Restoring degraded plant communities has a long history on Utah’s public lands. The problem began with the transcontinental railroad, which enabled transport of livestock from Western rangelands to Eastern cities. By the late 1800s, vast flocks of ravenous sheep roved Utah’s unregulated wildlands. Montane summer pastures were stripped bare, so snow melt and summer rainfall washed across the ground unchecked, carving deep gullies. Downstream settlements, such as Logan and Manti, incurred ruinous floods and mud flows. Teddy Roosevelt responded to local pleas for federal control by designating our first national forests in Utah.
Soon thereafter, the fledgling Forest Service created the Great Basin Research Station east of Ephraim Utah. It was charged with discovering the cause of the floods. Within two years, large grazing exclosures were built in nearby mountain meadows by the Agency’s first range ecologist, Arthur Sampson. His research quickly linked overgrazing with denuded meadows, eroding soil and the floods. By 1914, Sampson advocated for rest rotational grazing. To then restore the impacted plant communities, there followed a landmark program at the Station to evaluate plants that could revegetate the degraded watersheds, and later, restore big-game winter range. Led by Perry Plummer, the Station evaluated the performance of 1000 species of shrubs, grasses and wildflowers, some tested in most of Utah’s plant communities. Methods to better collect, store, plant and germinate seeds underpinned the restoration of plant communities that, along with the 1934 Taylor Grazing Act, ended Utah’s frequent canyon floods.
That public research continues with the Great Basin Native Seed Selection and Increase Project. Today’s goal is to restore plant communities after rangeland fire, stalling and eventually reversing the invasion of flammable exotic grasses and weeds in the Intermountain West. Dedicated warehouses in Ephraim, Ely and Boise can store up to 3 million pounds of seed, a testimony to further progress in farming and collecting desirable seed. The seed is spread by aircraft over rocky places, while on gentler slopes, versatile rangeland seeders can place each kind of seed at the right depth, from tiny sagebrush to big grass seeds, all in a single pass over uneven ground. For every planting that takes hold, another weedy legacy of hundred-year-old overgrazing is finally repaired.
This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.
Images: Courtesy & Copyright Jim Cane
Text: Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon Society
Hi, this is Mark Larese-Casanova from the Utah Master Naturalist Program at Utah State University Extension.
It is amazing to see just how much of an impact the large amount of snowfall from last winter still has on the annual cycle of nature. Of recent note, wildflower blooms in the mountains seem to be at least 2-3 weeks behind normal schedule. Hiking through snow in late July had me thinking about colder times when Utah’s mountains were covered with ice that flowed as glaciers.
The most recent period of glaciation in Utah occurred between 30,000 and 15,000 years ago when Utah’s climate was, on average, up to 30?F cooler. At times during this period, much of the western half of Utah was covered by Lake Bonneville, which contributed tremendous amounts of moisture as snow throughout Utah’s mountain ranges. As the snow accumulated at high elevations, its sheer weight caused it to recrystallize into ice. Once the masses of ice became heavy enough, gravity pulled them down slope, carving out characteristic U-shaped valleys.
At the top of the valleys, where the glaciers formed, we can often find large, bowl-shaped cirques. In the Wasatch Range, the Little Cottonwood Canyon glacier formed at the top, creating Albion Basin, and reached the mouth of the canyon where calved icebergs into Lake Bonneville. The Uinta Mountains contained such large glaciers that even many of the mountain peaks are rounded.
As temperatures warmed during the end of the last ice age, glaciers receded and left behind large piles of soil and rocks, known as moraines. Terminal moraines at the end of a glacier’s path, can act as natural dams to create lakes. Enormous boulders, known as glacial erratics, can often be found discarded along canyons.
While glaciers don’t currently exist in Utah, there are several permanent snowfields in shaded high mountain areas. So, if you’re feeling a little nostalgic and missing that extra long winter we had this year, you still a chance to hike up above 9,000 feet and cool your toes in the snow.
For Wild About Utah, I’m Mark Larese-Casanova.
Images: Courtesy & Copyright Mark Larese-Casanova
Text: Mark Larese-Casanova, Utah Master Naturalist Program at Utah State University Extension.
Utah Geological Survey http://geology.utah.gov/surveynotes/gladasked/gladglaciers.htm
Parry, William T. 2005. A Hiking Guide to the Geology of the Wasatch and Uinta Mountains. University of Utah Press.
Stokes, William Lee. 1986. Geology of Utah. Utah Museum of Natural History.