City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

December 7, 2016

December 8th

Filed under: Birds, Coyote, Deer Mouse, Guardhouse gate, People, Pleasant Valley — canopus56 @ 11:00 pm

Three Types of Hunters

3:30 p.m. On December 7th, daytime temperatures are in the low twenties, but it is a clear sunny day. I am continuing making an inventory of bird and insect nests in the canyon. Three hunters are on the prowl in the canyon.

At the up canyon end of Pleasant Valley Reservoir along the trail parallel to the road that leads back to picnic site 11, I find a set of mule deer tracks in the snow interspersed with canine tracks. Canine snow tracks are distinguished from mountain lion tracks by the presence of claws and the number of rear lobes on the paw print. Canine tracks have claws; felines do not. Canine tracks have two rear lobes on their paws; felines have three (Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources). This are canine tracks but it is too far from the road for them to be domesticated dogs. Therefore, I suspect the canine tracks are from a coyote.

Near mile 1.2, two hunters are walking down canyon carrying a pack between them. They are armed with both bows and rifles. The anterless elk hunt remains open through January 31st, 2017, and they describe how they and a third hunter have taken two elk up the canyon. Our encounter underscores the wastefulness of this hunt. The city prohibits vehicle access except by special request and the City prohibits State permitted anterless elk hunting in the canyon although, the City allows it by special discretion of the water treatment plant operators. To muddle matters further, their are two classes of State issued anterless elk permits: regular permits where the user may hunt on public lands and special elk control permits where a hunters may not hunt on public land. Because of the City rules, the hunters are hand-hauling perhaps 50 lbs of meat from a 200 or 300 lb. elk for  6 to 8 miles out of the canyon. The remainder of the carcass is left to rot. Their hunting companion did obtain permission to bring a car into the canyon, and he jets by dragging a snow sled that also contains a sack of meat.

At mile 0.6, I instinctively look up in response to hearing a shriek. A raptor is crossing the canyon, but it is to fast and too high identify.

Each of these three hunters has their own assessment of what is valuable and each have their own objectives. This affects how each sees the canyon.

On October 23rd, I talked with a clerk at City Department of Public Utilities. She states that there is only one City permitted hunting season in City Creek Canyon – the regular rifle deer hunt that ends October 31st. I indicate that I have seen hunters regularly during the Utah State Division of Wildlife Resources’ December anterless hunt and during its November 30th bow hunt. She states that if I see rifle hunter’s during the anterless hunt in the future, I should call the Department and they will send up the police to get them out. But then she qualifies the restriction by stating that the plant manager may be let people hunt at his discretion. This confusing state of affairs is complicated by modern technology that provides cell phone applications that allegedly map all permitted hunting areas. I surmise that some of the hunting that I have seen during December in the canyon is in fact illegal.

This regulatory confusion becomes apparent when I reach Guardhouse Gate where a luxury home owner on the bench above the canyon entrance is distraught over the scoped high-powered hunting rifles that the two hunters have lain on the ground while waiting for a ride. I talk with the hunters to assuage her overstated fears. They claim to have taken the two elk outside the drainage north of Bountiful, and then quartered carcasses and dragged them over the ridge and out the City Creek Canyon side. They even pull out their cell phones to show me maps that their hunting area was “legal”. I suspect that they are being deceptive, since their clothing is not wet and I have hiked the route many times that they claim to have taken. Part of the route is a one and one-half mile trek through up to eighteen inches of snow with no trail. They would have had to have post-holed in snow up to their calves for at least one-half mile. One has to bushwack about three-quarters of mile through dense thickets. Their story is not believable, but the watershed canyon patrol also saw them and let their companion’s vehicle into the canyon, so I let the matter go, congratulate them on a successful hunt, and give some background to the distraught homeowner. In order to reduce such conflicts, I write the maker of the popular hunting cell phone application that these hunters were using and ask them to add the additional City hunting restrictions to their online maps.

Even today, with the wind where temperatures drop into the teens, there are about twenty runners and walkers on the canyon road. The Utah Division of Wildlife Services website indicates that a total of 40 anterless elk permits were available for the Salt Lake County hunting zone, including City Creek Canyon (Utah Division of Wildlife Services, 2016).

My own feeling is although the canyon is a multiple-use area, these winter hunts are simply wasteful since the City is not granting organized, permitted vehicle access in order to give the watershed a rest, and it is not possible to remove all of the meat taken. Today, these three human hunters have left perhaps five or six hundred pounds of carcass to rot in the backcountry. Given the change in recreation use mix from hunting to other dispersed recreation, these winter hunts are arguably not an appropriate multiple-use balance.

The two other non-human hunters in the canyon today generate no such controversies.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on December 8th, 1855, he observes that due to the winter cold, nature surrounding his home is empty of both mammals and birds. In Thoreau’s “Journal” on December 8th, 1850, Thoreau records the first significant snow of the season.

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September 21, 2016

September 19th

Filed under: Deer Mouse, Mammals, Squirrel, Unita Chipmunk, Water Treatment Plant — canopus56 @ 3:06 am

Samurai Squirrel

4:00 pm Today, I decide to jog further to mile 4.0.  At mile 3.1, a squirrel runs parallel to the road ahead of me, stops, turns around, and stands on its hind legs. Its arms are outstretched and the wide stance of its legs is suggestive of a samurai warrior. The squirrel stares at me as I jog by, but is relaxed and curious, and does not run away. Like other squirrels of the Wasatch Front canyons, this squirrel is docile and does not make aggressive displays towards people. Their behavior contrasts greatly with their direct relatives and their cousins, the Unita chipmunk, that live in the Unita Mountains about 80 miles east of City Creek Canyon. In the Unitas, both squirrels and chipmunks start barking loudly whenever a hiker approaches within 100 meters of their tree, and they continue to bark until one has passed and is another 100 meters away.  When their tree is close to a trail, I have known squirrels to crawl out to the edge of a branch a couple of feet over a hiker’s head, and they bark frenetically as the branch sways back and forth. They act as if they are about to jump off in an attack. Why there is this difference in behavior is unclear. Perhaps the squirrels in City Creek and the Wasatch Front canyons have, historically, been shot at so many times by humans, that they have internalized to not become aggressive around people. While squirrels and Unita chipmunks have suffered less hunting. But in recent times neither have been actively hunted by humans.

At the water plant at mile 3.4, is the first Rocky mountain deer mouse that I have seen since spring. They are called deer mice because of their relatively large ears. In the winter, the live under the snowpack, safe from the eyes of humans and predators. In the spring after the snow melts and grasses have not yet returned, four or five deer mice can be found leaving or entering their underground burrows along the canyon road. After the grasses regrow, they are again invisible during the summer. The mouse seen today has sunning at the road’s edge where the grasses have thinned, but when startled, he or she disappeared into the undergrowth.

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