A Tale of Green Inspirations

Green River Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Green River
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Leopard Frog, Lithobates pipiens Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Leopard Frog, Lithobates pipiens
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Wolf Lichen, Letharia vulpina Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Wolf Lichen, Letharia vulpina
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

In one of my first childhood books I met a washerwoman hedgehog named Mrs. Tiggy-winkle who lived on a hilltop higher than the clouds that had a spring, peculiar rocks, and mysterious footmarks. Its author had studied and recorded both in words and watercolor detail in her sketchbooks everything from bird eggs and bees to caterpillars and cornflowers to water lilies and Flopsy Mopsy rabbits with naturalist precision.

What if children’s book author Beatrix Potter would have known Utah the way she captured interesting elements of places she visited while on her family holiday outings in the English Lake District, North Wales, and Scotland? I wonder how her mind might have played with our minty Green River, sometimes in Utah’s history known by the names Rio Verde and Seedskeedee. What would she have done with its Gates of Lodore or Desolation Canyon?

Green. Everywhere I look outside I see green. Perhaps that is why green is my favorite color. Nothing stops me in my tracks like chartreuse wolf lichen clinging to the bark of conifer trunks. What stories would Potter spin with that had she wandered through Utah’s forests? It is said that her favorite organism was actually fungi like the Amanita gemmata or jeweled deathcap, so much so that her naked-eye and microscope-enhanced renderings led her to compose an essay about spore germination for the Linnean Society in 1897.

The world knows her best for her Peter Rabbit tale, yet because she was such an observant nature artist, spinning fantastical stories about creatures in the wild and pairing them with companion pencil and watercolor illustrations begs little of the reader in the way of imagination.

Few may know her, though, for her beautiful nature journals. Her entry of a painted lady butterfly, zooming in specifically on the wing scales, or magnified studies of a ground beetle’s leg and elytra reveal hours she spent noticing. I marvel at how long it must have taken her to know amphibian structures and behaviors to craft a tale with such specificity. In “The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher,” she portrays a frog punting like on the River Cam, fishing, and nibbling butterfly sandwiches. She draws him dipping his foot in the pond, swimming, and leaping across the meadow in his tattered macintosh. What would she have imagined the Northern Leopard frog thinking as it zigzagged through my lawn last summer? Why did it have to come from the far-away canal across concrete and road to my home before I noticed its distinctive snoring and clicking croak or learned to appreciate its tenacity?

Potter found equal perfection in “the highest and the lowest in nature,” aware and eager to capture it all with imagination and detail. As our world greens this spring, I hope we take time to sit and sketch the wonders, even if we don’t have the courage to eat “roasted grasshopper with lady-bird sauce.”

I’m Shannon Rhodes, and I’m wild about Utah.

Credits:
Images: Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Additional Audio: Courtesy & ©
Text: Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading:

Wild About Utah Posts by Shannon Rhodes https://wildaboututah.org/author/shannon-rhodes/

Drost, Charles. Status of Northern Leopard Frogs in the Southwest. December 15, 2016. https://www.usgs.gov/centers/southwest-biological-science-center/science/status-northern-leopard-frogs-southwest

Larese-Casanova, Mark. The Call of Springtime: Utah’s Frogs and Toads. March 22, 2012. https://wildaboututah.org/the-call-of-springtime-utahs-frogs-and-toads/

Lear, Linda. About Beatrix Potter. 2011. The Beatrix Potter Society. https://beatrixpottersociety.org.uk/about-beatrix/

National Park Service. Northern Leopard Frog. https://www.nps.gov/articles/northern-leopard-frog.htm

Northern Leopard Frogs. Biokids’ Inquiry of Diverse Species. http://www.biokids.umich.edu/critters/Lithobates_pipiens/

Potter, Beatrix. The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher. 1906. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/15077/15077-h/15077-h.htm

Potter, Beatrix. The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy Winkle. 1905. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/15137/15137-h/15137-h.htm

Strand, Holly. Last Blank Spots on the Map. October 29, 2009. https://wildaboututah.org/last-blank-spots-on-the-map/

Thomson, Keith. Beatrix Potter, Conservationist. May-June 2007. https://www.americanscientist.org/article/beatrix-potter-conservationist

Beatrix Potter, Author and Conservationist, Born (1866), Day by Day in Conservation History, Today in Conservation, July 28, 2017, https://todayinconservation.com/2020/04/july-28-beatrix-potter-author-and-conservationist-born-1866/

U.S Department of Agriculture Forest Service. Lichens. https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/beauty/lichens/didyouknow.shtml

Victoria and Albert Museum. Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature. 2022. https://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/beatrix-potter

Webb, Roy. Green River. Utah History Encyclopedia. 1994. https://historytogo.utah.gov/green-river/

