The Ecology in and around the Logan River

Belted Kingfisher Ceryl alcyon Courtesy US FWS, C Schlawe, Photographer
Belted Kingfisher
Ceryl alcyon
Courtesy US FWS,
C Schlawe, Photographer
Logan River ecology is about connections between highlands and lowlands, water and land, life in and around the river and resources that support that life.

The river begins in southeastern Idaho and runs 53.5 miles to its confluence with the Cutler Reservoir in Utah’s Cache Valley. The river transitions from mountain riparian, characterized by low growing willows and coniferous trees, to the valley’s lowland riparian where it’s dominated by a variety of shrubs, cottonwoods, and willow trees. Both wildlife and plants change along this elevational gradient giving the Logan River greater ecological diversity than might be found over hundreds of miles of a flatland river.

Rivers move water. They also transport sediments and nutrients that drop out of the water wherever the current slows, for example on floodplains during spring floods. This is why floodplains, or riparian zones, have such productive soils.

The rich soils and water available on the floodplain support a wide diversity of plants. These plants in turn provide underlying layers for insects, nesting sites for birds, and water-cooling shade that harbors the heat sensitive cutthroat trout. Plants also drop their leaves into the river providing food and nutrients to aquatic insects.

One insect found in the Logan River is the mayfly, a graceful macroinvertebrate with unique upright wings and a delicate silhouette. The female adult drops her eggs on the river’s surface which then fall to the river’s bottom. The nymphs hatch within a few days or weeks. They spend the next year moving along the river’s bottom hiding among vegetation, rocks, and fallen leaves. After a year, nymphs swim to the surface and molt into duns which fly to nearby riparian vegetation. After a couple hours duns shed their skins and become brightly colored adult mayflies called spinners.

Male spinners form a swarm over the water to attract females who fly into the swarm. Pairs mate in flight; after mating the female flies down to the river to deposit her eggs, and dies shortly thereafter.

A large number of mayflies do not complete their life cycle as they are eaten by fish, spiders, bats and birds.

Bonneville cutthroat trout, Utah’s state fish, subsist largely on aquatic insects including mayflies. Feared to be extinct in the 1970s, biologists searched the state for Bonneville cutthroat trout and when a population was found in the Logan River, wildlife managers and USU scientists teamed together to ensure the cutthroat population became and remained robust.

American Dipper Courtesy US FWS Dave Menke, Photographer
American Dipper
Courtesy US FWS
Dave Menke, Photographer
Hundreds of bird species eat aquatic insects; one bird, however, specializes in eating aquatic insects under water. The American Dipper, walks on the bottom of Logan River using its wings like a submarine’s diving planes to keep it from bobbing to the surface. Walking along the river bed, the dipper turns over small rocks and sunken sticks to uncover and eat insect nymphs.

Other riparian birds, like the belted kingfisher, are fish-eaters. This handsome, crested, steel blue bird can be seen perched in the trees next to the Logan River eying fish beneath the surface. At times, kingfishers will hover directly above the water announcing their presence with a loud, rattling call. At the right time, the kingfisher dives headlong into the river using its long, sharp beak like a tweezers to catch small fish.

Rivers, like the Logan, and their riparian zones, support some of the richest biological diversity in the West. They are forceful and ever-changing, but provide all that life needs to survive and thrive in a compact area. These are dynamic ribbons of green and blue that connect land to water, plants to animals, and humans to nature.

This is Shauna Leavitt and I’m wild about Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright ©
Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text: Shauna Leavitt, USGS Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University
Co-Authored by:

Sources & Additional Reading

Geologic Map of the Logan 7.5′ Quadrangle, Cache County, Utah, Utah Geological Survey, 1996, https://ugspub.nr.utah.gov/publications/misc_pubs/mp-96-1.pdf

Williams, Stewart J. Lake Bonneville: Geology of Southern Cache Valley, Utah, Geological Survey Professional Paper 257-C, US Department of the Interior, 1962, https://pubs.usgs.gov/pp/0257c/report.pdf

Biek, Bob; Willis, Grant; Ehler, Buck; Utah’s Glacial Geology, Utah Geological Survey, September 2010, https://geology.utah.gov/map-pub/survey-notes/utahs-glacial-geology/

A Short History of Logan River

Over fifteen thousand years ago, the glacially fed Logan River was flowing into Lake Bonneville which covered most of the NW quadrant of the state and completely filled Utah’s Cache Valley.

