Wild Cats

Bobcat in plants Courtesy US FWS Steve Hillebrand, Photographer
Bobcat in plants
Courtesy US FWS
Steve Hillebrand, Photographer
I remember well my first encounter with a wild cat. I was sitting in a deer stand beneath a cross-country powerline, at the edge of a meadowed thoroughfare the whitetails frequented. Dusk was settling in—nearly time to go—as the trees opposite me began to rustle. With a few minutes of legal light left, I readied my trigger finger; but instead of a deer, a bobcat exited the woods. I was shocked. This—I had not expected. I watched as the cat looked left, then right, then straight at me, making eye contact. There was no reason I should have been noticed. I hadn’t made a sound, hadn’t moved in nearly three hours save the scanning of my eyes and the slight rise and fall of my chest with every breath.
Bobcat Public Domain image courtesy US FWS National Conservation Training Center
Bobcat
Public Domain image courtesy US FWS
National Conservation Training Center
Still, I had been found. The cat ambled slowly but with purpose toward the ladder that connected my seat to the ground, stopping a few meters away. He or she never broke eye contact. Neither did I. I’m not sure why. Instinct, perhaps. I would learn many years later from a man who had stared down a mountain lion from a meter away that you never break eye contact with a big cat in the wild. Never. I have no idea how long we sat there together. Minutes? Seconds? Hours? It was fully dark when the animal turned to leave—so dark I had lost the pattern of its coat in the shadows. I never saw where it went; but I’ve been enamored with wild cats ever since.

Bobcat Courtesy US FWS Gary Kramer, Photographer
Bobcat
Courtesy US FWS
Gary Kramer, Photographer
The landscapes that have shifted and morphed and been politically bordered into what is now the state of Utah has been populated by wild cats since at least 40,000 years ago. During the Pleistocene Epoch’s last ice age, the infamous saber-toothed cat roamed Utah’s glacier-clogged crags. Bones of the saber-toothed species known as Smilodon have been unearthed in Utah, most notably from the Silver Creek site near present-day Park City. Smilodon, with its legendary curved, saber-like canine teeth, was a fearsome hunter of ancient Utah’s mega fauna like the mastodon and wooly mammoth; but when the glaciers receded and the Earth began to melt, the mega fauna couldn’t adapt, so Smilodon had nothing to hunt.

Smilodon gave way through the millennia to the smaller but no less impressive cats that occupy Utah’s crags and hills today—the bobcat, the Canada Lynx, and, of course, the famous mountain lion.

Big cat footprint Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
Big cat footprint Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
It hasn’t been too long since that spring evening in the canyons of southern Utah. We had just rappelled into a small grotto where, at the bottom, there was an ephemeral pool. The sand was already wet with little droplets along the edge, a footprint here and there leading away—the way we would take—down the only path toward home. We chattered more loudly, making ourselves known, as we proceeded. Then we’d grow quiet again, eyes sweeping here and there, secretly hoping we would get a peak of the lion as it sauntered away from us. We never did, but it was there.

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

Credits:

Photos: Courtesy US FWS
Big cat track photo courtesy and copyright Josh Boling
Audio: Includes audio from North Sounds, Inc.
Text: Josh Boling, 2018

Sources & Additional Reading

Golla, Julie M., “Urban Bobcat (Lynx rufus) Ecology in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas Metroplex” (2017). All Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 6857.
https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/etd/6857

Bauman, Joe, Ice Age in Utah, Deseret News, Dec 3, 1997, https://www.deseretnews.com/article/598582/Ice-age-in-Utah.html

Larese-Casanova, Mark, Mountain Wildlife Field Book, Utah Master Naturalists, https://extension.usu.edu/utahmasternaturalist/files/UMNP_Mountains_Wildlife_Book_booklet.pdf

Fossils on Reclamation Lands Provide a Glimpse Into the Past, https://www.usbr.gov/newsroom/stories/detail.cfm?RecordID=57996

Ice Age Animals of Utah, Utah Geological Services, A division of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, https://geology.utah.gov/popular/general-geology/ice-age/ice-age-animals-of-utah/

Strand, Holly, Mountain Lion, Wild About Utah, Mar 4, 2010https://wildaboututah.org/mountain-lion/

Greene, Jack, My Cougar Encounter, Wild About Utah, Jan 16, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/my-cougar-encounter/

Murie, O. J. (1982). Animal Tracks. Peterson Field Guides. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin. http://www.amazon.com/Peterson-Field-Guide-Animal-Tracks/dp/061851743X




Bears

Bear jams, bear stories, bear encounters, bear dreams – I’ve experienced all. Such was the case on our annual Teton trip where I was joined by over 25 USU students and others. Bison, birds, bugling elk, sparring moose, and always the highlight- bears.

