City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

July 13, 2017

July 12th

Latter Saint Day Conservation

7:30 p.m. Today, I go for a short jog up to the seep below picnic site 6 and then back down the Pipeline Trail. The successive days of summer heat is transforming the canyon. The tips of some Gambel’s oaks begin to curl and turn brown, and Starry solomon’s seal on the dry side of the road below picnic site 3 have curled up and turned brown. The road divides plants that are dry verses water tolerant. On the wet stream side of the road, Scouring rush horsetails line the stream. On the bank of the dry side of the road, Spikerushes have grown up to four feet in height. Herbaceous plants along the first one-third of road mile have turned from green to yellow-green. The Foxglove beardtongues are the only flowering plants that seem to grow more vigorously in this dryness and heat. Hidden near the stream, yellow-flowered Goldenrod plants (Solidago spp. L. or Solidago canadensis) grow three feet tall. Near mile 0.6, a new grove of yellow Toad flax (also called Butter-and-eggs) blooms out of its spring season in a microclimate of a shaded-cleft of the stream’s bottom. Yellow, the color of warm sun, is the color of this season.

It is the time of grasses. Along the road are the tall and slender Bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata), fuller-headed Blue wild rye (Elymus glaucus), and open-headed Wild bunchgrass. The smaller roadside Foxtail barley (Hordeum jubatum L.) weeds begin to turn brown. At the seep below picnic site 6, there are Bulrushes (Schoenoplectus (Rchb.) Palla spp.), a sedge like marsh grass with large round heads, and the delicate bunchgrass Indian ricegrass (Achnatherum hymenoides). All have turned brown, and multiple shades of brown are the other color of this season.

At the seep below picnic site 6, the six foot tall Cattails have gone to seed and they start to turn brown from the top of the green cigar-shaped female pistillate down towards the pistillate’s base. The male spikes above the pistillates are flush with pollen. Blue Chicory and blue Common California aster (Aster chilensis a.k.a. Symphyotrichum chilensis) are also found in the seep.

Turning back towards the City and down the Pipeline Trail, young Lazuli buntings call in the fading light from the oaks and while perched on the powerline above the trail. Underneath the dwarf Gambel’s oaks, the subshrub Creeping Oregon grape (Mahona repens) grows with its pale blue fruit. Somehow, I missed its yellow flowers during the spring. Just down trail from Oregon grapes on dry exposed soil, a 50 by 20 foot patch of cylindrical green immature Broom snakeweed bushes (Gutierrezia sarothrae) is responding to bright, hot days. They will expose their yellow flowers in a few weeks.

Overhead, high linear clouds turn bright pink as the sun sets and the sky darkens.

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Mormons have super-majority voting control in the Mormon corridor – roughly an area three hundred miles on either side of a line running from Coreur d’Alene, Idaho on the north, through Salt Lake City, and then to Scottsdale, Arizona on the south. In the Utah portion of the corridor about sixty-six percent of voters identify with the L.D.S. Church. Mormons pride themselves on a tradition of conservation and foreword-thinking urban planning. As evidence of that cultural tradition, they site the early cooperative efforts of the Euro-American colonists of 1847 in cooperatively building irrigation ditches when the valley was settled (Galli 2006, Alexander 2006). Salt Lake City’s long-standing water manager, LeRoy Hooten, Jr., credited church leader Brigham Young with preserving the City Creek Canyon watershed with early, far-seeing water pollution laws (Hooten 1986). The early settlers laid out Salt Lake City in a grid pattern based on a vision of the City of Zion by their first prophet, Joseph Smith. This Mormon tradition of stewardship has a basis in their religious teachings (Galli 2006, Alexander 2006). Their teachings extoll that “the Lord, should make every man accountable, as a steward over earthly blessings” and that eventually, a divine creator will require “every man may give an account unto me of the stewardship” (Doctrine and Covenants, sections 104:12-13; Galli 2006). Brigham Young University history professor Thomas Alexander describes how Brigham Young and early church leaders taught mixture of religious conservation with entrepreneurship. Church members were expected to pursue a business life and to development natural resources while preserving and enhancing a divinely provided trust of the natural life (Alexander 2006).

