City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

March 9, 2017

March 9th

Filed under: Eastern Boxelder Bug, mile 1.2, Moon, Moth, Mule deer, Mule Deer, picnic site 7 — canopus56 @ 10:14 pm

It is enough. This is the Right [Natural] Place – First Peoples – Part VII

5:30 p.m. It is again warm today, but I do not get to the canyon until late, and even so, the parking lot is overflowing and their are thirty people in the first mile. It is the warmth of pre-spring that draws people. The canyon looks dreary, but perhaps that is because I am in a poor mood. Everything is waiting for more light. Plants on the side of the road look dirty; the leaf litter is slowly transforming into a paste that will foster this spring’s growth. Although it is dusk, a few Box Elder bugs are out and a moth flutters by. Below picnic site 7 on the west side of the road and across from the overhanging rock (Jan. 3rd), there is an intermittent spring whose small rivulet runs down an earth bank and along the road. I start up the bank to trace the rivulet back to its source, but then hear a branch crack behind me. Turning around, on south-east side of the canyon and across the stream, two mule deer are picking their way through the undergrowth. They see me turn and freeze. One of the deer stands with one foot held above the ground in mid-step. I wait for a minute and rather than stress them further, I decide to continue up the road and leave their forest home to them alone. At mile 1.1, a nearly full Moon hangs over Black Mountain, and this contrasts the earlier earlier afternoon Moon also seen over Black Mountain on March 7th. Coming back down canyon, I remark about the deer to a canyon regular – a man who daily walks an abused dog that he rescued from a shelter. He patiently was been working with the animal for a year, trying to reduce its aggressiveness. He reports that at dusk yesterday, there was a herd of fifty or sixty deer on the western slope above mile 1.2. Although he is known to me to be a reliable reporter, not prone to exaggeration, this is the type of report that needs to be witnessed directly. Fifty or sixty deer in one herd is more than I have ever seen or heard reported in the canyon, but his description does indicate that the deer have begun their spring move.

Occasionally, humanity does aspire to greatness and it tries to fix its missteps and injustices. For example, the Northern Ute Tribe received $272 million under the 1992 Central Utah Project as compensation for the United States’ failure to complete the Unitah portion of the multi-basin water project. In 2010, the State of Utah agreed to pay $33 million to the Navajo Nation related to the mismanagement of trust royalties for the 6,000 Navajos living in the Utah portion of the Navajo Nation. Conversely, no monies were actually paid to Northern Utes when they succeeded their lands to the United States under an 1868 Treaty with the United States.

In modern economics study, much is made of the economic miracle of the United States since the initial North American colonization and the exceptional peoples who created that miracle. A typical undergraduate first economics course is Heilbroner and Singer’s “The Economic Transformation of the America: 1600 to the Present”. Heilbroner and Singer’s economic narrative parallels the history of Euro-American Utah: hard-working, creative, persistent immigrants following free market principles took a raw valueless land and turned it into an economic powerhouse unparalleled in human history. The subtext message of the authors is that Americans are exceptional, and, similarly, the Mormons by their religious beliefs also feel themselves to be exceptional even among exceptional Americans. A simpler explanation of the Utah and United States economic miracle is that Euro-Americans were better capitalized. In settlement of the 1848 water with Mexico, the United States paid Mexico about $19.65 per square mile, or 3 cents an acre, for western lands including present day Utah. In present day Utah of the 84,899 square miles, or 54,335,360 acres, about 31 percent is held privately or by the State of Utah. After 1851, Utahans could buy homestead land at $1.25 per acre in 1850 currency, and in 1805, United States undeveloped land was valued at about $2.00 per acre. Thus, in 1850, future private and state lands were conservatively worth about 33,687,922 USD in 1850 currency or 740,198,508 USD in 2016 currency. That is about 148,039 USD for each of the 5,000 colonists of 1847. Viewing Utah as a “business venture”, starting a business with about 150,000 USD capitalization per shareholder is likely to be a successful prospect. Unknown to both the First Peoples and the Euro-American colonists was the value of Utah’s mineral wealth, which extracted and still extracts billions of dollars per year from the earth. In 2016, the value of minerals extracted from Bingham Canyon and the Great Salt Lake were about $3 billion USD. Had the Euro-Americans of 1847 and western United States settlers kept to their fair market and contract law principles and paid the First Peoples the fair value for their lands, the Utah Euro-American colonists would have started out their business venture with a per capita debt of 150,000 USD in 2016 currency. If the Utah colonists had been true to their professed beliefs, then the economic history of Utah would have been much different. The same economic reasoning applies to much of the Manifest Destiny expansion of the United States westward of Appalachia’s in the 1800s. This reasoning should not and does not mean to denigrate the struggle, hard-work and sweat equity that the Euro-Americans, my ancestors, put into transforming the nation. But context is important to understanding the past and present, and certainty in one’s exceptionalism is the enemy of democracy because it prevents a person from seeing issues from another’s perspective and thus from reaching compromise.