Nothing quite compares with the mighty bruins to captures one’s imagination- a combination of fear and reverence. They have been with us for many millennia, our companions of the wild. Perhaps it’s their almost human traits and mystery, their intelligence and unpredictability.

Black bear, Ursus americanus, eating hawthorn berries, Wilson Road, Teton N.P. 10/7/18 Courtesy and Copyright Jack Greene, Photographer
Black bear, Ursus americanus, eating hawthorn berries, Wilson Road, Teton N.P. 10/7/18
Courtesy and Copyright Jack Greene, Photographer
This year’s bears were especially close as their feeding frenzy took them on the roads edge where an abundance of hawthorn berries awaited their rapacious apatite. All of this topped by both black and grizzly, two juveniles oblivious to our presence as they went about preparing for their long winter sleep.

Berry feeding grizzly bear, Ursus arctos horribilis, a few hundred yards further down the road, Wilson Road, Teton N.P. 10/7/18, Courtesy and Copyright Jack Greene, Photographer
Berry feeding grizzly bear, Ursus arctos horribilis, a few hundred yards further down the road, Wilson Road, Teton N.P. 10/7/18,
Courtesy and Copyright Jack Greene, Photographer
Utah’s bears are in the same macrophage mode. Unfortunately, our grizzlies disappeared with “Old Ephraim”, a magnificent animal of unusual size and intelligence, well up in years before his life was taken by a legendary trapper, Frank Clark. Frank was so moved as the great bears spirit was released by his bullet, that he ended his long career after killing well over 100 in the Bear River Range of northern Utah.

Sixty-two people nationwide have been killed by black bears over a 109 period, only one of those in Utah. Avalanches, bee stings, and lightning kill far more people. But many Utah bears have been killed by hunters averaging around 130 per year. A few of these are killed by those who feel threatened. In rare instances, black bear will bluff charge, or clack their jaws, which is actually expressing fear of humans. Running away is their normal behavior.

Although a precise count isn’t available, Utah’s black bear population is somewhere between 3,000 and 3,500 animals. In 2008, 314 bear hunting permits were issued and 134 animals taken. Although a hunter, I have no desire to kill a bear. I consider them my spirit animal, having been near them most of my days- from early years in N. Wisconsin, working in Denali and Yellowstone N.P.’s, and spending many years in bear infested wild country otherwise. Forested areas of Central and S. Utah have much higher bear populations than does the north end. I’ve seen only bear sign in our mountains, still hoping to get a glimpse one day.

“Observing a bear dancing in the golden rays of the sun, a Shoshone sage understood it to be a dance of gratitude as well as a prayer for the healing and protection of their young. From that point further the Shoshone have instigated their own Sun Dance where the bear is a central figure of the ritual, symbolizing protection, strength and continuation of life.” Jack G.

This is Jack Greene- and I continue to be Wild About Utah!

Credits:

Images: Courtesy Jack Greene
Audio: Courtesy Western Soundscape Archive, University of Utah, licensed under CCA-ND
Courtesy National Park Service
Text:     Jack Greene

Sources & Additional Reading:

Venefica, Avia Native American Bear Meaning, Whats Your Sign, https://www.whats-your-sign.com/native-american-bear-meaning.html

Welker, Glenn, Native American Bear Stories, Indigenous People, last updated 06/11/2016, http://www.indigenouspeople.net/bear.htm

Gates, Chuck, The bear truth: Utah’s black bears pose little danger to humans, Deseret News, Oct 15, 2009, https://www.deseretnews.com/article/705336743/The-bear-truth-Utahs-black-bears-pose-little-danger-to-humans.html

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/

Leave it to Beaver

Leave it to Beaver: Beaver Dam and Pond Courtesy and Copyright Bethany Neilson, Photographer
Beaver Dam and Pond
Courtesy and Copyright Bethany Neilson, Photographer
A few years ago the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources conducted a wonderful workshop for educators to provide them with materials to take to their classes to help students understand the many issues dealing with wildlife.

As an introductory activity, the Ranger asked each of us to name the animal we thought that had the greatest influence or impact on ecosystems. People mentioned Deer, Cougars, Moose, Wolves and so on until it was my turn. Without hesitation I said “Beavers”. One of the teachers laughed at me and mocked my answer trying to embarrass me. So I asked the Ranger to repeat the question: Which animal did we think had the greatest influence or impact on ecosystems.

