City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

January 31, 2017

January 31st

Filed under: Cottonwood tree — canopus56 @ 9:12 pm

Tree Rings

4:30 p.m. Another day of heavy air pollution. It is also the last day of the anterless elk hunt. The elk are free from human predation until next August. Near mile 1.0, I take a photograph of the end of a machine cut mountain cottonwood log that is about thirty inches in diameter. Processing the digital image and counting the rings yields that the tree was felled at about 105 years of age. I do not know how long ago this cottonwood was cut down, but from the state of the bark, I suspect it was within the last twenty years. This dates the tree to between 1900 to 1920. Thirty inches in diameter is about as large as any cottonwood grows. There are perhaps ten cottonwoods of this size in the first mile of the canyon, and all of those shows signs of illness. I know of only one larger in the city at the corner of Third Avenue and J Street, and it is healthy because it is well cared for.

A 2016 forest resource report by Werstak et al. describes distribution of the age classes of various trees on national forest lands in Utah (Werstak, Fig. 5(a), p. 23). For elms, ashes and cottonwoods, about twenty-five percent reach between 101-120 years in age and then decline rapidly. None appear to live past 160 years old.

I first came into the canyon about 40 years ago, and thus, some of the cottonwoods that I now see were seedlings in the 1980s. Others were mature sixty year olds and are now one-hundred. But I have no conscious recollection of see any of these trees change over the years. Their growth is too slow to be perceived by humans. Later at home through an internet utility that allows viewing homes on streets anywhere in the United States, I look at a recent photograph of a home where my father planted trees fifty years ago. I remember them as one-inch stems brought home from the nursery that barely survived their first year due to attacks from tent caterpillars. Now they are great trees with trunks two feet across and are seventy-five feet tall. I hope that somewhere with modern technology, an academic biologist will set up a fixed camera and record a forest on the same day, once during each season, for one-hundred years, so a future generation may see how a forest grows and changes.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on January 31st, 1852, he enjoys how snow lays in decks on pine trees. On January 31st, 1854, he remarks how simple sounds of sparrows or buds on a tree provide relief from winter.

On January 31st, 1917, City Commissioner Herman H. Green reported that jail prisoners are continuing work on grading the boulevard around City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). On January 31st, 1902, City Engineer L.C. Kesley submitted his report to the mayor recommending the construction of a concrete reservoir at Pleasant Valley and reporting the expenditure of $22,792 USD (approx. $631,000 in 2016) for the construction of a water pipeline up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune, Deseret Evening News). On January 31st, 1900, the Board of Public Works asked for authorization to implement City Engineer Kesley’s recommendation to replace the water main in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). The Land and Water Commissioner asked for an additional deputy to police the canyons to prevent arrest persons for “violating the law by befouling of the streams” (id). On January 31st, 1894, Water Superintendent D.S. Griffin reported to Mayor Baskin that in City Creek, about 9,000 feet of rip-rapping had been repaired and about 15,000 feet of the creek bed had been cleared (Salt Lake Herald).


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