City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

February 10, 2017

February 9th

Filed under: Owl, Weather — canopus56 @ 12:02 am

Distant Droughts

9:30 p.m. It is near a full Moon, overcast, and there is enough light have a late jog. The light is sufficient that I may see some wildlife at night. As I drive into the canyon, a young mule deer is grazing next to the road, but none are still seen within the canyon itself. Today, temperatures have reached into the sixties, and snow within the canyon is almost gone. At Pleasant Valley, where a week ago there was six to eight inches of snowpack, the ground is bare except for a few resistant piles of ice. As I run up the canyon, the air is a mixture of cold and warm wafts and rivers. The warm river smells like summer. Even so, the stream still has not risen substantially, and the water continues to be absorbed into the soil. At milepost 0.5, two owls, one on each side of the stream, engage in calls and responses. The call of the owl on the north-west side is high pitched and the pitch of the less frequent reply from the owl on the south-east side is much lower. I long for the mule deer and elk to return to the lower canyon that is now covered in green grass shoots.

Distant effect do not have to be limited to physical distance(Feb. 7th); distance can also occur in time. Recent precipitation patterns in Utah and the canyons should be considered in the broader historical climate context. In 2014, Bekker at Brigham Young University and DeRose at the U.S. Forest Service and colleagues reconstructed a 576 year streamflow time series for a northern Utah stream from tree rings for 1429 to 2004. For streams in their study, instrumented flow records only go back forty-five years, although in City Creek Canyon, such records go back seventy years to 1945. From the tree rings, Bekker et al found that persistent, severe droughts were far more prevalent in the distant past than in the 150 years of Euro-American presence in northern Utah. Bekker et al sought to provide a better, less uncertain characterization of drought and flood years for water managers in the Intermountain West and Utah, considering known extreme events such as the extended seven year drought of the 1930s and the extreme flooding of the 1980s. Of the 5th percentile driest years of the 576 since 1492, 2% of the 100 years in the 1900s where among the 5th percentile drought years, 6% in the 1700s, 7% of 100 in the 1500s and 9.6% of years from 1492 to 1500. Extreme drought events in the form of longer, extended and hotter periods are the norm. The Euro-American historical experience since 1847 has been a relatively wet, drought free anomaly. This provides perspective on what is “normal” precipitation in City Creek Canyon and Bekker’s study informs our perception of the Gambel oak forest.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on February 9th, 1852, he notes that eastern pokeweed seeds are eaten in winter birds. Pokeweed is a cultivar in Utah. February 9th, 1855, he records another downy woodpecker.

On February 9th, 1911, the Salt Lake Real Estate Association proposed building an electric power plant in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune).

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