City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

March 22, 2017

March 21st

Filed under: Plants — canopus56 @ 6:38 pm

This is Not the Natural Place. – Part II – Control of the Canyon

2:00 p.m. The growth of green continues, and it is fed by muggy, moist air. Usually, I am preoccupied with the working world, and this annual transformation of the trees occurs subjectively in an instant. Already in the city and across from my home, three trees are gray one day, and then appear with leaves the next. I am determined to watch this more closely this year, and in the canyon, I tie three small white ribbons to three bushes and trees so I can measure the growth of the same leaves.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 21st, 1853, he records chickweed as a naturalized early blooming plant. On March 21st, 1854, he see thirty ducks sleeping on a hill. On March 21st, 1856, he harvests sap running from maple trees. On March 21st, 1858, he hears a chickadee.

* * * *

The quick response to this tipping point signal of equinox light is driven by plants’ strong genetic programming that encourages them to race to gather the rapidly increasing sunlight. Even in my kitchen, a bag of store bought onions responds to the more light than dark signal, and they grew long green shoots in one day. How much will the new resource of life giving light increase? Not only do days grow longer, but the altitude of the Sun increases. A higher altitude means that sunlight must traverse significantly less atmosphere to reach the leaves below. Thus, longer hours of daylight compound on an increasingly more powerful, higher Sun. How much does the total energy available to plants change from the winter solstice to the vernal equinox and then to the following summer solstice? In general, when the Sun is perpendicular to Earth’s surface, the sun energy reaching the ground is at maximum 1,000 Watts per square meter. Although astronomical equations can be used to adjust this ideal value for the latitude of a given site and the length of the day, an easier resource provides information of the relative total power of the Sun. In the 1990s, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory published a study of measured solar energy based on physical readings at major cities for thirty years between from 1961 to 1990. For Salt Lake City, the mean solar energy falling on horizontal ground for December, March, June, and September were, 1.7, 4.1, 7.4, and 5.2, respectively, in kilowatt hours per day (NREL). As ratios of the lowest level in December, the total available mean daily energy is: December – 1.0, March – 2.4, June – 4.3, and September – 3.1. Although photosynthesis continues through the coldest month of December in grasses, cinquefoil (January 17th), horsetails (February 13th), mosses and evergreen trees (January 10th), to support growth, deciduous plants wait and ride the four-fold increase in energy between December and June and the doubling in energy between March and June.

* * * *

Brigham Young also gained ownership of the rest of City Creek above his original Lion House allotment. On arriving in the valley, Young told Mormon immigrants that “There shall be no private ownership of the streams that come out of the canyons nor the timber that grows on the hills” (Flores 1985, quoted at 185). Mormon pioneer Hosea Stout briefly reported on Dec. 3, 1850 that “City Creek K was granted to Pres B. Young for 500 dollars” (Brooks, 384), or about $30,000 in current money. Unaware of the creation of the new Utah Territory by the United States Congress, the legislature of the State of Deseret passed the Ordinance of December 9, 1850, and it transferred “ownership” of all of City Creek Canyon to Brigham Young:

Be it ordained by the General Assembly of the State of Deseret, that the petition of Brigham Young, praying for the privilege and control of City Creek, and Canyon: be granted as set forth in said petition. And, that he pay into the Public Treasury the sum of five hundred dollars therefor . . . . (quoted Hooten, 12).

Although recognized by the local community, these ordinances were without legal effect, since the State of Deseret had not been recognized by the United States Congress. But once reconstituted as the Territorial Legislature in 1852, that body retroactively ratified all of laws passed by the legislature of the State of Deseret (Baskin, 165).

The transfer of City Creek to Young was one of series of transfers of all of the Wasatch Front canyons, the Oqurrih Mountains, Stansbury and Antelope Islands, and all of Tooele County to key officials in the L.D.S. Church. Larson’s opinion, in his research on early land contests in Utah, was the transfers were intended to minimize conflict and contests between immigrants to the valley for important natural resources by consolidating ownership in a few community leaders (Larson, 309). Former Salt Lake Dept. of Public Works Director Hooten also was of the view that the title of City Creek transferred to Young was beneficial ownership for general good of the community. It was a “guardianship”, consistent with the Mormon ideal that public resources should be protected for the whole (Hooten, 4, 12). As the head of the theodemocracy, that is as the head of both the L.D.S. Church and the State of Deseret, Young held the canyon as a public trust.

A competing view is that City Creek Canyon, particularly after the passage of the Territorial Organic Act in 1850 with Section 6, was open public domain land, from which any person could remove timber or other resources. Robert N. Baskin, the Salt Lake City attorney and later prosecutor who led a grand jury to indict Brigham Young for murder, had a different version of Young’s control over the entrance to and the length of City Creek:

[Young] exacted tribute from the inhabitants for the privilege of utilizing the natural, useful and extensive resources of that canyon. By the grant, Brigham obtained a rich bonanza . . . which extracted tribute from the masses for the privilege of enjoying that portion of the natural resources of the public domain within the limits of City Creek Canyon. (Baskin, 165, Deseret News, October 14th, 1870).

On October 14, 1870, Territorial Judge James B. McKean put charges to a territorial grand jury in The People vs. Brigham Young, a case against Young for multiple alleged crimes, including misappropriation of public lands, conspiracy in the Mountain Meadows massacre, and polygamy. Judge McKean was noted for his personal anti-Mormon sentiment. With respect to misappropriation of public lands, he stated that,

Congress also provided that “no law shall be passed interfering with the primary disposal of soil.” But very soon thereafter the Legislative Assembly assumed to dispose of vast tracts of the public lands, of many streams of water, though artificial irrigation is essential to nearly all agricultural lands, and of vast forests of timber, though such forests are far from numerous. I will quote a few of these grants in the language of these Territorial legislators: . . . .

Be it ordained, etc., that Brigham Young have the sole control of City Creek Canyon and that he pay into the public treasury the sum of five hundred dollars therefore . . . ” (Desert News, Oct. 10th, 1871).

The criminal case against Young was later dismissed due to a procedural defect in the selection of the jury, and it was not refiled (Baskin, 57).

Whether his acquisition was for personal, public good, or both purposes or whether his title was technically legal or illegal, Young’s initial control of City Creek Canyon and its mouth set the stage for first wave of canyon use by Euro-Americans.

* * * *

On March 21st, 2016, Jeremy Pugh’s guide to “100 Things To Do In Salt Lake City Before You Die” recommends a trip up City Creek Canyon (Deseret News). On March 21st, 2015, Pat Shea, former head of the BLM under President Clinton, in a letter to the editors of the Salt Lake Tribune, when arguing against the Mountain Accord, again appealed to Brigham Young’s historical precedent of sustainable use in City Creek Canyon. On March 21st, 2007, the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce proposed as part of its “Downtown Rising” initiative, creating an interconnected system of trails, including City Creek Canyon, between the mountains and local city parks (Deseret News). On March 21st, 1931, the date of the annual high school City Creek Marathon is set for April 3rd (Salt Lake Herald). On March 21st, 1915, the Deseret Evening News, due to a drought winter, proposed several solutions to the City’s lack of water. The News urged that “The water rights of the city must be protected and maintained at all costs” (Deseret Evening News).


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