City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

July 11, 2017

July 7th

The Cheat Grass Sea and Floods

(Continuation from July 6th). Before me at the Dry Fork pass are two miles of Cheat grass covered foothills that is two feet tall in some places. The cheat grass zone extends for a mile on either side of the ridge, crosses the salient’s ridgeline into City Creek and descends for another one-half mile. It is broken by the City Creek stream. On the western salient, the cheat grass begins again between a few hundred feet and one-half mile from the stream. Here, it is broken by the Gambel’s oak forest and chaparral. Then the cheat grass lands continue continues up and over the ridge to North Salt Lake beyond the west facing slope. For twenty-five minutes, I travel along the Bonneville Shoreline Trail as it winds around gullies and “noses”, and the Cheat grass sea is occasionally interrupted by remnants of native Wild bunchgrass, native Bluebunch wheatgrass and imported Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis). Eventually, the trail reaches the head of Perry’s Hollow, a small one and one-half mile canyon that empties near 11th Avenue above the City Cemetery. Although the heat is pounding, the clear air above the intensifying air pollution of a summer inversion layer clears the soul, and the views of the city and the lake beyond clears the mind.

Naturalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Wallace Stegner grew up in part in Salt Lake City. Checking old City Polk’s directories some years ago, I determined that he lived across from Liberty Park on 700 East Street and in his semi-autobiographical “Recapitulation”, he later resided in the Avenues not far from where I live. In his “Sound of Mountain Water,” he recounts his boyhood exploits in Big Cottonwood Canyon eight miles to the south of this pass. I like to imagine that Stegner also wandered the foothills that I jog through today. Although to my knowledge, Stegner never specifically wrote about Cheat grass, he grew up in Salt Lake City as this invasive arrived and took over the foothills. Cheat grass was not introduced into Utah until 1890, and by 1932, dominated in Salt Lake County (June 10th). In his youth, Stegner must have witnessed the cheat grass transformation of these foothills, and at times, I wonder if such experiences forged Stegner’s later resolve to preserve the outdoors.

From the 1920s through the 1960s, a core of Utah botanists and ecologists, including C. L. Forsling at the U.S. Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station in Logan and botany Professor Walter Cottam at University of Utah along with Stegner and Utah’s Bernard DeVoto dedicated themselves to creating a record of this western environmental catastrophe (Flores, 173). The Cheat grass invasion was not limited to Utah and included the other Intermountain states, like Arizona. In the 1960s, Stegner went on to write his famous “Wilderness Letter”, and Stegner and Arizonia Senator Stewart Udall’s key roles in the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act are well known. Both of their youths corresponded with the demise of the western rangelands to the Cheat grass invasion, and this must have been part of their motivation to preserve pockets of pristine lands through the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act. Thus, it may be because of the Cheat grass that infests City Creek Canyon and the ridgeline above the Avenues, that we enjoy the national system of wilderness areas throughout today’s western United States.

Sometime in the future, these Cheat grass lands above the Avenues will burn, and floods will again threaten the homes below, as they have in the past, e.g. – the 1945 Avenues flood (see August 19th, 1945) – in which a three foot wall of water mixed with 300 lb boulders came through the cemetery and down “M” Street in front of my residence (Craddock 1945, Salt Lake Telegram, August 8, 1945). Damage to the City was estimated at 300,000 USD in 1945, or about 4 million USD today. Depending on which part of the ridgeline burns, those cloudburst floods may not have this devastating effect of the 1945. After the 1945 flood, the city erected a flood dam across lower Perry’s Hollow to catch such future flood. An old quarry at 11th Avenue and North Terrace Hills Street was converted into a park, and a sunken soccer field doubles as flood retention basin.

Where did the Cheat grass come from? As discussed below, Utah’s early grazing resource exploitation era of the early 1900s brought the invasive Cheat grass to the state, and as a consequence, the livestock grazing industry bequeathed an annual, perpetual cost of between 20 to 40 million USD to Utah taxpayers in order to fight Cheat grass wildfires. Southern Utah ranchers are a core constituency group of Utah’s Sagebrush Rebellion, a movement that seeks to turn over all federal lands in Utah to state government. By taking title to federal lands, Utah grazing and other resource dependent industries hope to return to an era of higher extraction rates. Their political rhetoric of individualism and free-market economy principles harkens back to their nineteenth century roots. When I hear their arguments in media reports, I can only think of the Cheat grass fields on the ridgelines above City Creek Canyon stream and the 20 to 40 million USD of annual corporate welfare that ranchers receive in free fire suppression services. Through their cattle operator ancestors’ careless thoughtlessness that cost has been moved to Utah taxpayers. In order to understand the western Sagebrush Rebellion, one needs some historical knowledge to put their arguments into perspective. They and their ancestors have already ruined the Utah’s grass lands once before.

