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
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
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.


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.

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

Enjoying Utah’s Backcountry with Snowmobiles

Enjoying Utah’s Backcountry with Snowmobiles: Snowmobiling along a groomed trail Enjoy Wild Utah Courtesy & Copyright Sebastian Voortman, Photographer
Snowmobiling along a groomed trail
Enjoy Wild Utah
Courtesy & Copyright Sebastian Voortman, Photographer

Utah’s deep snow and hundreds of miles of publicly accessible groomed trails make snowmobiling an ideal way for individuals and families to experience the state’s backcountry.  

Cal Taylor, president of Utah Snowmobile Association says, “My family loves snow.  We make sure everyone has warm clothes,” then we head up the mountain to isolate ourselves from the hectic world.

For those who want to try snowmobiling, it’s easy to rent all the gear and equipment and receive the necessary safety training.

The hard part is choosing which trail to explore.

There are nine trail complexes in the state which stretch from Fish Lake in Central Utah, to Logan Canyon in the northern tip of the state.  These complexes consist of extensive trail systems.  Each trail provides a unique backcountry experience.

Enjoying Utah’s Backcountry with Snowmobiles: Snowmobiling along a groomed trail Enjoy Wild Utah Courtesy & Copyright Sebastian Voortman, Photographer
Snowmobiling along a groomed trail
Enjoy Wild Utah
Courtesy & Copyright Sebastian Voortman, Photographer

The trails are on public lands and are free and accessible to anyone who wishes to explore them.   

The northern most complex stretches from Ogden to Bear Lake and includes the Hardware Ranch, Monte Cristo and Bear Lake trails.  These systems consist of more than 180 miles of well-groomed trails that wind through the Wasatch-Cache National Forest. 

The Hardware Ranch trailhead is located close to the Ranch which is the winter range for hundreds of elk.   The Hardware Ranch provides sleigh rides to anyone who would like a close up look at the elk.

Further up the mountain, snowmobilers may find forest grouse who make their winter homes in and around the high mountain aspens.  It is not uncommon for sledders to be startled by grouse flying out of its hiding spots.

Coyotes are also a familiar sight.  Taylor said, “I have seen a coyote playing in the distance. They’ll run across the snow and dive in.”

Along the Mirror Lake Highway trail, part of Complex 3, mountain goats can be seen balancing on the snow covered cliffs of Bald Mountain.  Watching their agility as they move along the high ridges is an incredible site.

In central Utah the Fish Lake trail reaches and elevation of 11.500 feet, with a breathtaking panoramic view.   Some sledders bring their fishing poles so they can stop and enjoy ice fishing on the naturally formed Fish Lake, which is only accessible by snowmobile in the winter.

Maps for all nine trail complexes can be found via links on the Utah Snowmobile Association’s website.   If you enter the complex name in Google you’ll find even more helpful details.

Utah Division of State Parks grooms each trail every few days.  Due to a well-targeted gas tax, those who use the trails, fund the trails. 

Enjoying Utah’s Backcountry with Snowmobiles: Enjoy Viewing Wildlife via Snowmobile Courtesy & Copyright Sebastian Voortman, Photographer
Enjoy Viewing Wildlife via Snowmobile
Courtesy & Copyright Sebastian Voortman, Photographer

Jordan Smith, the director of the Institute of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism in the Quinney College of Natural Resources completed a research project about the economic impact of snowmobiling in Utah.  The study found snowmobiling accounts for 1,378 Utah jobs and $59.9 million in labor income.  In 2016 alone, over $13 million in state and local tax revenues were generated by snowmobiling activity.

Additionally, Smith discovered there is still plenty of room for more residents to enjoy the snowy trails.  He explains, “There are relatively few heavily visited snowmobile destinations throughout the state.”  When you see all the trailers in a snowmobile parking lots you may assume the trails are crowded, but once they disperse the snowmobilers rarely see each other.

Families and individuals interested in trying snowmobiling to explore the trail complexes, may begin by checking out the Utah Snowmobile Association’s website whose mission is to “Educat[e] Utah’s Snowmobile Families”.   People can go there to find the do’s and don’ts, what to take, how to dress, and where to ride.”

This is Shauna Leavitt and I’m Wild About Utah.

Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Sebastian Voortman, Photographer
Text: Shauna Leavitt, USGS Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

Sources & Additional Reading

Utah Snowmobile Association, http://www.snowut.com/

Bird Feeding in Winter

Bird Feeding in Winter: A suet feeder, individual cake and a box of cakes. To the right are three gravity feeders with black oil sunflower seeds as well as other seeds. Courtesy Ron Hellstern, photographer
A suet feeder, individual cake and a box of cakes. To the right are three gravity feeders with black oil sunflower seeds as well as other seeds.
Courtesy Ron Hellstern, photographer
Most people enjoy watching birds, except for their occasional deposits on cars or windows. In an earlier program, I mentioned at least fifteen benefits that birds provide to humans and planet Earth. But as human population and developments increase, the survival of many bird species becomes threatened. Now, as winter approaches, colder weather and lack of food adds to the life-threatening dilemmas birds face. Some birds migrate to warmer habitats, but for those that stay in the northern regions a helping-hand from humans is no doubt appreciated.

Presenting “gifts” of birdfeeders and seeds to others (and your own family) will help songbirds and fowls to survive so they can provide their songs and beauty in the Spring. Consider these tips:

  • Buy large birdfeeders so you don’t have to fill them so often. Wet seed can grow harmful bacteria, so use feeders with wide covers.
  • If deer, or other pests, invade your feeders, hang them up higher in trees.
  • Place feeders 10’ away from dense cover to prevent sneak attacks from cats.
  • Provide multiple feeders to increase amounts and diversity of foods.
  • “Favorite” winter foods depends on the species. Black Oil sunflower seeds are loved by most birds, but niger, millet, peanuts, corn, and wheat will attract a diverse range of birds. Experiment and see what comes to your feeders.
  • A combination of beef-fat, with seeds or fruit, is called suet. It is a high-energy food which helps birds stay warm. The 4” cakes are placed in small cages and are loved by flickers, woodpeckers and many other birds. Peanut butter is also relished by birds, but is more expensive than suet.
  • Once birds find your feeders, they will rely on them for regular food supplies. If your feeders become empty, especially during ice storms or blizzards, birds will have a hard time finding natural food. If you take a trip, have a neighbor keep your feeders filled.
  • Buy extra seed and store it in a cool, dry place like a covered plastic trash can which can be kept on a deck, porch, or in a garage.
  • Make sure the feeders are kept clean with hot water, and then dried, about once a month.
  • Some birds, like juncos, towhees, doves and pheasants prefer eating seed which has fallen to the ground. Compact the snow below your feeders so they can find that seed easier.
  • Unless you live near a natural water source, place a pan of water near a feeder on warmer days. Or you could consider a heated bird bath to provide drinking water.
  • If you have fruit trees or berry bushes, leave some of the fruit on the plants to provide natural foods.
  • You may wish to leave birdhouses and nest-boxes up all year for winter roosting sites.
  • Now the fun part comes. After your feeders have been discovered by some birds, word soon gets around the neighborhood and others will arrive. But do you know what they are? The Peterson Field Guidebooks are a great help for beginners because the illustrations are often grouped by color. Then you can become a citizen-scientist and submit your observations to Cornell’s Project Feederwatch or participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count each December. Look online for details.

    Time to get started with your own feeders, or as gifts to others, and begin enjoying the colorful company of finches, woodpeckers, towhees, juncos, sparrows, doves and many others.


    Images: Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
    Audio: Contains bird audio Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver
    Text:    Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

    Additional Reading

    Feed the Birds, Jim Cane & Linda Kervin, Wild About Utah, Bridgerland Audubon Society, Dec 1, 2011, https://wildaboututah.org/tag/feeding-birds/

    Winter Song Birds, Jim Cane & Linda Kervin, Wild About Utah, Bridgerland Audubon Society, Feb 3, 2009, https://wildaboututah.org/tag/feeding-birds/

    Audubon Guide to Winter Bird-Feeding, Steve Kress, Audubon Magazine, Nov-Dec, 2010, http://www.audubon.org/magazine/november-december-2010/audubon-guide-winter-bird-feeding

    Backyard Birding, Bird Feeding, US Fish & Wildlife Service(FWS), Last Updated: February 19, 2016, https://www.fws.gov/birds/bird-enthusiasts/backyard/bird-feeding.php

    Backyard Birding, Helping our Feathered Friends, US Fish & Wildlife Service(FWS), Last Updated: June 1, 2016, https://www.fws.gov/birds/bird-enthusiasts/backyard/songbird-conservation.php

    Backyard Bird-Feeding Resources, Birds at Your Feeder, Erica H. Dunn, Diane L. Tessaglia-Hymes, Project Feederwatch, https://feederwatch.org/learn/articles/backyard-bird-feeding-resources/

