When Farm Meets Forest

When Farm Meets Forest: A Herd of Sheep Near Hardware Ranch Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer
A Herd of Sheep Near Hardware Ranch
Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer

Pyrenean Mountain Sheep Dog Near Mendon Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer Pyrenean Mountain Sheep Dog
Near Mendon
Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer

Last week, while driving along the western edge of Cache Valley just north of Mendon, I saw a huge herd of sheep complete with a sheepherder’s hut. I slammed on the breaks and jumped out with my camera to catch a few pictures of this rippling river of white. As I approached, a big beautiful white stepped out of the flock. This sheepdog was on the job, protecting the flock from any intruders. As we took a long look at each other, I remembered the story of a similar dog who made quite a splash in the local news 20 years ago.

In this story, a Bear Lake resident, Jimmy Stone, spotted a white Pyrenean in Logan Canyon, and got to worrying if it was lost. He started taking daily trips up the canyon to fill a bowl with dog food and tasty treats. The dog came down to eat the food, but would not leave the area. Jimmy hiked up a nearby ridge, and with the help of his binoculars, discovered the dog’s secret: This loyal guardian dog was sticking with 3 lost sheep. Hoping to lure all 4 off the mountain, Jimmy dropped off a bale of hay. The sheep did not come own, so the dog carried the hay up the hillside – bit by bit. Jimmy dropped off branches of crispy apples. The dog carried them up. The sheep were not coming down, and the dog was not leaving without them. Winter snow arrived. Jimmy bought out all the corn dogs at a local convenience store and threw them like tiny footballs up to the dog. More snowstorms arrived. It was time to ask for help. Search and Rescue showed up immediately with snowmobiles and sleds. This story has a happy ending as the search and rescue team managed to get the dog and the sheep safely off the mountain.

Meanwhile, back on the side of the road north of Mendon, I found out this huge herd of sheep had spent the summer in the mountains above Hardware Ranch. They had been brought here by trucks and were now gleaning a local farmer’s alfalfa fields. Soon the trucks would return to take them to Nevada to spend the winter.

How different this huge herd was from the early pioneer days in Mendon when most people only owned a family milk cow and a few smaller animals. It was the job of the local “herd boy” to gather the milk cows and take them up the mountain to graze during the day. Apparently taking the cows home was the easy part of this job. Each cow knew exactly where she lived and would peel off the group at their own garden gate.

Unfortunately, over time, as the livestock populations increased, the Mendon mountain got severely overgrazed. Each rainstorm would send rocks and mud crashing down the steep slopes. Trying to persuade the town council to get the livestock off the mountain and let the vegetation recover, John O Hughes made a bold move. During a council meeting, he took his glass of water and dumped half of it over the head of a bald man. Everyone watched in stunned silence as the water rolled right off the bald head and soaked the man’s shirt. Hughes then dumped the rest of the water onto a man with a bushy head of hair. This man’s shirt stayed dry. That settled the debate.

To this day, the Mendon mountain is green and wooded. It’s nothing short of a hiker’s paradise.

This is Mary Heers and I’m Wild About Utah


Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers.
Featured Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections, Courtesy & Copyright © Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio upr.org and Courtesy & Copyright © Anderson, Howe, Wakeman
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’ Postings

Great Pyrenees, Dog Breed Profile, Hill’s Pet Nutrition, https://www.hillspet.com/dog-care/dog-breeds/great-pyrenees

Stone, Jim, Stone, Karen, The Legend of BIG BOY Safe or Stranded: An Account of a Real Life Living Legend, Balboa Press, January 7, 2021, https://www.amazon.com/Legend-BIG-BOY-Safe-Stranded/dp/1982260386

Kent, Steve, Dog who refused to abandon sheep in Logan remembered in book, The Associated Press, January 23, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/sheep-canyons-utah-dogs-logan-5a2db87b1fd300b1b39d0de3885ea5eb

“Six hikes are detailed in the Wellsville Mountains above and west of Mendon”
Wallace, David, Cache Hikers 2023, Bridgerland Audubon Society, 2023, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/product/cache-trails/

Talking Dirt

Talking Dirt: There are over four billion micro-organisms in a teaspoon of healthy soil. Courtesy King County, WA
There are over four billion micro-organisms in a teaspoon of healthy soil.
Courtesy King County, WA
It’s time to talk dirt- and I’m not talking politics, but real, factual dirt! Of all our amazing planets ecosystems, there is one that rises above all others. It’s the one your home is standing on, the one you don’t want your kids to track in the house. By now you’ve probably guessed it!