Notwithstanding the Cheat grass invasion of the western States, pockets of pristine grasslands remain. “Then and now” matched photographs made by University of Utah graduate student Gary Rogers in 1982 compared with geologist Karl Grove Gilbert’s 1901 photographs show many outlying areas in Utah’s west deserts, including the House Mountains (Rogers, Plate 12), at Fish Springs (Plate 9), in the Dugway Mountains (Plate 8) and east of Grantsville (Plate 5), escaped the Cheat grass invasion (Rogers 1982). The comparison photographs of these outlying areas show unchanged vegetation over an eighty-year period.

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Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on July 7th, 1851, he notes a pause in the blooming of flowering plants and that birds are singing less. He notes how the Moon causes shadows under elms. On July 7th, 1852, he notes loud bird song at 4 a.m. He describes morning dew in a fog and notes many cobwebs on grass. He describes many flowering plants of the summer season.

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Cheat grass on the ridgeline above the City may have played a central role in the Utah’s history and, in part, motivated the passage of of the 1964 Wilderness Act (1985). As explained during the spring on June 10th, cheat grass was not introduced into Utah until 1890, and by 1932, this invasive weed was present in all Utah counties, but was only dominate in Salt Lake County (id). What happened over those forty years to so widely distribute this weed? University of Utah biologist Cottam noted that in the 1940s, there were about 650,000 head of cattle and 3,800,000 head of sheep grazing on Utah rangelands (Cottam 1947, Fig. 1). Retired USDA ecologist Hull summarized the history of Utah ranching. From a maximum of about 9,000 grazing permittees in 1918, livestock grazing permit holders declined to about 5,000 in 1939 following years of extreme drought, and only three permittees had more than 600 head (Hull 1976 at 5). In 1936, the United States Department of Agriculture released its seminal “Western Range Letter” report announcing the virtual collapse of western rangelands from overgrazing in the western United States, including Utah (United States Forest Service 1936). The Report provided the factual basis justifying the passage of the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 that provided for the regulation of grazing on federal lands. But overgrazing since the turn of the century had already led to a cycle of grass fires that allowed the aggressive cheat grass invader to rapidly replace native grasses (Pickford, 1932; Monson and Kitchen, 24). Cheat grass re-burns at a higher frequency (Monson and Kitchen), and this created a feedback loop in which cattle would overgraze, cheat grass would be established and quickly burn, cattle would be driven to other allotments, and cheat grass completely replaces native grasses in expanding burn areas (Rogers 1982). The consequence today is that cheat grass dominates much of the state’s grasslands, including the ridgelines of the Salt Lake salient and its slopes leading down to City Creek Canyon’s stream.

Where Cheat grass overruns foothills and lowlands and then burns, rainfall runoff can increase by 9 to 100 percent, and this transports great mount of sediments to the valley floors that settle into sheets three feet deep (Nicoli and Lundeen 2016, Craddock 1945). Where overgrazing and invasive grasses occurred at the headwaters of the Wasatch Front Mountain Range canyons, fires are followed by similar increases in run-off that historically have sent great waves of flood waters and mud flows into cities at a canyon’s base (Hull 1976, Cottam 1947, Honker 1994, Honker 1999). Early Mormon settlers did not understand these relationship between overgrazing, fire, and floods, and by 1930, thirteen early Mormon towns were destroyed and may have been abandoned due to such overgrazing and fire induced flooding (Flores 1985 at 171). Utah overgrazing also caused desertification. Over 7,000 cattle were grazed in the Tooele valley during the early 1900s, within a few years, the valley was quickly denuded, and in the 1930s, after Tooele valley turned into the nation’s only dustbowl west of the midwest, the Soil Conservation Service speculated that the town of Grantsville would have to be abandoned (Flores, 172). After a large 2008 grass fire in Skull Valley west of Salt Lake City, created at 3 foot high alluvial fan (Nicoli and Lundeen). The greatest economic impact of the Cheat grass invasion has been on the sheep industry. Sheep stocks are presently only 10 percent of their peak in the 1930, and although cattle levels remain at historic levels, available permitted lands are greatly restricted. The cycle of historical overgrazing, Cheat grass invasion, Cheat grass fire, and subsequent flood also damages Salt Lake City.

