Black Bear Country

Black Bear Country: Bear Country Sign, Utah DWR Courtesy Mary Heers, Photographer
Bear Country Sign, Utah DWR
Courtesy Mary Heers, Photographer
As I hopped out of my car to take a short hike up Cache Valley’s Dry Canyon Trail I was surprised to see the Utah Department of Wildlife Resources had posted a picture of a black bear. “Bear Country,” it said. “Store food safely and keep campsites clean.” I’ve never seen a black bear in Utah but a quick check of the DNR website confirmed that as of last count, July of last year, there were 4,000 black bears in Utah. In winter the bears stay out of site. But by May they are coming out of hibernation looking for food and very hungry.

Black Bear Country: Black Bear Sitting Photo Courtesy US FWS Mike Bender, Photographer
Black Bear Sitting
Photo Courtesy US FWS
Mike Bender, Photographer
Now I’ve always envied the bears ability to go to sleep fat in the fall and wake up thin in the spring. For me this would be the ultimate diet plan. But on further investigation I found that hibernating bears are not simply sleeping. They do slow down. The heart drops from 50 beats a minute to less than ten. Its breathing slows to once every 45 seconds. The body temperature drops almost ten degrees. The bears do not get up at night to pee. Amazingly, the bear does not eat, drink, urinate or defecate for months.

People who study bears tell us that keeping this hibernating metabolism going takes 4,000 calories a day. So having burned through their fat reserve the bear comes out of hibernation in the spring very Interested in food. The problem occurs when bears discover human food because once having tasted it they want more.

Young Male Blackbear Climbing Tree Courtesy US FWS Steve Maslowski, Photographer
Young Male Blackbear Climbing Tree
Courtesy US FWS
Steve Maslowski, Photographer
My daughter once told me about a camping trip she had taken in the Wind Rivers where a bear came into their campsite at midnight. She and her friends jumped out of their tents and saw the bear climb the tree where they had hung their food. For four hours the bear worked at getting that food. Finally, the tree branch broke and the food bag crashed to the ground. The bear ate their bagels, every single chocolate covered espresso bean, everything except the jalapeno crème cheese.

I took one last look at the poster at the trailhead. The small print said, “Learn to live with bears.” I thought some people learned more slowly than others. I remembered a trip I had taken to Yellowstone National Park and reassured my out of town guest that the National Park Service had solved the problem with bears. To my chagrin when we were checking in the camp host told us that they were having trouble with the bears. “It’s toothpaste,” the lady said, “They like the sweet taste of toothpaste.” I wasn’t worried until the next morning when my guest confessed she had remembered her toothpaste was still in her jacket inside the tent. “Ah, let the bear make its choice,” she sighed as she drifted off to sleep. No bear came into the campsite that night.

Sometimes you just get lucky.

This is Mary Heers and I am Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Bear Country Sign: Courtesy Mary Heers, Photographer
      Sitting Bear: Courtesy US FWS, Mike Bender, Photographer
      Climbing Bear: Courtesy US FWS, Steve Maslowski, Photographer
Audio: Friend Weller and technical engineers J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin
Text: Mary Heers

Additional Reading

Larese-Casanova, Mark, Blackbears, Wild About Utah, 23 June 2011, https://wildaboututah.org/blackbears/

Leavitt, Shauna, Orphaned Bear Cub Rehabilitation, Wild About Utah, 14 August 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/orphaned-bear-cub-rehabilitation/

Greene, Jack, Bears, Wild About Utah, 22 October 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/bears/

Burt, W. H. and R. P. Grossenheider. 1980. A field guide to the mammals. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 289 pp. https://www.amazon.com/Mammals-Peterson-Guides-William-1990-04-30/dp/B01K0R5D3G

Safety in Bear Country http://wildlife.utah.gov/dwr/learn-more/bear-safety.html

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Utah Conservation Data Center http://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/rsgis2/Search/Display.asp?FlNm=ursuamer

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

Black Bear – Ursus americanus, Utah Species, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, http://fieldguide.wildlife.utah.gov/?Species=Ursus%20americanus

Black Bear, Ursus americanus, Utah Conservation Data Center, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, https://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/rsgis2/search/Display.asp?FlNm=ursuamer

Evening Grosbeaks

Evening Grosbeak Courtesy Pixabay Alain Audet, Photographer
Evening Grosbeak
Courtesy Pixabay
Alain Audet, Photographer
The stunningly beautiful evening grosbeaks are mystery birds that come pouring from the canyons to invade our urban areas on a daily cycle- an eruptive population here in Cache Valley. I always hear their loud chirp notes high above, often beyond sight. They alight in towering trees where they feed and converse with chirps and trills all the while. Highly social, evening grosbeaks are unlike their four solitary grosbeak cousins.

