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

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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]

Riparian Habitat

Lower Calf Creek
A lower riparian zone
Courtesy and
Copyright © Charles Hawkins

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

When you think of Utah, a number of iconic landscapes come to mind. The arches, buttes and mesas in southeastern Utah’s red rock country; the snow-capped mountains of the majestic Wasatch Range, the endless horizon of the Bonneville Salt Flats and the immense expanse of the Great Salt Lake. But the most critical ecosystem in terms of life support for Utah’s plants and animals is not always recognized. I’m referring to riparian zones. These are the ecosystems that occur along the banks of streams and rivers. They are most recognizable in the desert where they occur as distinctive green strips of vegetation along waterways. But they also occur in grasslands, shrublands and forests albeit with different compositions of plants and animals.

Riparian areas provide all the basic needs of life – food, water and shelter from predators – in a surprisingly compact space. Intact riparian zones are physically complex, with a layer of grass, then shrubs, then upper canopy trees. This structural complexity creates a number of biological niches. That’s why the highest levels of biodiversity are consistently found there. Average bird densities are approximately twice as high in riparian areas as in adjacent upland areas. And more wildlife species use riparian areas than all other habitats in Utah combined. Even fish populations are higher in streams adjacent to riparian areas. Fish use woody debris as shelter, and the vegetation stabilizes stream channels and reduces temperature fluctuations in the water.

Riparian areas only cover about one half of one percent of Utah’s total land area. Above 5500 feet the dominant woody plants are willow, cottonwood, water birch, black hawthorn and wild rose. Common animals include the northern river otter, the beaver, American dipper, smooth greensnake and the rubber boa.

Invasive Tamarisk(Salt Cedar)
populates a lower riparian
zone in Professor Valley along
the Colorado River
Courtesy and
Copyright © 2009 Holly Strand

Lowland riparian areas represent one of the rarest habitats in the state-covering only 0.2 percent of Utah’s total land area. Fremont cottonwood, netleaf hackberry, velvet ash, desert willow and squaw-bush are the most visible plants here. The exotic tamarisk and Russian olive are now frequently part of the lowland mix. Mollusks, broad-tailed hummingbirds, canyon treefrogs, Allen’s big-eared bats, yellow-billed cuckoos, and many other animals depend on lowland riparian habitats. My personal riparian favorite is the belted kingfisher that patrols the green-lined waterways in search of tasty fish.

Humans were originally riparian creatures. But once we learned to pipe and move water at will, we were free to settle elsewhere. Nevertheless, we are still attracted to aquatic landscapes. So Utah’s riparian areas have taken on a recreational function for many of us. They offer great fishing, they cool us off as we paddle or float, and they provide a quiet sanctuary to enjoy the sight and sound of water. Best of all, riparian areas offer an excellent opportunity to catch a glimpse of Utah’s amazing wildlife.

Thanks to the USU College of Natural Resources for supporting research and development of this Wild About Utah topic. And thanks to Frank Howe of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and. Charles Hawkins of USU’s Watershed Science Department for their help with the scientific content of this piece.

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

Credits:

Text: Stokes Nature Center: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, Frank Howe & Holly Strand

References:
“Commonly Asked Questions About Riparian Management Systems,” Agroecology Issue Team, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa State University.
http://www.buffer.forestry.iastate.edu/Assets/FAQ.pdf
Hawkins, Charles P. “What are Riparian Ecosystems and Why are We Worried About Them?” Riparian Resources: A Symposium on the Disturbances, Management, Economics and Conflicts Associated with Riparian Ecosystems, Natural Resources and Environmental Issues, Volume I, 1994, College of Natural Resources, Utah State University.
http://www.cnr.usu.edu/quinney/files/uploads/NREI1.pdf
State of Utah, Division of Wildlife Resources. Lowland Riparian Habitat. http://wildlife.utah.gov/cwcs/01.pdf [ accessed May 11, 2009 ]
State of Utah, Division of Wildlife Resources. Mountain Riparian Habitat. http://wildlife.utah.gov/cwcs/03.pdf [ accessed May 11, 2009 ]

Sagebrush

Sagebrush near Raft River, UT
Sagebrush near Raft River, UT – Photo Courtesy and Copyright 2007 Dr. Leila Shultz

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

I was always prone to homesickness when I spent long periods in the Eastern US and abroad. Returning to Colorado for visits, I would break off a small branch of sagebrush to pack in my suitcase. That way I could always take some essence of home along with me. Now I don’t need to do that. The desert air and cold winters here in Utah make it a sagebrush heaven.

The scent that has become so dear to me comes from the volatile oils of the sagebrush plant. Ironically, the smell that appeals so much to me repels most animals. The aromatic properties of the sagebrush are a by-product of chemicals that evolved as a pest deterrent and as anti-freeze. Sagebrush oils have a very bitter taste. Browsers, such as deer and elk avoid the plants, nibbling on sagebrush only in winter months when the concentration of oils has decreased. And even then, only as a last resort. The pronghorn– a North American native that co-evolved with sagebrush–can tolerate it better than other herbivores.

Within the sunflower family, sagebrush belongs to the genus Artemisia – a group of wind-pollinated plants spread mostly across the northern hemisphere. The 400 or so species in this genus include a variety of sagebrushes, sageworts, and wormwoods.

The Atlas of Vascular Plants of Utah lists 19 different species in the Artemisia genus. Among the most common, you’ll find sand sagebrush in the dunes and deep sand regions in southern Utah. Black sagebrush is found on gentle, rocky slopes and windswept ridges in dry, shallow soils, in the foothills and desert mountain ranges. Bud sagebrush is common in salt-desert shrub communities from 4-6000 ft. Almost everywhere, however, big sagebrush dominates. It occurs in valleys, basins, and mountain slopes, at elevations between 2,500 and 10,000 feet. In Utah, you’ll also hear big sagebrush called Great Basin, Wyoming or mountain sagebrush.

Humans have put the unique qualities of sagebrush and its relatives to good use. The volatile oils are toxic to many intestinal parasites, therefore early Americans used it to rid themselves of worms. Oils have also been used to combat infections and to treat internal wounds. Eurasian wormwood–an introduced plant in Utah–is the defining ingredient, in the liquor absinthe, and is used for flavoring in other spirits and wines, including bitters and vermouth. The spice tarragon comes from dragonswort, an Artemisa species found in both Eurasia and N. America.

Ecologists used to think that the presence of sagebrush discourages or suppresses other forms of life. Certainly, sagebrush desert steppes are generally poor in species. The truth is that few species can tolerate the temperature extremes, soil conditions and lack of water the way that sagebrush can. So the next time you see some, pick a leaf, crush it, smell it, and admire this tough but well-adapted Utah native.

Dr. Leila Shultz, a Utah State University expert on sagebrush provided the science information for this piece.

Thanks to the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation for supporting research and development of Wild About Utah topics.
For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center I’m Holly Strand.

 

Credits:

Photo Courtesy & Copyright 2007 Dr. Leila Shultz

Text: Stokes Nature Center: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading:

Digital Atlas of the Vascular Plants of Utah, http://earth.gis.usu.edu/plants/index.html