Wilkinson, Todd. Utah Ushers Its Frogs Toward Oblivion. High Country News. May 27, 1996. https://www.hcn.org/issues/60/1858

Woolley, Ralf R. The Green River and Its Utilization. United States Department of the Interior. 1930. https://pubs.usgs.gov/wsp/0618/report.pdf

PJ Forests

PJ Forests: Pinyon-juniper forest mixed with shrubs, cacti, and sage blanketing the mesa. Courtesy US National Parks Service, Austin Tumas, Photographer
Pinyon-juniper forest mixed with shrubs, cacti, and sage blanketing the mesa top
Courtesy US National Parks Service,
Austin Tumas, Photographer
As I write this, I’m babysitting grandkids in Cedar City. I find relief from the little rascals by
handing them off to grandma while I retreat to surrounding pinyon-juniper forests, affectionally titled PJ forests.

Bird calls instantly transform my thoughts to these pygmy forest’s abundant offerings- muffled laughing calls of pinyon jays, twittering of juniper titmice, raucous scrub jays. Drawn by
swooping ravens, I approach a juniper overlooking the canyon below. Thirty feet away, an immature golden eagle sits on a Juniper branch expressing its displeasure by twisting a gold-
mantled head to face the marauders with fierce eyes.

Further up the trail, five mule deer dart though the shadows. A black tailed jackrabbit bolting from its sage hideout startles me. Wishing for binoculars, a flock of sparrow-sized birds fly
across. I attempt to imagine them as juncos, without success. Tomorrow I will return with optics in hand to solve the mystery.

Pinyon Juniper are the dominant forest type in Utah. Much like the sage Steppe biotic community, at first glance one is deluded by the apparent lifeless monotony of this landscape.
To the contrary, both have a high biodiversity. These forests have around 450 species of vascular plants living alongside pinyon pines and junipers. Additionally, over 150 vertebrate
species of animals including elk, mule deer, and bear call pinyon-juniper forests home either seasonally or throughout the year.

Junipers are a birders paradise. The trees offer sites for perching, singing, nesting, and drumming. They also yield plentiful berries (actually spherical cones) and house a high insect
diversity for birds to consume. Mammals also eat the berries while seeking shelter in hollow juniper trunks, taking advantage of the trees’ shade in hot temperatures and the trees’ thermal
cover in the cold. Pinyon pines offer similar benefits to forest-dwellers. Pinyon mice, Abert’s squirrels, cliff chipmunks, Uinta chipmunks, wood rats, desert bighorn sheep, and black bears
all eat pinyon pine nuts.

For millennia, our own species have been dependent on the pinyon pine for their variable bounty of highly nourishing pine nuts. A staple of the Paiute, Goshute, Ute, and Shoshone, their
lives revolved around the fall harvest with elaborate ceremonies to pay homage for their life sustaining food value. It continues to the present, and we Euromericans have joined them in fall
harvest here in the Intermountain west, including my children and grandchildren.

Like the sage steppe, the pinyon juniper forest has been misunderstood, and under-appreciated for its critical role in the lives of so many species that would not exist without it, nor would
atmospheric carbon be stored in their fiber and their soils. Chaining and other “treatments” are highly controversial given the aesthetic impact of once vibrant forest replaced with piles of
uprooted trees and torn soils. Compounding this, recent decades have witnessed more severe drought and heat events making them vulnerable to insect and disease attacks, and catastrophic fire. We must practice utmost care in how we manage this priceless resource.

Jack Greene for BAS, loving wild Utah and its PJ forests

This is Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon Society, loving wild Utah and its PJ forests!

Credits:
Pictures: Courtesy US National Parks Service, Austin Tumas, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections as well as J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin, https://upr.org/
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, and Jack Greene, Author, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

Jack Greene’s Postings on Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/author/jack/

Pinyon-Juniper Woodlands – Introduction & Distribution, National Park Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/articles/pinyon-juniper-woodlands-distribution.htm

Pinyon-Juniper Woodlands – Species Composition and Classification, National Park Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/articles/pinyon-juniper-woodlands-species-composition-classification.htm

Tausch, R.J., Miller, R.F., Roundy, B.A., and Chambers, J.C., 2009, Piñon and juniper field guide: Asking the right questions to select appropriate management actions: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1335, 96 p., https://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/1335/circ1335.pdf

Plants, Natural Bridges National Monument, National Park Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/nabr/learn/nature/plants.htm

Noah’s Ark Trail, Dixie National Forest, USDA Forest Service, https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/dixie/recarea/?recid=24930

Flying Mule Deer

Flying Mule Deer: Helicopter Crew Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer
Helicopter Crew
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Mule Deer Incoming Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer Mule Deer Incoming
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Mule Deer Incoming Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer Mule Deer Incoming
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Helicopter Carrying Mule Deer Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer Helicopter Carrying Mule Deer
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Mule Deer Health Check Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer Mule Deer Health Check
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

For the mule deer at Hardware Ranch, last Nov 30 was anything but ho-hum.