The diversity and abundance of life that exists within soil is greater than in any other ecosystem. A ‘biological universe’ exists in a gram of soil. Soil biota within this tiny universe transform energy, create and modify their habitat, influence soil health, and aid in the regulation of greenhouse gases. There are more microbes in a teaspoon of soil than there are people on the earth. We’re talking such characters as bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, earthworms, and arthropods. No wonder kids are so drawn to this miraculous stew of life! My one year old granddaughter can’t resist a mouthful given the opportunity! So let’s dive into a handful of soil.

Biogeochemical Cycling Courtesy USGS, Public Domain https://www.usgs.gov/media/images/biogeochemical-cycling-diagram-showing-climatic-processes-hydrologic
Biogeochemical Cycling
Courtesy USGS, Public Domain
The majority of life on Earth is dependent upon six critical elements: hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, oxygen, and sulfur that pass through, and are transformed by, soil organisms. This process, called biogeochemical cycling, is defined as the transformation and cycling of elements between non-living and living matter. These processes are dependent upon life in the soil.

Although we understand the vital services that these organisms provide by breaking down organic debris and recy¬cling nutrients, scientists have only begun to study the rich and unique diversity that is a part of the soil ecosystem. Of particular interest for myself is understanding the functions of certain fungi and their roles in storing atmospheric carbon dioxide.

As you may have heard in past WAU readings, climate change is a major threat to Utah’s wildlife including birds, cold water fish, pollinators, and pica.

Conservation Tillage: Minimizing tillage and maintaining a crop residue on the soil surface can greatly reduce erosion impacts Agricultural Management Practices for Water Quality Protection--Watershed Academy Web, Courtesy US EPA
Conservation Tillage:
Minimizing tillage and maintaining a crop residue on the soil surface can greatly reduce erosion impacts
Agricultural Management Practices for Water Quality Protection–Watershed Academy Web, Courtesy US EPA
And here’s where our farms and ranches have the opportunity to play a crucial role beyond feeding us.
Deploying what’s called regenerative agricultural practices like tillage reduction, cover crops, companion planting, planned grazing, and keyline plowing—will not only improve soil quality making it more resilient to climate conditions like flooding and drought, but also increase soil’s organic matter which require less fertilizer. This in turn, means less runoff into waterways and greater profitability for farmers.

Perhaps most important of all, managing farms this way actually draws carbon out of the atmosphere. If all cropland in the U.S. was farmed using these regenerative practices, the greenhouse gas reduction would be equivalent to eliminating nearly 90 percent of our country’s cars. And now some states are considering economic incentives like tax breaks for carbon sequestration farming, and enlisting Farm Bureaus to provide additional support. Will Utah be next?

This is Jack Greene writing and reading for Wild About Utah.

Fortuna, A. (2012) The Soil Biota. Nature Education Knowledge 3(10):1, https://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/the-soil-biota-84078125

Biogeochemical Cycles, U.S. Global Change Research Program, https://nca2014.globalchange.gov/report/sectors/biogeochemical-cycles#intro-section-2

How do microbial mats work? Microbial Mat Biogeochemical Cycling, NASA Ames Research Center, https://spacescience.arc.nasa.gov/microbes/about/microbial.html

Biogeochemical Cycling, Center for Forested Wetlands Research, Southern Research Station, USDA Forest Service, https://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/charleston/research/biogeochemical/

Subsurface Biogeochemical Research Program, Climate and Environmental Sciences Division, Office of Biological and Environmental Research, U.S. Department of Energy, https://doesbr.org/

The Carbon Cycle, NASA Earth Observatory, EOS Project Science Office, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/CarbonCycle/