Exceptional abilities implies choice within a given context. By 1847, the Euro-American colonists were well into the era of the Indian Removal Act of 1930, that established the precedent of removing First Peoples from lands west of the Mississippi. Removal of First Peoples was their cultural and political policy of first choice. But there were choices. The 5,000 colonists of 1847-1850 could have chosen to remain confined to Salt Lake Valley; they could have slowed the rate of their migration; they could have chosen to expand first to the north; they could have chosen to engage in a reparations program of providing supplemental cattle to First Peoples during the winter. The options are endless, but at the forefront of the colonists Indian policy was seizing the most fertile land in the region in Utah, not Salt Lake, valley. In this regard, the colonists of 1847 were not exceptional, and their behavior differed little from previous Euro-American contact with First Peoples up to that time.

City Creek Canyon also exists in a larger context. Sometimes that context is climate (Feb. 7th), and sometimes that context is the economic and political needs of the Euro-Americans as they developed the surrounding region (Feb. 24th). It is this relationship between nature and human resource and infrastructure needs that modified the pre-colonization condition of City Creek Canyon into what is seen today. Here, again context and ability implies choices. While the canyon has been modified since 1847, by historical accident and by political design, much of its 1847 pre-colonization state remains.

What choices did the Euro-Americans make, and how has nature in City Creek Canyon been changed from its 1847 condition by those choices as compared to the six other Salt Lake Valley canyons?

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 9th, 1852, he notes that bluebirds arrive with the first warm wind (see March 7th here). March 9th, 1853, he opines that the first bark of the red squirrel is a sign of spring. On March 9th, 1854, he see a large flock of ducks and reflections of the landscape in water. On March 9th, 1855, he scares a rabbit from the brush.

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March 2, 2017

March 2nd

Trash

2:00 p.m. Temperatures rise into the fifties. The snow and rain of the last few days has lost its hold on the city and in the canyon. A few inches of lingering snow covers the shaded canyon bottoms, but warm pre-spring sunlight dominates the air. At mile 1.1., the road is covered with mule deer scat. As the road warms during the day, deer herds like to congregate on the road at night in order to take advantage of the road’s radiant heat. Insects now respond more vigorously to spring’s new attempt to return. The Black-capped chickadee flock now centers on picnic site six, and a few Black-billed magpies venture higher up canyon. Between Guardhouse Gate and mile 1.1, I count fifty-one small stoneflies, whereas on previous warm days, only one or two could be found. The warmth draws the University’s bicycling team outside, and in close colorful group, they speed by up canyon.

