energy. There are several greenhouses and aquaculture facilities in Utah using geothermal resources. But my favorite application of geothermal waters would be the hot spring spa or swimming pool. Soakersbible.com lists 16 of these in Utah. And for those of us in northern Utah there’s at least ten more right across the border in Idaho.

For maps and sources of information on hot springs and spas, see Wildaboututah.org.
Thanks to the Lion’s Gate Manor in Lava Hot Springs for supporting research and development of this Wild About Utah topic.

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.
Credits:

Images: Map by H. Strand, Data from Blackett and Wakefield 2002.

Text:     Holly Strand, Stokes Nature Center

Sources & Additional Reading:

Blackett, R.E., and Wakefield, S.I., 2002, Geothermal resources of Utah, a digital atlas of Utah’s geothermal resources: Utah Geological Survey, OFR-397, CD-ROM. Available online http://www.geology.utah.gov/emp/geothermal/wells_springs_database.htm [accessed January 10, 2010]

Blackett, R.E. Utah Geothermal Wells & Springs Interactive Map. 1:500,000. Utah Geological Survey, Cedar City Office. http://www.geology.utah.gov/geothermal/interactive/index.html. [ accessed January 10, 2010]

DeTar, R.E. Thermal Waters. Digital Atlas of Idaho. http://imnh.isu.edu/DIGITALATLAS/ [ accessed January 10, 2010]

Oregon Institute of Technology. Geothermal Resources of Utah. Geo-Heat Center Quarterly Bulletin Vol. 25. No. 4. http://www.oit.edu/docs/default-source/geoheat-center-documents/quarterly-bulletin/vol-25/25-4/25-4-bull-all.pdf [ accessed January 10, 2010]

Utah Geological Survey. Geothermal Occurrences in Utah. http://www.geology.utah.gov/emp/geothermal/geothermal_occurrences_in_utah.htm

Travel:
Lion’s Gate Manor in Lava Hot Springs. (208) 776-5118 http://www.lionsgatemanor.com/index.html

Geothermal Springs in Idaho, http://www.energy.idaho.gov/renewableenergy/recreation.shtml

 

Utah Lobster Étouffée

Click to view larger image Northern Crayfish Orconectes virilis. Photo Copyright 2009 Ellen Wakely
Northern Crayfish Orconectes virilis
© 2009 Ellen Wakely

Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

Remember this song?:

You get a line and I’ll get a pole honey
You get a line and I’ll get a pole, babe
You get a line and I’ll get a pole
And we’ll go down to the crawdad hole
Honey, baby mine

Did you know you that the “Crawdad Song” is relevant for Utahns? Not long ago, I encountered a rocky stream just teeming with crayfish.

Crawfish, crawdaddies, freshwater lobsters and mudbugs are all different names for the same little creature. Like a lobster, the crayfish has a joined head and midsection, and a segmented body. Crayfish come in assorted colors: sandy yellow, green, white, pink or dark brown. And they are usually about (3 inches) long.

Crayfish conceal themselves under rocks or logs. They are most active at night, when they feed on snails, algae, insect larvae, worms, and other delicacies.

There are about 330 different species that occur in North America. They are especially concentrated in the southern Mississippi Basin. Utah has only one native—the pilose crayfish. Its range is in northern Utah’s Bear River, Weber River and Ogden River drainages and in the Raft River Mountains drainages.

Utah also has two known invasive crayfish, The northern crayfish is a very successful and aggressive species. It was introduced and stocked in the 60’s and 70’s and is increasingly widespread. These crayfish are particularly abundant in Flaming Gorge and Glen Canyon reservoirs and in the Virgin and Duchesne drainages. The Louisiana crayfish has also found its way to Utah. This is the culinary crayfish that you ‘ve probably encountered in jambalaya and crawfish étouffée.

Nonnative crayfish infestations degrade freshwater habitats if the new crayfish outcompetes natives. Invasives also carry disease. Too many crayfish can destabilize stream banks by digging and burrowing.

In controlled quantities and locations crayfish provide wonderful food for fish, birds and people too. You can catch crayfish with
chunks of meat or fish. They are attracted to the odor.

Anyone with a valid Utah fishing or combination license may take crayfish for personal use during the open fishing season set for the given body of water. Just make sure you don’t transport any live crayfish away from the body of water where taken.

Thanks to The ToneWay Project at Toneway.com for their rendition of the crawdad song.
And to Dr. Scott Miller of the College of Natural Resources Bug Lab at Utah State University.

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.