In the early morning light, the Division of Wildlife Resources was gathering in the parking lot at the Ranch. The plan for the day was to capture eight mule deer for a quick medical checkup on the overall health of the herd.

For this, they needed the help of come helicopter cowboys.

Right on cue, we heard the thunk, thunk, thunk of an incoming helicopter. A team of three men hopped out. After a quick parley, they were off

A bit like calf ropers at a rodeo, the helicopter cowboys would stop a running deer in its tracks by shooting a tangle net over it. Hopping off the helicopter, one cowboy (also known as “the mugger”) would wrestle the deer onto its side and tie its feet together. The mugger then slid the deer onto a sling, and to keep it calm, kindly secured a cover over its eyes.

The helicopter then lifted the sling, flew the deer through the air, and set it down gently in front of the waiting crew at the ranch.

The crew sprang into action. Four men raced over to the deer, slid it onto a rope stretcher, and carried it to a hanging scale.

“76 pounds’” the researcher called out. A graduate student with a clipboard wrote it down.

Next stop: a white folding table. The crew surrounded the deer, brandishing some familiar tools. They took the deer’s temperature, a blood sample, a hair sample. One man whipped out a yellow measuring tape that looked exactly like the one in my grandmother’s sewing basket.

Then they looked into the deer’s mouth.

“Three years,” the researcher said with absolute certainty.

“How did you know that?” I couldn’t help asking.

“Easy,” he said. But he admitted that after five years, you can only be sure of a deer’s age if you look at the tooth under a microscope and count the rings, just like counting rings on a tree.

Then I spotted something I’d never seen before- a black box that measured the depth of fat on the deer’s rump A very well fed deer will head into winter with 1 inch (25 mm) of fat reserves. A deer with less that 9mm will probably not make it through a hard winter. This herd was coming off a very dry summer, a genuine cause for worry. But today it was all good news. The fall rains had greened up the hillsides in time for the deer to plump up.

And then it was done. The deer was carried to the perimeter of the parking lot and released. As it bounced up the hillside to rejoin the herd, I was reminded of the time when I was coming down the slopes off the Wellsville ridgeline, and had sat down to rest. Suddenly three does poked their heads through the dense undergrowth. We took a long curious look at each other.

I remember thinking how beautiful they were, with their long, elegant ears. But they also looked vulnerable. Coyotes, cougars and cars will continue to take a heavy toll on mule deer. New challenges will crop up. But this day last November, it was all good news for the health of the herd at Hardware Ranch. And all cheers for the Division of Wildlife Resources for a job well done.

This is Mary Heers and I’m Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio upr.org
Text: Mary Heers, https://cca.usu.edu/files/awards/art-and-mary-heers-citation.pdf
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Mary Heers’ Wild About Utah Postings

Why the DWR captures deer, other big game animals with helicopters each winter, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, State of Utah, February 21, 2020, https://wildlife.utah.gov/news/utah-wildlife-news/864-why-dwr-captures-deer-big-game-animals-helicopters.html

Episode 8: Flying deer, Wild Podcast, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, State of Utah, May 19, 2020, https://wildlife.utah.gov/wild-podcast/927-flying-deer.html


Beaver Tail Strike

Beaver Tail Strike: Beaver swimming Courtesy NPS,  J Schmidt, Photographer
Beaver swimming
Courtesy NPS,
J Schmidt, Photographer
When I first saw a beaver in Cache Valley I thought I’d seen an alligator. I was sitting in the front of a canoe when a large head shot past the bow followed by a black tail that flew into the air and came down on the water with a resounding slap

“What was that?” I asked
“I don’t know,” my friend answered
“I think it was an alligator,” I said
By then then creature had disappeared and we paddled on.

I found out later that tail slapping is a common beaver behavior. Its a warning shot before the beaver dives for cover.

Intrigued, I set out to learn more. It came as a surprise to me to find out that when a beaver builds a dam, it is actually building a home. Inside a sturdy wall of sticks, rocks and mud, the beavers build a living space above the water line. It’s dry – and its safe because it can only be entered by swimming through underwater tunnels. Not a problem for a beaver who can swim underwater for as long as 15 minutes.

When the surface of the pond freezes over, the females will give birth. Its an extended family life – an adult pair, the yearlings, and the new kits. When winter is long, and with so many mouths to feed, the beavers have perfected their food storage. Hauling their favorite food, aspen , back to the lodge, they jam it into the muddy bottom of the pond. There is stays, fresh and crisp like any refrigerated food, until its needed.