Their behaviors leave me puzzled. – Why this daily ritual of flying back and forth from rural to urban? Where and when do they nest? Do they nest close together given their flock behavior? Are they urban or rural nesters? I was able to find some answers, but there are yet many gaps in on their behaviors and highly variable populations.

The Evening Grosbeaks were of much interest from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s, resulting from its eastward range expansion. Comparatively few recent studies have been conducted other than breeding ecology and behavior in Colorado during the 90’s. They were formerly restricted to the western United States but have expanded their range eastward across the country, perhaps a result of the establishment of box elder trees in eastern cities with abundant seeds that persist through the winter, and outbreaks of eastern forest insects which they feast on.

Evening Grosbeak Courtesy US FWS George Gentry, Photographer
Evening Grosbeak
Courtesy US FWS
George Gentry, Photographer
As is the case with many irruptive, nomadic species, it is difficult to determine their true population. Unfortunately, this bird has almost disappeared from the east once again, and has all but disappeared in the Appalachian Mountains and has suffered heavy declines elsewhere. A focus on understanding what is driving population trends is needed for developing conservation strategies to help it recover.

Potential causes of the Evening Grosbeak’s decline are tar sands mining, which has destroyed large swaths of its Canadian boreal forest breeding habitat. Pesticides used to control spruce budworm, an important food for Evening Grosbeak, may also be a factor. Large numbers are killed by window collisions, and cars during winter, when they gather on roadsides to pick up road salt and grit.

During the breeding season, their behavior is quite secretive, and courtship occurs without elaborate song or display. This secretiveness makes it difficult to study this species’ life history. They breed in high altitude and high latitude various forest types throughout North America. Nests are typically located high up in trees, on horizontal branches well out from the trunk. The female builds the nest, which is a loose saucer of roots and twigs lined with fine grass, moss, rootlets, needles, and lichen. Both parents, generally monogamous, help feed the young. They forage in treetops for insect larvae during the summer, buds in spring, and seeds, berries, and small fruits in winter. They sport heavy, strong beaks which can crack open the toughest shells, including cherry pits- a favorite. Evening Grosbeaks are known to snip off the twigs of Sugar Maple trees and sipping the sweet sap- yum!

As birders and citizen scientists, we must document all we can to supply the much needed dearth of data on this marvelous bird, and report it to www.ebird.org

This is Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon- and I’m wild about Utah and its evening grosbeaks!

Credits:

Pictures: Courtesy Pixabay, Alain
Courtesy US FWS,
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Evening Grosbeak, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Evening_Grosbeak

Evening Grosbeak, Coccothraustes vespertinus, Birdweb.com, Seattle Audubon Society, http://www.birdweb.org/birdweb/bird/evening_grosbeak

Evening Grosbeak, Coccothraustes vespertinus, eBird.org, https://ebird.org/species/evegro

Reseeding Great Salt Lake’s wetlands after Phragmites

Reseeding Great Salt Lake’s wetlands: A dense stand of Phragmites australis in the Great Salt Lake wetlands Courtesy & © Karin Kettenring
A dense stand of Phragmites australis
in the Great Salt Lake wetlands
Courtesy & © Karin Kettenring
 
 
Birds take flight in the Great Salt Lake wetlands Courtesy & © Karin Kettenring Birds take flight
in the Great Salt Lake wetlands
Courtesy & © Karin Kettenring
 
 
Wetland manager & former student in the Kettenring Lab, Chad Cranney in a stand of Phragmites australis Courtesy & © Karin Kettenring Wetland manager & former student
in the Kettenring Lab, Chad Cranney
in a stand of Phragmites australis
Courtesy & © Karin Kettenring
 