The August 7th, 1945 cloudburst flood that ran down Perry’s Hollow and through the Avenues is exemplar of a western fire and cloudburst flood. Such floods caused by the concurrence of two two rare events – an earlier Cheat grass fire that denudes the foothills followed by an unusually severe summer cloudburst rain storm over the denuded area. The first element is fire. There have been many fires over 100 acres in size over the last 100 years either in City Creek or on the Avenues ridgeline. On July 29, 2008, 180 acres burned in lower City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune and KSL, July 31st, 2008). On July 22nd, 1992, 150 acres burned on the Avenues-City Creek ridge near Tomahawk Drive (Salt Lake Tribune, July 23, 1992). A series of July 7, 1953 photographs at the University of Utah Digital Archives collection shows a fire in the 50 acre range under Ensign Peak. On July 2nd, 1951, a forest fire “covering a wide area” raged in City Creek Canyon for three to four miles above the Salt Capitol building (Salt Lake Telegram). In 1944, the near 400 acre grass fire in Perry’s Hollow preceded the 1945 flood. On July 13th, 1912 Salt Lake Tribune reported a large fire burned between City Creek and Dry Fork Canyons. The August 20, 1898, Salt Lake Tribune reported a fifteen square mile fire that swept up City Creek towards Bountiful. Craddock described state of Perry’s Hollow after the 1945 grass fire and flood, citing the historical pattern of overgrazing that led to the Cheat grass invasion of Salt Lake’s foothills (Craddock at 58):

Inspection of the flood-producing watersheds revealed the plant cover to be in a seriously deteriorated condition notwithstanding many years of protection from livestock grazing and conscientious attempts to control fires. Three stages of impairment were observed.

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Roughly 10 percent of the watershed – including extensive slopes in the lower portion of the basins and parts of the ridge tops, roads, and mined areas – are virtually devoid of vegetation and litter as a result of grazing abuse in earlier years, old and new mining activity, and both old and recent fires.

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Fully 80 percent of the area, including all but patches of headwater slopes and portions of lower benchlands, was burned last fall. This fire killed many of the native bunchgrasses which had reinvaded the area since its closure to grazing (Craddock at 58).

The second element is cloudburst rain: With respect to Perry’s Hollow and the fall of 1944, USDA forester George Craddock estimated that about 300 acres of 388 acres in Perry’s Hollow burned (Craddock 1945, Salt Lake Telegram Aug. 8, 1945), and when coupled with a severe cloudburst storm that deposited 3.5 inches of rain in 15 minutes in the summer of 1945 (Craddock 1945), a three foot wall of water came down M Street (Salt Lake City Telegram, August 8, 1945). An incredible 2,400 cubic feet per second came out of Perry’s Hollow in 1945 (Craddock). In comparison, the 1983 snowmelt flood of City Creek peaked at 331 cubic feet per second. Craddock estimated that in 1945, runoff from East and West Valley View Canyons (at the top of North Terrace Drive) that did not burn did not show any increased runoff.

In a 1946 report on northern Utah cloudburst floods issued in response to the Perry’s Hollow flood, Wooley listed numerous cloudbursts that flooded the City through the Avenues, from City Creek Canyon, and along the west-facing Salt Lake salient north of the City (Wooley 1946). Summer cloudburst floods included: June 13th, 1854 (city streets flooded), September 11th, 1864 (heavy flooding of North Temple from City Creek), August 25th, 1872 (downtown flooded), July 23, 1874 (downtown flooded from City Creek), August 1, 1874 (Lindsey Gardens areas flooded as in 1945), August 8, 1884 (North Temple flooded from City Creek), July 26, 1893 (cloudburst flooded basements in city), July 19, 1912 (1 inch feel in 1 hour filling South Temple with sand and mud from above), July 25, 1916 (cloudburst sent 10 foot wall of water into city along with mud, boulders and cattle), July 30, 1930 (cloudburst over Emigration, Red Butte, and Parley’s Canyons washes out highway north of Salt Lake and washes away three homes with damages of $500,000), August 13, 1931 (Four to 12 inches of water swept through streets and 12 feet of debris washed over road near Beck Hot Springs).

Once established, it is almost impossible to restore Cheat grass infested lands to their original state (Monson and Kitchen 1992). Partial restoration can be achieved with great effort and expense (Monson and Kitchen 1992, Pellant 1996). The land must be burned, disced to twelve inches in depth, chemically treated, and then reseeded with native grasses (Pellant 1996, Young and Clements 2009 at Chaps. 10-12). Remediation is generally restricted to flat lands where disc equipped tractors can be run, but the discing operation has been done experimentally on slopes of thirty degrees in inclination (Monson and Kitchen 1992). Retired USDA researcher Hull complains that conversation groups do not understand the economic value of grasslands and the need to restore grasslands using chemicals (Hull 1976 at 19). Professional land managers Young and Clements assert that herbicides and reseeding have successfully resorted western Cheat grass infested lands, but they claim that Congress refuses to expend funds necessary to chemically restore the rangelands due to pressure from environmental groups (Young and Clements at 178).