When fur trappers arrived in Northern Utah in the 1800’s, European hat makers had discovered that felted beaver wool made the very best hats. Bear Lake became a hot spot. The historical marker just north of Garden City tells us,

“Donald MacKenzie, Jim Bridger, and a host of famous beaver hunters operated here. Two major summer frolics and trade fairs brought plenty of excitement to Bear Lake in 1827 and 1828.”

Trappers were harvesting up to 500 lbs a year. But by 1840, the beavers had become almost extinct. European fashion in hats moved on to silk – a good thing for the hat makers as well because the mercury used in the felting of beaver wool caused all kinds of neurological disorders. Its no joke the Hatter in Alice in Wonderland is mad.

Back in northern Utah, the beaver population slowly rebuilt, but the human population also grew and conflicts arose. Recently a farmer in Benson became irate when beavers began to redirect the flow of water through his irrigation canals

Beaver Health Exam Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Becky Yeager, Photographer
Beaver Health Exam
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Becky Yeager, Photographer
It’s the job of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to live trap and relocate these beavers. I was lucky to be allowed into the loop at this point.

When I picked up one of the smaller beavers, I could feel its heart going a mile a minute under my fingers. But it settled down as I sat in a chair holding it against my chest while it got a quick physical checkup.

Holding the beaver close, I had a good look at the nibble fingers on its front feet, the webbing on its back feet that can paddle along at 6mph, and the marvelous flat tail, a good rudder for swimming, a prop for standing on land, and perfect for slapping the water’s surface.

Take my word for it, once you’ve seen this slap up close, you won’t forget it.

I’m Mary Heers and I’m Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy US NPS, Yellowstone Collection, J. Schmidt, Photographer
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers
Featured Audio: Courtesy Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text & Voice: Mary Heers
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster

Additional Reading

Leavitt, Shauna, Beaver in Utah’s Desert Rivers, Wild About Utah, July 6, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/beaver-in-utahs-desert-rivers/

Leavitt, Shauna, Proposed Beaver Holding Facility in Millville, Utah, Wild About Utah, September 3, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/proposed-beaver-holding-facility-in-millville-utah/

Goodwin, Jim, Riparian Zones and a Critter Quiz, Wild About Utah, January 22, 2015, June 15, 2015, https://wildaboututah.org/riparian-zones-and-a-critter-quiz/

Strand, Holly, Beavers: The Original Army Corps of Engineers, Wild About Utah, April 29, 20-10, August 16, 2012, https://wildaboututah.org/beavers-the-original-army-corps-of-engineers/

Kervin, Linda, Huddling for Warmth, Wild About Utah, February 3, 2011, https://wildaboututah.org/huddling-for-warmth/

Beaver Monitoring App, Utah Water Watch, Extension, Utah State University, https://extension.usu.edu/utahwaterwatch/citizenscience/beavermonitoringapp/

Pollock, M.M., G.M. Lewallen, K. Woodruff, C.E. Jordan and J.M. Castro (Editors) 2018. The Beaver Restoration Guidebook: Working with Beaver to Restore Streams, Wetlands, and Floodplains. Version 2.01. United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Portland, Oregon. 189 pp. Online at: http://www.fws.gov/oregonfwo/ToolsForLandowners/RiverScience/Beaver.asp
also https://restoration.usu.edu/pdf/2018BRGv.2.01.pdf

Macfarlane W.W., Wheaton J.M., and M.L. Jensen. 2014. The Utah Beaver Restoration Assessment Tool: A Decision Support and Planning Tool. Ecogeomorphology and Topographic Analysis Lab, Utah State University, Prepared for Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Logan, Utah, 135 pp. Available at: http://etalweb.joewheaton.org.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/Downloads/BRAT/UTAH_BRAT_FinalReport.pdf

Wheaton JM. 2013. Scoping Study and Recommendations for an Adaptive Beaver Management Plan. Prepared for Park City
Municipal Corporation. Logan, Utah, 30 pp. http://etalweb.joewheaton.org.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/Reports/Beaver_Management_Plan_Recc_Park_City_%20Report_FINAL.pdf

Beaver Reintroduction Looks Positive for Stream Restoration
in Northern Utah, Utah Forest News, USU Forestry Extension, Utah State University, Volume 18, Number 3, 2014, https://forestry.usu.edu/files/utah-forest-newsletter/utah-forest-newsletter-2014-3.pdf

Muffoletto, Mary-Ann, Dam Good! Beavers May Restore Imperiled Streams, Fish Populations, Today, Utah State University, July 07, 2016, https://www.usu.edu/today/story/dam-good-beavers-may-restore-imperiled-streams-fish-populations

Restoring Degraded Waters, One Pest at a Time, Utah State Magazine, Utah State University, December 7, 2021, https://utahstatemagazine.usu.edu/environment/restoring-degraded-waters-one-nuisance-at-a-time/