The river met the ancient Lake Bonneville some distance up Logan Canyon so it was much shorter. Animals that lived along the river included saber-toothed cats, woolly mammoths and giant ground sloths.

About ten thousand years later, after Lake Bonneville had disappeared, the Logan River meandered across the old lake bed and the Shoshone Native American tribe made Cache Valley their home.

Shoshone Women and Children. Photo taken in 1870, Unknown photographer. Courtesy USU Digital History Collections.
Shoshone Women and Children. Photo taken in 1870, Unknown photographer. Courtesy USU Digital History Collections.
Frank Howe, chairman of the Logan River Task Force, adjunct associate professor, and university liaison for Utah Division of Wildlife Resources said, “When people say ‘let’s return Cache Valley to how it was naturally’ they don’t realize the valley [had been] managed by the Shoshone for thousands of years before the settlers arrived.”

The Shoshone burned the valley frequently to drive the Bison and provide better forage for their horses. This impacted the vegetation across the valley and along the river. Instead of large stands of tall trees, the river was lined with shrubs which responded better to fire, hence the valley’s first name Willow Valley.

Water flowing in Right-hand Fork one of the tributaries of Logan River. Courtesy & Copyright Shauna Leavitt
Water flowing in Right-hand Fork one of the tributaries of Logan River. Courtesy & Copyright Shauna Leavitt
During this time the flow and movement of the Logan River was much different, in part because of the beaver families who built their homes and dams up and down the waterway. The dams created ponds whose waters seeped into the valley bottoms raising the water table and saturating the sponge. Joseph Wheaton, associate professor of the Department of Watershed Sciences in the Quinney College of Natural Resources explained, “the saturated ground increased resilience to drought, flood and fire.”

In the early 1800s trappers arrived in the valley.

Michel Bourdon was one of the earliest trappers to see Cache Valley around 1818. The river was, for a short time, named after him. A few years later, Ephraim Logan arrived in Cache Valley. He and many other trappers attended the Rocky Mountain Rendezvous along the Bourdon River in 1826. Shortly thereafter, Logan died during one of his outings and the area’s trappers decided to rename the river Logan, in his honor.

Trapping for the fur industry severely impacted the beaver population and the Logan River. The dam building beavers were almost trapped to extinction because of the European fashion demand. Luckily, fashion trends changed before beaver were extinct. However, the virtual elimination of beavers fundamentally changed the character of the Logan River to this day.

Man fly-fishing in Logan River, Logan Canyon, Utah, July 21, 1937. Courtesy of USU Digital History Collections.
Man fly-fishing in Logan River, Logan Canyon, Utah, July 21, 1937. Courtesy of USU Digital History Collections.
In the 1850s the first settlers arrived in Cache Valley. Their arrival had a large impact on Logan River. Within a year they began constructing the first canal for irrigation.

Logan’s Main Street about 1920, Courtesy of Darrin Smith
Logan’s Main Street about 1920, Courtesy of Darrin Smith
Around the turn of the 19th century it became apparent the grazing and timber need of the settlers had been hard on the Logan River and the surrounding landscape. Albert F. Potter surveying the Logan River watershed for President Theodore Roosevelt, reported the canyon had been overgrazed and its timber overcut. The timber, at the time, was used for railroad ties and to build Logan City.

Logan Canyon about 1910. Four waterways: the aquaduct which was used for power generation, the canal, a water way that ran behind the building which had been part of the old Hercules Power Plant, and the Logan River. Photographer H.G. Hutteballe, Courtesy of Darrin Smith Photo Collection
Logan Canyon about 1910. Four waterways: the aquaduct which was used for power generation, the canal, a water way that ran behind the building which had been part of the old Hercules Power Plant, and the Logan River. Photographer H.G. Hutteballe, Courtesy of Darrin Smith Photo Collection
As the valley’s population grew, so did the demand for Logan River water.

Color enhanced photo 1910 photo of Logan Canyon Courtesy Logan Library
Color enhanced photo 1910 photo of Logan Canyon
Courtesy Logan Library
Over the next few months, Wild About Utah will continue this series on the Logan River to tell the stories about its ecology, social value, and how humans have worked together to make it a community amenity not just a canal.

We hope you’ll join us as we learn more interesting facts about Logan River.