Credits:

Images: © 2009 Ellen Wakely Northern Crayfish Orconectes virilis
Text:     Holly Strand, Stokes Nature Center

Sources & Additional Reading:

Johnson, J. E. 1986. Inventory of Utah Crayfish with Notes on Current Distribution. Great Basin Naturalist, 46(4):625 – 631.: https://ojs.lib.byu.edu/ojs/index.php/wnan/article/viewArticle/1907

Utah Division of Wildlife Resouces. October 01, 2009 Crayfishing for fun and for food. http://wildlife.utah.gov/fishing/crayfish.php [Accessed Nov 13,, 2009]

Last Blank Spots on the Map

Audio:  mp3 Listen to WildAboutUtah

Today the river corridor still retains
its wild and pristine qualities.
Copyright 2009 Dan Miller from the book
The River Knows Everything

Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

The Green River is one of Utah’s signature waterways. It begins high in Wyoming’s Wind River Range and winds southward 730 miles to join the Colorado River in Canyonlands National Park. 60% of river’s extent lies in Utah– attracting river runners, archaeologists, fishermen, hunters and hikers. And of course, geologists.

Desolation boasts steep dramatic walls.
From the top of the Tavaputs Plateau to the river
is deeper than the Grand Canyon.
Click to view larger image,
Photo Copyright 2009 Dan Miller

It’s hard to believe that less than 150 years ago, most of the Green and the Colorado canyonlands were unlined areas marked “UNEXPLORED” on maps. One such place was the area between Uinta Valley and Gunnison’s Crossing — now called Green River, UT. Another blank spot lay south of the crossing all the way to Paria which is now called Lee’s Ferry in Arizona.

To some folks, a blank spot on a map is an irresistible call to come and see what’s there. So it was with John Wesley Powell, a one-armed Civil War veteran working as a curator in a small natural history museum in Illinois. He became intrigued with exploring the canyons of the Colorado and the Green after spending some time out west collecting rock samples.

Lighthouse Rock 1871
Courtesy Arizona Historical Society

Impatient for adventure and discovery, Powell quickly assembled a crew of nine men –mostly rough and tumble mountain men used to living off the land. They set off from Green River WY and were making good time until disaster struck in the Canyon of Lodore. One of the boats hit a boulder, and a third of the food and half of the cooking gear sunk to the bottom of the river. A week later, a fire destroyed more food and gear. But eventually, five of the original nine made it all the way to the mouth of the Virgin River in Arizona.

A second expedition benefited from more funding, planning and hindsight. This time round, Powell chose a more scientifically-minded crew including a geologist, cartographer and photographer to research and document the trip. Once again they launched from Green River, WY. Powell perched in an armchair strapped to the middle bulkhead of a boat named after his wife, the Emma Dean . He read poetry to the crew as they floated along calm stretches of the river. The crew ran the Green and then started down the Colorado without any major incidents. After overwintering on the north rim, they ran the rapids of the Grand Canyon in late summer of the following year.

John Wesley Powell with Tau-gu
a Paiute, 1871-1872
Courtesy Arizona Historical Society

Upon return, surveyor Alven Thompson completed a topographic map of the region, and Powell’s monumental account was published in 1875 by the Smithsonian Institution.

The last “UNEXPLORED”s on the United States map were now replaced by specific landscape features with measured altitudes. Nowadays we still use the many evocative names that Powell and his men bestowed during their travels. Names like Flaming Gorge, Glen Canyon, Dirty Devil River, Escalante River, Cataract Canyon, and Desolation Canyon tell us something of the experiences of these brave men as they were exploring Utah’s last mysterious places.

Thanks to the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation for supporting research and development of this Wild About Utah topic.

Additional thanks to Rey Lloyd Hatt and the friendly staff of the John Wesley Powell River History Museum in Green River UT.

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.
Credits:

Images: Copyright Dan Miller from the book
The River Knows Everything: Desolation Canyon and the Green

Powell images: Courtesy Arizona Historical Society

Text:     Holly Strand, Stokes Nature Center

Sources & Additional Reading

Aton, James M. and Dan Miller (photographer) 2009. The River Knows Everything: Desolation Canyon and the Green. Logan: Utah State University Press.

http://www.usu.edu/usupress/books/index.cfm?isbn=6523

Stegner, Wallace. “ Green River: The Gateway” in Blackstock, Alan. 2005. A Green River reader. Salt Lake City: University Utah Press.
http://www.amazon.com/Green-River-Reader-Alan-Blackstock/dp/0874808375

John Wesley Powell River History Museum in Green River UT http://johnwesleypowell.com/

USGS. 1976. Geological Survey Information 74-24. John Wesley Powell: Soldier, Explorer, Scientist.
http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/geology/publications/inf/74-24/index.htm [Accessed October 30 2009]