Leave it to Beaver: Beaver Dam Releasing Water Courtesy and Copyright Bethany Neilson, Photographer
Beaver Dam Releasing Water
Courtesy and Copyright Bethany Neilson, Photographer
“Oh”, I said making certain I had now understood the question. “In that case I have no hesitation now in saying the Beaver.” The room grew quiet, but the Ranger agreed with my answer.

Leave it to Beaver: Below a Beaver Dam Courtesy and Copyright Bethany Neilson, Photographer
Below a Beaver Dam
Courtesy and Copyright Bethany Neilson, Photographer
There is no question that all animals impact ecosystems. Heavy grazing or browsing by deer or elk can change the structure of forests and meadows. Predators, or the lack of them, can definitely alter what happens to those species. But consider the beaver for a moment. There are positive and negative things they do, but they definitely impact ecosystems. So consider this love-hate relationship humans have with them.

Yes, they will take down some trees to build dams and lodges. Problems might include:
The potential flooding of homes, agricultural land, timber land or orchards;
Their abandoned dams can create floods as they collapse;
There is potential flooding of roads and blocking of culverts;
And the deterioration of stream banks can occur.

But in a natural setting, where they do not impact roads or developments, beavers can do amazing things.
On the positive side, they create ponds which:
Provide habitat for trout;
Provide drinking water for all the animals in the area, from birds to bears;
Provide a storage of water that could be critical in drought conditions;
Trap silt and control small floods;
Invigorate the sprouting of early riparian and wetland plants;
Can help combat the effects of continual rising temperatures and earlier Spring snowmelt by maintaining a water supply for ranching, wildlife and native vegetation;
And they are basically constructed and maintained at little or no cost to humans.

Utah State University, and the Division of Wildlife Resources, have been developing partnerships with landowners to help restore beavers in locations where they can succeed and provide benefits to the land, wildlife, and ranching efforts. In areas where there are few trees, they construct Beaver Dam Analogues by pounding fence posts across streams, weaving willow branches between them, and plugging the base with large rocks and mud. These are similar to natural beaver dams and give them a good start to build their own homes there.
If you are aware of any beavers in questionable areas, contact

USU Watershed Sciences or the DWR to help relocate them where they can impact ecosystems in positive ways.

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

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern
Audio: Courtesy Western Soundscape Archive, University of Utah, Sound provided by Jeff Rice, licensed under CCA-ND
Text: Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

Additional Reading

North American Beaver, Castor canadensis, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Wildlife Notebook Series No. 24,
http://digitallibrary.utah.gov/awweb/awarchive?type=download&item=56529

UTAH BEAVER MANAGEMENT PLAN 2010–2020, Developed with the Beaver Advisory Committee, DWR Publication 09-29, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, 2010, https://wildlife.utah.gov/furbearer/pdf/beaver_plan_2010-2020.pdf

WATS 6860 – Partnering with Beaver in Restoration Design, University Catalog 2017-2018, Utah State University, http://catalog.usu.edu/preview_course_nopop.php?catoid=12&coid=93002

Beaver: Restoration liaison between riparian and upland systems. Joe Wheaton, Assistant Professor, Utah …, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62A3RqL7Xp8

WEBINAR: Cheap and Cheerful Stream Riparian Restoration with Beaver. Joe Wheaton …
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1uysDrOI_w

Beaver Restoration Workshop, Partnering with Beaver in Restoration, http://beaver.joewheaton.org/

Webinar: Cheap & Cheerful Stream Restoration – With Beaver? http://beaver.joewheaton.org/beaver-news/webinar-cheap-cheerful-stream-restoration-with-beaver

Science Unwrapped Talk by Joe on Beaver
http://beaver.joewheaton.org/beaver-news/science-unwrapped-talk-by-joe-on-beaver

Videos & Movies
http://beaver.joewheaton.org/videos–movies.html

Joe Wheaton – Beaver: Restoration liaison between riparian and upland systems
http://beaver.joewheaton.org/

Dr. Joseph Michael Wheaton, Watershed Sciences, Associate Professor, https://qcnr.usu.edu/directory/wheaton_joseph
Utah Water Watch, Beaver Monitoring App, http://extension.usu.edu/utahwaterwatch/citizenscience/beavermonitoringapp/

Beaver Dam Mapping App Now Available for Citizen Scientists, http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-topics/environment/item/148-citizen-scientists-can-now-use-an-app-to-help-map-beaver-dams-in-utah


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