 
Rae Robinson stands in the wetlands at Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area, Courtesy & © Rae Robinson Rae Robinson stands in the wetlands
at Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area,
Courtesy & © Rae Robinson
 
 
Seeds of several native wetland plant species Courtesy & © Rae Robinson Seeds of several native wetland plant species
Courtesy & © Rae Robinson
 
 
Experimental hydroseeding at Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area Courtesy & © Karin Kettenring 8. Seeds of several native wetland plant Experimental hydroseeding
at Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area
Courtesy & © Karin Kettenring
8. Seeds of several native wetland plant
 
 
Native wetland plant species grow in the USU greenhouse in February 2020 Courtesy & © Rae Robinson Native wetland plant species
grow in the USU greenhouse
in February 2020
Courtesy & © Rae Robinson
 
 
Revegetation field plots at Howard Slough Waterfowl Management Area in June 2019, Courtesy & © Rae Robinson Revegetation field plots
at Howard Slough Waterfowl Management Area
in June 2019,
Courtesy & © Rae Robinson
The Great Salt Lake provides approximately 75% of Utah’s wetlands, and is a resting area along the Pacific- Americas flyway. Migratory birds rely on the lake as a stopping spot for rest and nutrition which they obtain from the variety of native plant communities. These communities are at constant risk from the invasive reed Phragmites australis which is taking over native wetland plant communities.

This invasive species, also known as common reed, is particularly harmful because it forms monocultures that outcompete native plant communities, diminishing quality of habitat for animal species, leaving nothing but dense tall reeds which grow 5-15 feet high.

Phragmites has spread throughout the wetlands of the Great Salt Lake, Utah and North America.

For the past decade, Karin Kettenring, professor of wetland ecology in the Department of Watershed Sciences at USU and her research team have been searching for the best methods for removing Phragmites such as grazing, mowing, or using herbicides on the invasive reed. Now they are expanding their research to find ways to restore the native wetland plant communities once Phragmites is removed.

Rae Robinson, a second-year master’s student, joined Kettenring’s research team to study native plant revegetation in Great Salt Lake wetlands.

Robinson explains, “The unfortunate part of this is native plant communities often do not return [after Phragmites has been removed] so we need to reintroduce these plants. This is where my Master’s research picks up. We are investigating: what native species to include in these revegetation seed mixes, in what proportions, and in what sowing density.”

In the summer of 2019, Robinson teamed up with the Utah Division of Forestry, Fires & State Lands and Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to begin a large-scale revegetation project in an effort to find the best methods for reseeding native plant species in Great Salt Lake wetlands.

Hydroseed was applied — a mixture of water, seed, and tackifier. The tackifier is a botanical glue used to help the seeds stay in place, it stabilizes the soil so the seeds have a much better chance of sprouting and growing.

During July and August, Robinson returned to the sites to assess the success of the seeding.

Robinson explains, “It is reasonable to think that seeding density would automatically mean a high chance of seeds taking root, but this is not always the case. At one location, a high seeding density leads to greater establishment of native species, but at another spot it does not. We are finding in seed-based restoration there is a lot of plant mortality, or loss. We are asking: Why is that? What causes this failure in restoration? And what are the best ways to establish diverse native plant communities?”

During the winter months Robinson evaluated some new species in the USU greenhouse – these are potential candidates for restoration that might perform better than the species tested in 2019. Results of this preliminary greenhouse trial suggest that nodding (Bag-er-tick) beggartick, golden dock, and fringed willowherb may grow more readily than the previous species evaluated. These three species will be included in experimental revegetation mixes this summer.

The end goal of Robinson’s research is to determine best practices for seed-based revegetation in wetlands and provide better information for wetland managers faced with the challenge of restoring native plant communities.
The restoration of native plant communities in Great Salt Lake wetlands will improve the quality of habitat for birds and enhance the many ecosystem services these wetlands provide.