Small trash is pervasive along the lower canyon road. Each day while jogging along the first two miles, I stoop to pick up three or four pieces of discarded paper, energy drink pack tops, hair bands, cigarette butts, sanitary wipes, bottle caps, plastic bottles, gloves, hats, ear rings, and similar ephemera of modern life. I am not a saint. I do this to selfishly preserve the natural aesthetic of my daily excursion, and also as exercise. I have become older and bending over and picking up items is a way to maintain flexibility. I estimate that over three years that I have picked up three or four 40 gallon bags of trash. I am far from the first to do this; keeping the canyon clean is a community effort. In 1997, Tony Cannon, a descendant of Mormon pioneers who logged 22,715 miles running in City Creek, was known for always leaving the canyon with armloads of trash (Salt Lake Tribune, April 23, 1997, May 12, 1998). Things have improved. Since the lower canyon is kept clean on a daily basis, the volume of discarded trash has declined noticeably. If occasional users find a more pristine canyon, they seem to be less inclined to deface it. One can only imagine what layers of plastic have been incorporated into the soil and thus the future geologic layers on either side of the road.

The current geologic epoch is called the Holocene, and it began about 11,000 years ago. Some researchers have proposed that a new geologic epoch be declared: the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene is informally defined as epoch in which human impact on the environment, in terms of species extinction, modification of the chemistry of the biosphere, and pollution, has become so pronounced that its effects will be seen in stratigraphic layers by future geologists (Waters et al). In August 2016, the Working Group on the Anthropocene of the International Union of Geological Sciences recommended to the full congress that it officially adopt this epoch name (Carrington), but the congress has yet to vote on the matter.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 2nd, 1855, he notes that when viewed from a distance, young shoots at the tops of maple trees are red tinged. Compare Dec. 11th here. On March 2nd, 1856, he observes that birches have dropped their seeds in a high density. On March 2, 1858, he sees a large flock of buntings. On March 2, 1859 during a winter of heavy snow, he describes the bluebird’s song as the first premature harbinger of spring. On March 2, 1860, he notes the ground is without snow.

On March 2nd, 1910, with a crew of 150, Moran Construction began installation of a 5 foot conduit to carry City Creek underground through the business district (Salt Lake Tribune).

November 30, 2016

November 29th

Scrub Oak Forest With Snow

4:30 p.m. The day after a major storm, the road is clear and dry or damp, and the canyon is covered in six inches of new snow. In the high mountains, three feet has fallen. Although the Sun comes out in the afternoon, the temperatures in the canyon remain in the upper twenties and low thirties, and as a result, branches in the scrub oak forest is covered in three to five inches of snow. But because of the low temperature, the snow will not melt. At mile 1.0 on the high north-west ridge, are four female deer and at mile 1.3, six mule deer are digging through the snow for grass hidden underneath. In the distance, the pine and fir trees on Black Mountain and the unnamed peak at 8283 feet have been blasted and are frosted with a layer of fresh snow.

Since the Pipeline Trail is covered with fresh dry snow, I decide to return by jogging down the trail before rising temperatures turn it into watery mud. Three or four other runners have already broken trail, but there is enough fresh snow that I get to enjoy the soft sound of a few inches of powder under my feet. It is slow going, but is still an enjoyable jog. The Gambel’s oaks arch from the left and the right over the trail, meeting at the top, and thus, they form a natural snow covered arch in the dimming twilight. By taking the trail, I am rewarded with the evening calls of a group of chukars (Alectoris chukar) high on the north-west canyon wall.

A third of a mile before the gate, I am greeted by clear skies and a brilliant Venus hanging as a guide star above the trail and twenty degrees above the horizon against a deep blue twilight sky. It will continue rising in the evening sky until its maximum elongation from the Sun and a peak brightness of magnitude -5.1 on January 12, 2017. This is midway in brightness between the brightest star, Vega (magnitude 0.0), and the full Moon (magnitude -10). I am reminded that although my feet are comfortably chilled by jogging through snow powder, on Venus the high level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has raised temperatures to where lead flows like water.

September 20, 2016

August 2nd

Filed under: Mammals, Mule deer — canopus56 @ 10:42 pm

Beating the Heat

3 p.m. It is 100 degrees in the city and a few degrees cooler in the canyon. Because of the temperature, the canyon is empty and nearly silent. A group of four immature mule deer take refuge in the creek-bottom. I am on top of the herd before they know it, startle them, and they flee into the brush.

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