In 2015, there were about 780,000 cattle and 285,000 sheep in Utah, or about one-fourth the level reported by Cottam in 1947 (Utah Department of Agriculture and Food 2016 at 46). In 2012, Utah had 3,412 cattle operators and 2,838 beef operators, although the overlap between these two groups is not known (id, 45). In 2014, Utah’s agriculture production and processing sectors directly and indirectly contribute about 15 percent of the state’s gross state product, or 21 billion USD out of a total gross state product of 140 billion USD (Ward 2016). Direct cash receipts from raising cattle was about 750 million USD (id), and the manner in which sector analysis is reported prevents allocating a portion of related direct and indirect economic activity from that cattle production annual sales of 750 million USD (less than 0.5 percent of state GSP) to the 21 billion USD of activity for the entire sector. Prorating total direct and indirect economic impact to the 21,000 directly or indirectly employed in beef production (Ward) suggests that approximately 6,300 persons (750M/21B x 21,000) are directly or indirectly employed in cattle and beef production, again a small fraction of Utah’s total laborers.

With respect to the public costs of Cheat grass, based on a 2013 estimate, the State of Utah and the federal government spend 83 million USD per year fighting wildfires in Utah (see June 10th; Stambro et al, 2014, Chap. 9). Although the percentage of those expenditures that could be avoided if native grasses had not been supplanted by fast-cycling and hot-burning Cheat grass, fifty percent seems a reasonable working estimate. Utah’s grazing resource exploitation era of the early twentieth bequeathed an annual and perpetual legacy of, for first-order discussion purposes, of between 20 to 40 million USD.

There was another unexpected environmental change, which might be counted as either a public cost or benefit, depending on one’s point-of-view. On their 1847 arrival in Utah, the Euro-American colonists found massive populations of now extinct Rocky Mountain locusts (Melanoplus spretus) (March 6th). The locust infestations continuing until the turn of the century, but the locust’s population’s disappearance coincides with the massive cattle grazing operations begun in the 1870s. The modification of Utah’s rangeland habitat is a likely causal factor in the locust’s extinction.

Cattle operators have disproportionate political power in the state. As part of gerrymandering in Utah in 1980s, pie-shaped districts were created that radiate from the urban core in downtown Salt Lake City to rural ranching areas in southern Utah (Daley 2016). The United States congressional district that I reside in encompasses cattle operators in Blanding the southeast corner of the state, but my neighbors who live a few miles away, share another congressional district that includes ranchers outside of St. George, Utah in the southwest corner of the state. The purpose of this gerrymandering was to dilute Democratic voters and assure that ultra-conservative, hyper free-market views dominate Utah’s political power (see Daley). Southern Utah ranchers have long been a vocal minority behind the “Sagebrush Rebellion” that seeks to transfer all federal lands in Utah to state control (Flores, 173 and n. 49), and legislation to affect that transfer periodically resurfaces, e.g. – Utah Senator Orin Hatch in 1980 and the state’s 2012 Utah Transfer of Public Lands Act (Utah Code Ann. Secs. 63L-6-101 et seq., Deseret News, March 6th, 2017). Elite Utah urban politicians often rely on southern Utah ranchers and their complaints about grazing regulations as a cultural symbol of some supposed past golden-age in which markets and individual rights operated free of alleged over-reaching governmental rules.

In response to ranchers’ needs to continually expand operations and the increasing expense of fighting rural fires, the State has adopted a catastrophic wildfire reduction strategy (Utah Department of Agriculture and Food 2013). Utah’s Department of Natural Resources funds demonstration projects to rehabilitate grazing lands with natives when invasive grass caused range fires occur. Typically, rehabilitation occurs in southwestern Utah fire-burned areas and at the interface between the cheat grass ocean and newly expanding residential subdivisions.

For Brian Head, Utah, wildfire abatement came to late. In 2013, the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands and Iron County submitted a 10 million USD proposal to treat 8,875 acres (approx. 1,125 USD per acre) to the Department of Agriculture and Food, and thus, to create a one-half mile wildfire-protection buffer around that ski town (Utah Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands and Iron County, 2013). In June 2017, a homeowner, who attempted to clear fire prone grasses around his cabin using a private burn, started a fire that consumed 72,000 acres (Cedar City Spectrum, July 11th, 2017).