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

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Rae Robinson, Courtesy & © Karin Kettenring
Text: Shauna Leavitt, Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

Sources & Additional Reading

Leavitt, Shauna, Our Invasive Phragmites, Wild About Utah, March 11, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/our-invasive-phragmites/

Leavitt, Shauna, The Invasive Phragmites, Wild About Utah, April 16, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/invasive-phragmites/

Rupp, Larry, et al, Phragmites Control at the Urban/Rural Interface, Utah State University Extension, September, 2014, https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1688&context=extension_curall

Larese-Casanova, Mark, Phragmites-Utah’s Grassy Invader, Wild About Utah, August 23, 2012, https://wildaboututah.org/phragmites-utahs-grassy-invader/

Muffoletto, Mary-Ann, Mighty Phragmites: USU Researcher Studies Wetlands Invader, Utah State University Extension, June 18, 2009, https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1688&context=extension_curall

Common Reed, Phragmites australis, Utah State University Extension, https://extension.usu.edu/rangeplants/grasses-and-grasslikes/common-reed

Duncan, Brittany L., et al., Cattle grazing for invasive Phragmites australis(common reed) management in Northern Utah wetlands, Utah State University Extension, https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3038&context=extension_curall

Spring’s Way

Spring's Way: Courtesy & Copyright Patrick Kelly, Photographer
Courtesy & © Patrick Kelly, Photographer
Springtime in Cache Valley is marked by many events. It is a seasonal turn full of unrelenting life. The signs and the emotions they revive are marked by the beauty found in every hour of the day: from the day’s first bird songs, reviving the world from slumber, to their last evening’s lullaby.

Spring is also the time when warmth returns to the sunlight. After winter, I’ll often need to sit in the celestial rays to warm my bones, always hesitant lest snows reappear in May and I get soft. When I allow myself finally to ceade, the feeling of sun on my bare face in spring can only be described though as relief.

In the sun, too, one can’t help but breathe the smell of thaw, green buds, and warming winds. The many scents of earth remind me of its very mineral diversity, often thought of as monolithic, but truly clay, limestone, sand, gravel, and granite each fill the air’s bouquet differently in the wet and dry. These and other reminders which revise winter’s nostalgic fog breathe fresh life with even more vivacity.

Spring also brings with it labor, for who can truly say to love than those who enjoy its work? For me, I do love chores, especially in spring. I enjoy mowing the lawn, pruning trees, tilling the soil, and starting crops just as the Swede enjoys stacking split wood. It is a natural work to us both, a good work, and a labor of provision.

Additionally, these simple actions signify belonging to something larger than myself. It is how I honor the world around me: by acting in accordance to an older, more widely-shared order. I act as spring dictates, and thus am realized as its agent. Tis good to be an agent of such.

It also feels good to allow myself to slip into this annual cycle with such depth. I work on this, for no worthy cause is without struggle. I engage myself to grow the better in me as I make the choices of participation with the goal that one day it shall be habit. I leave the windows ajar to hear the birds and let their sage songs smudge my home. I walk often and stop to feel the catkin buds, listen to the absence of traffic, and smell big firs. I tend to wildflowers with my attention, nurturing tomorrow’s colors, medicines, and gifts.

So this spring, I invite you to try it on: being an agent of the season. Even if you do not garden, begin by experiencing what a new-born leaf feels like. Even if you do not mow, grab a blade, breathe it in, and harvest into your mind the scent. Even if you cannot understand them, open the windows and let the birds morning revelry and lullabies bookend your days. In these ways, we can all do good and live still by spring’s way.

I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah.
 
Spring’s Way-Credits:

Images: Image Courtesy & Copyright Patrick Kelly, Photographer, all rights reserved
Audio: Contains audio Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://logannature.org
Included Links: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Spring’s Way-Additional Reading

Parkhurst, Emma, MS, CHES, Eight Stress-relieving Activites to Give You a Break from the Coronavirus, USU Extension | Davis County, https://extension.usu.edu/covid-19/mental-and-emotional-well-being

Brower, Naomi, Four Tips for Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude, Utah State University Extension, https://extension.usu.edu/covid-19/mental-and-emotional-well-being

Brower, Naomi, Finding a Cure for the Sheltering-in-Place Blues, Utah State University Extension, https://extension.usu.edu/covid-19/mental-and-emotional-well-being

Swinton, Jonathon, Remaining Coronavirus Calm, Utah State University Extension, https://extension.usu.edu/covid-19/mental-and-emotional-well-being

Spring’s Way