This cultural tradition reappears periodically in Utah political dialog. Local attorney and former head of the Bureau of Land Management under President Clinton, Patrick Shea, often alludes to it. In supporting President Clinton’s declaration of the Grand Escalante Staircase National Monument, Shea claimed that Brigham Young declared “City Creek Canyon off-limits to logging, mining or any activities that could pollute the creek or harm the environmental refuge next to the growing city” (Salt Lake Tribune Oct. 6, 1996). Shea has also been active in preserving City Creek Canyon and in supporting the construction of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail that crosses the canyon (Salt Lake Tribune, May 7, 1997). In 2015, he opposed the Mountain Accord, a private proposal to limit development in the Wasatch Front Mountain Range canyons on the grounds that it did not provide enough protection, citing Brigham Young’s historical precedent of sustainable use in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune March 21, 2015). The Mormon tradition is cited by Utah free-market proponents as a justification to transfer all federal lands to state control. Because of their dominate Mormon religion, Utahans will be good stewards of any newly received lands, it is claims.

Although Mormons talk environmental values, their conduct is little different from aggressive commercial exploitation of the natural environment (Flores 1985). Brigham Young engaged in heavy of logging that denuded much of the first growth forest in the City Creek Canyon (see entries March 21st through March 25th). His lumber operations in City Creek was an important component of Young’s personal and early church wealth (March 25th, April 4th). Water pollution controls and modern water infrastructure in City Creek Canyon were enacted after the non-Mormon Liberal Party and “Gentile” Mayor Richard Baskin first took control of Salt Lake City government in the 1890s, after Young’s death (Feb. 6th). Even after non-Mormons took control of city government, they allowed extensive mining in City Creek canyon through 1920 (March 26th). Hull noted the contradiction between the rise of Utah forest conservation in the early 1900s that stopped the over-harvesting of timber and the concurrent unabated overgrazing of rangelands (Hull 1976). But Hall’s research answers his own question. He noted that Bancroft (1890) reported that by grazing for free on public lands, early Mormon ranchers realized gross margins of 40 percent on sheep and of 84 percent on cattle. Because of simple greed by 1900, early Utah ranchers denuded the rangeland by overgrazing, and then through the 1930s, they continued practices that allowed invasive cheat grass to cover the state (July 7th).

Another disturbing aspect of fringe Mormon environmental beliefs, not discussed by Alexander or other Mormon scholars, relates to Armageddon or “end-days” theology. My own personal experience with a few Mormons, admittedly a non-representative sample from lower income classes, is that they believe that environmental protection is not necessary because the degradation of the Earth is a symptom of biblical end times. They candidly state that there is no need to preserve resources because after the end-time, a divine creator will provide the religious post-Armageddon few with a brand new earth, free of pollution and restocked with natural resources. One historian has also noted this cultural phenomena (Flores, 173-174).

Alexander’s response to critics of Mormon stewardship of Utah lands is that church leaders can only extol their members to conform to its religious teachings (Alexander 2006). Their secular actions are no different than the followers of the modern environmental movement, such as Deep Ecology, where the actual commercial practices of individuals may deviate from doctrinal ideals (id). A modern example might be subscribing to the Sierra Club magazine while opting to purchase a Humvee instead of a Prius. In this respect, I agree with Alexander: the environmental behavior of historical and modern Utah Mormons is not exceptional or different from their secular consumer counterparts. But those LDS conservation traditions and religious teachings provide a useful reminder that can be employed to counter the environmental excesses of the Mormon controlled Utah state government and local private industry.

* * * *

On July 12th, 1916, the YMCA led an outing of boys up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On July 12th, 1906, City Creek Canyon was closed to fishing because the stream had been fished out, and the Fisherman’s Protective Association was working to re-stock the stream (Deseret Evening News). On July 12th, 1905, City Mayor Hewlett signed a resolution approving construction of a bridge across City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake Telegram). This is probably the bridge were the stream crosses present day Bonneville Drive. On July 12th, 1890, plans for a 120 foot high wooden bridge across City Creek Canyon at Ninth Avenue were obtained by E. L. Craw (Salt Lake Times). On July 12th, 1899, John W. Snell reported assaying high quality lead, silver and gold ore eight miles up City Creek Canyon, and the Red Bird Mine is still producing (Ogden Standard).

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