This is Shauna Leavitt and I’m wild about Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright ©
Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text: Shauna Leavitt, USGS Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University
Co-Authored by: Frank Howe, chairman of the Logan River Task Force, adjunct associate professor, and university liaison for Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Sources & Additional Reading

Geologic Map of the Logan 7.5′ Quadrangle, Cache County, Utah, Utah Geological Survey, 1996, https://ugspub.nr.utah.gov/publications/misc_pubs/mp-96-1.pdf

Williams, Stewart J. Lake Bonneville: Geology of Southern Cache Valley, Utah, Geological Survey Professional Paper 257-C, US Department of the Interior, 1962, https://pubs.usgs.gov/pp/0257c/report.pdf

Biek, Bob; Willis, Grant; Ehler, Buck; Utah’s Glacial Geology, Utah Geological Survey, September 2010, https://geology.utah.gov/map-pub/survey-notes/utahs-glacial-geology/

Lower San Juan – Piute Farms Waterfall

Lower San Juan Piute Farms Waterfall, An Example of Superimposition Courtesy & Copyright Mark McKinstry, Photographer
Piute Farms Waterfall on the San Juan River, An Example of Superimposition
Courtesy & Copyright Mark McKinstry, Photographer

Piute Farms waterfall is a 25-ft high cascade that has formed along the San Juan River and spans its entire width. The location is a remote spot in an upstream arm of Lake Powell reservoir.

To reach the falls it takes a rough two-hour drive from Mexican Hat, or a 100-mile-boat ride from Bullfrog Marina in Lake Powell.

It formed when the tributary re-routed itself, cut through a thick layer of sediment, and began flowing over a bedrock cliff.

Scientists call this phenomenon superimposition.

Jack Schmidt, Janet Quinney Lawson Chair of Colorado River Studies in the Quinney College of Natural Resources at USU explains, “When reservoirs are created by the construction of dams, the sediment load of inflowing rivers is deposited in the most upstream part of the reservoir. In Lake Powell…the deposits in the…San Juan arm of the reservoir are as much as 80ft thick.”

“[If} reservoirs…drop…the inflowing rivers erode into the accumulated sediment. There is no guarantee the location of the new channel will be in the same place as…the original channel.”

The San Juan River’s original route was buried under the thick layer of sediment. The river’s response was to form a new channel one mile south of the original route and over the ridge.

Schmidt continues, “A [similar] thing…happened in Lake Mead reservoir where an unrunnable rapid formed near Pearce Ferry where the new Colorado River flows over a lip… [of] consolidated sediment. Although not a vertical waterfall, Pearce Ferry Rapid is sometimes more dangerous to boating than any rapid in the Grand Canyon!”

With future droughts, we can expect reservoirs to be at low levels for extended periods, and superimposition will continue to occur forming additional waterfalls and obstructions. Managers monitor the positive and negative effects of these changes.

One impact of the Piute Farms waterfall is a novel subpopulation of endangered razorback suckers which are now blocked from swimming upstream to spawn.

Endangered Razerbck Sucker Captured near Piute Farms Waterfall Courtesy & Copyright Mark McKinstry, Photographer
Endangered Razerbck Sucker
Captured near Piute Farms Waterfall
Courtesy & Copyright Mark McKinstry, Photographer

Zach Ahrens, Native Aquatics Biologist at Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and graduate student at USU says, “The razorback and other native fishes in the Colorado River basin have evolved over millions of years to play their roles in spite of the extremes of temperature and flow in their riverine environment. Given the uncertainty of future climate and water resources…it’s important to do what we can to ensure their continued survival.”

Before the waterfall formed, managers were not sure what percentage of razorback suckers travelled this far upstream.

Endangered Razerbck Sucker Captured near Piute Farms Waterfall Courtesy & Copyright Mark McKinstry, Photographer
Endangered Razerbck Sucker
Captured near Piute Farms Waterfall
Courtesy & Copyright Mark McKinstry, Photographer

Mark McKinstry, Biological Scientist from the Bureau of Reclamation, explains, “It took perseverance, technology, and dedication of a lot of different folks to find where…the Razorbacks are and understand the fish’s life history strategy.”

Peter MacKinnon with the Quinney College of Natural Resources at Utah State University and Biomark Inc. provided the technical expertise to set up a method to insert Razorback suckers with pit tags (similar to those used in cats and dogs) then track them with antennas placed below the falls.

With this tracking method, managers and researchers identified more than 1000 razorback suckers below the falls, apparently trying to ascend the waterfall. Approximately 2000-4000 suckers live in the San Juan River. It is estimated about 25% of the razorbacks are unable to spawn – because the waterfall blocks fish passage. This could influence the population of the endangered fish.