    Greenback Cutthroat Trout

    Greenback Cutthroat Trout Courtesy US FWS Bruce Roselund, Photographer
    Greenback Cutthroat Trout
    Courtesy US FWS
    Bruce Roselund, Photographer
    In 2009, officials from the US Division of Wildlife Resources who were out searching for isolated populations of Colorado River Cutthroat Trout found something better—and far more perplexing. Within a 1.2-mile stretch of Beaver Creek, which runs down the eastern flank of the La Sal Mountains near Moab, Utah, surveyors discovered a small, but genetically pure population of a subspecies of Cutthroat Trout known as the Greenback. The fish is not only rare among its fellow Cutthroats; it was heretofore unknown to Utah waters.

    The natural history of the Greenback Cutthroat is fascinating! As a member of the genus Oncorhynchus, Greenback Cutthroat Trout trace their lineage back about 2 million years to Salmonid ancestors that chose to forego their return to the Pacific Ocean and instead pursued habitat further and further up the Columbia and Snake River drainages into the Green and Yellowstone River Basins. From here, cutthroat predecessors diversified into subspecies we know today: the Alvord, Bonneville, Humboldt, Lahontan, Yellowfin, Yellowstone, Colorado River, and, among others, the Greenback Cutthroat.

    Greenbacks took a particularly arduous path to what is now their native home range. About 20,000 years ago, during the Pleistocene Epoch’s glacial maximum, Greenbacks hitched a ride via advancing ice sheets and their runoff, crossing eastward over the Continental Divide. And, historically, that’s where they’ve been found—east of the continental divide. However, in a 2014 summary report of a meeting among experts on the Greenback Cutthroat Trout’s whereabouts in Colorado, the US Fish and Wildlife Service says this about the fish’s home range: “Until recently, delineations of subspecies of cutthroat trout in Colorado were believed to follow geographic boundaries within the state, with greenback cutthroat trout on the eastern side of the Continental Divide and Colorado River cutthroat trout on the western side.” That seems to have changed.

    Greenback Cutthroat Trout were found in Beaver Creek in the La Sal Mountains
    Greenback Cutthroat Trout
    were found in Beaver Creek
    in the La Sal Mountains
    Experts are at a loss as to how Greenbacks came to occupy the waters of Utah. Speculations abound from rogue fishermen stocking their favorite backwaters with favorite species from the Colorado Front Range to a remnant population of an ancient strand that may have ridden the glaciers all the way to La Sal runoffs. What’s even more perplexing is the population’s pure genetic makeup. Cutthroat Trout hybridize easily with other fish; but the Beaver Creek population hasn’t. One reason may be the creek’s inaccessibility. Disease and non-native trout haven’t threatened the resident Greenbacks; and so they have lived on undisturbed, unadulterated, and, until about a decade ago, unknown to their human counterparts. This gives the wildlife conservation community some hope for the fish’s viability moving forward.

    Greenbacks currently only occupy roughly 1% of their historic native range and were once thought to be extinct altogether. This hardy and adventurous fish refuses to call it quits, though. Who knows, maybe the valiant reclamation of its old territory has already begun along so many other inaccessible and unadulterated creek beds.

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


    Greenback Cutthroat Trout, Courtesy Fish and Wildlife Service, US Department of the Interior, Bruce Roselund, Photographer
    Beaver Creek, LaSal Mountains, Courtesy Utah Division of Wildlife Resources,
    Audio: Includes audio provided by Friend Weller, UPR
    Text: Josh Boling, 2018

    Sources & Additional Reading

    Georg, Ron, Rare trout found in La Sal Mountains, The Times Independent, Moab, UT, May 14, 2009, http://moabtimes.com/bookmark/2560140-Rare-trout-found-in-La-Sal-Mountains

    Prettyman, Brett, Greenback or not wildlife officials work to expand cutthroat population, The Salt Lake Tribune, Nov. 19, 2010, http://archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=50632061&itype=cmsid#gallery-carousel-446996

    Thompson, Paul, A lifelong passion for native cutthroat trout, Wildlife Blog, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, April 10, 2017, https://wildlife.utah.gov/blog/2017/a-lifelong-passion-for-native-cutthroat-trout/

    Greenback Cutthroat Trout, Western Native Trout Initiative, http://westernnativetrout.org/greenback-cutthroat-trout/

    Greenback cutthroat found in Utah for first time, KSL/The Salt Lake Tribune/The Associated Press, May 1, 2009, https://www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=6338134