The Bureau of Reclamation consulted with experts on how to help razorback suckers get past the waterfall so they can move upstream and spawn. The most feasible suggestion seems to be, to build a naturalized fish passage around the side of the waterfall. Managers and volunteers would build a trap location on the upstream side of the passage where fish moving upstream could be captured; volunteers could then release the captured razorbacks and other native fish upstream where they choose to spawn.

Phaedra Budy, professor in the Watershed Sciences Department and Unit Leader for U.S. Geological Survey Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit said, “The Razorback sucker has intrinsic value to the San Juan River and beyond, is a critical member of the ecosystem, and deserves every effort for recovery.”

Managers and researchers hope their information gained and recovery efforts will give the endangered razorback suckers an increased chance for survival in its changing environment.

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 The National Park Service, licensed 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

Waterfall Still Blocks San Juan River, River Runners for Wilderness(RRFW), https://rrfw.org/riverwire/waterfall-still-blocks-san-juan-river

https://www.americansouthwest.net/utah/monument_valley/piute_farms.html

Razorback Sucker(Page 68), Utah’s Endandengered Fish, 2018 Utah Fishing Guidebook, Utah Division of Wildlife Services, https://wildlife.utah.gov/guidebooks/2018_pdfs/2018_fishing.pdf

Fish Ecology Lab, Utah State University, 
https://www.usu.edu/fel/

The River

The River: River Rapids Per Josh Boling See: https://pixabay.com/photos/river-rapids-gulch-water-stream-1209025/
River Rapids
Per Josh Boling
See:
https://pixabay.com/photos/river-rapids-gulch-water-stream-1209025/
“There isn’t a mathematical formula to describe how water moves here. It’s just impossible to predict,” he told me. I was visiting Utah State University’s Water Research Lab; and a grad student had just unleashed an impressive torrent of water into a 4-foot-square, 20-foot long, hollow plexiglass column for my viewing pleasure. He was trying to demonstrate for me the physics of the Venturi Effect. The Venturi Effect in hydrology is the reduction of water pressure after water is forced through a constriction. There’s a formula for it. Likewise, there is a formula for the increase in water’s velocity upon entering said constriction according to the principle of mass continuity—which basically states that, because water is incompressible, it inevitably moves faster as it’s continually forced through tight spaces. I understood all that, but I was more interested in the frothy madness happening in the middle of the column—the wild torrent threatening the bolts and seals of the plexiglass; the phenomenon, I was told, for which there is no formula, no predictability.

There were three of us in the boat, friends who had met guiding rivers back east nearly a decade before. We had brought an 11-foot bucket-raft against one of the gnarlier western rivers at high spring runoff—a dinghy taking on a white whale. You can always hear the whitewater before you finally see it, especially the big rapids. We had come upon it faster than anticipated. Limestone outcroppings constricted the river into a bottleneck here where it makes a dog-leg to the left; and, at 20,000 cubic-feet-per-second, the river curls back onto itself at the crest of a frothing wave. There is no formula for it; no predictability. “What do I do?” the one in back steering shouted at me. “I don’t know!” I shouted back. We tilted down into the trough of the wave.

A river is never the same twice. Fluvial geomorphology says so. Fluvial geomorphology is the study of the ways in which a river moves, changes, and interacts with its channel and the landscape around it. People who study this sort of thing talk about the character of a river and how it changes with the smallest variability. A misplaced cobble of the riverbed causes a riffle where there once wasn’t one previously; an eddy develops, changes directional flow; the river is never the same again. I have always been fascinated by this. The fluid mechanics at work in a river must be respected and understood, even if they can’t always be predicted.

We rode the wave to its frothy crest where we were thrown like rag dolls, luckily, to the center of the boat rather than overboard. At the apex of the wave, we were stuck like glue to the water as it boiled in all directions—inward, outward, upstream, and back down. “Paddle hard!” one of us shouted as we scrambled back into position, jamming our paddles into the teeth of the wave. We spun this way and that and almost back down the wave before the river released us. We shouted in triumph for the sheer thrill of experience, and because we had all managed to stay in the boat. Something I wouldn’t have predicted.

If you could freeze time and analyze the cross-sections of a whitewater wave, you might come up with a formula to explain water’s frozen movements; but the formula would never be the same twice. The river says so.

I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah!

Credits:
Image: Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling
Sound: Courtesy Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text: Josh Boling, 2019, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Sources & Additional Reading

Utah Water Research Laboratory, Utah State University, https://uwrl.usu.edu/