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On July 7, 1953, the west side of Ensign Peak burned in a grass fire covering approximately 20 acres (Porschatis 1953). In an editorial dated July 7, 1889, the Salt Lake Herald opposed an order by the District Court compelling the City to dispose of surplus land on the dry North Bench, the present day Avenues, even though the land will not include water rights (Salt Lake Herald).


July 7, 2017

June 30th

Filed under: Black swallowtail butterflly, Cheat grass, Gambel's Oak, Starthistle — canopus56 @ 8:41 pm

Inedible insects and plants – a war

External Link to Image

Caterpillar of the Black swallowtail butterfly. (Author taken June, 2017, mouth end is down).

4:00 p.m. It is natural for people when enjoying a late afternoon walk up the stream cooled canyon road to give more attention to mammals and birds than to the dominate plant community. Birds sing for beautiful songs us, and thus, we imbue them with more anthropomorphic sentience than they possess. Peregrine falcons and Red-tailed hawks soar and hunt like us with purposeful intent. Mule deer stare back with quizzical large-black eyes through which we feel we can see their souls. Coyotes watch us with the familiar intelligence of our domesticated dogs. Mountain lions in the canyon follow our motions, and we can see behind their cat eyes, a decision process to ignore us like our house cats or to begin hunting us as prey. People do not generally extend the respect given to these more conscious animals to the machine-like insects. We appreciate butterflies and bees and fear wasps and spiders, but otherwise our fascination with insects goes to the grotesque or brightly colored. Plants do not engage us like birds or coyotes, so in our perception they fall into the category of uninteresting background. But plants are the dominate form of life on land and in the canyon.

I need a boost before leaving on my daily jog, and today, I brew and drink a cup of coffee before leaving home like more than 100 million other Americans. Drinking coffee is recommended before exercise to enhance endurance (Hodgsen, Randell and Jeukendrup 2013). I am unconscious of the fact that the cup of coffee, a drink enjoyed by billions every day, is a brew of some 800 plant-created chemicals that are insecticides (Hartley 2009). Organic gardeners also recommend brews made from other common food plants that humans enjoy, like onions, garlic, and red peppers, because they also contain insecticides that kill certain insects on contact. Organic gardeners also recommend tea as a fungicide, but it is also consumed by another 100 million Americans each day without ill effect.

A caterpillar of the Black swallowtail butterfly (Papilo polysenes) lays on the road, severely dehydrated, and I help it to the cool of the roadside grass and then dose it with water. In its caterpillar phase, it is bright green with black strips and bright orange spots. Like other swallowtail caterpillars, it has a gland that emits a foul smelling odor that deters predatory birds. Thus, its clown-like outfit is to warn birds that no meal can be had. Conversely, the hungry caterpillar, like the others that have fallen on the road during the spring (April 13th, May 7th, and May 13th), landed here due to a defense of the surrounding trees, including the Gambel’s oak trees. Many canyon’s stream associated trees, including the oaks, the Rocky Mountain narrowleaf cottonwood trees, and the River birch trees, are covered in wax on their upper sides. This aids in conserving water under today’s hot sun, but it is also defends the trees against insects. Insects, like the swallowtail caterpillar, slide off even though they have evolved specialized feet to aid them in grasping the leaves (Hartley 2009). Other plants in the canyon have obvious defenses. The few Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) that exist in the lower canyon, viewed microscopically, are covered in small, barbed, poison-tipped silica spears, and this accounts of the strong skin rash that develops when they are brushed against (Hartley 2009). In the canyon, both Cheat grass and Yellow star-thistle set bristled seeds that makes them unpalatable to mule deer.

But in the Darwinian competition for survival, land plants are winning over animals.

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Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 30th, 1840, he describes the wind by its effects on plants and his mood. On June 30th, 1851, he sees blue flag (Iris versicolor) and a small aster. He describes the smell of fresh shoots of fir-balsams. On June 30th, 1852, he cites as a marker of summer is when wild roses, morning glories, orchids, blue-flags, fireweed, mountain laurel and white lilies all bloom at once. On June 30th, 1860, he takes the temperatures of the air (83 degrees), spring water (45 degrees), river water (77 degrees), and the ground three inches beneath the surface. He notes that river meadows where light penetrates are at the height of their beauty.

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Most plants in City Creek Canyon taste bitter and are inedible. Typical advice given for foraging for wild foods is to taste a small bit of the plant and then wait to see if you become violently ill or if your tongue breaks out in a rash. In 2009 a speculative but provocative lecture series, British ecologist Sue Hartley describes how in the oceans, about half the plant biomass is consumed by animals (Hartley 2010; see Hartley 2009). On land, animals consume only about 20 percent of plant biomass, and this is because of the extensive chemical defenses that plants have co-evolved to deter animals from consuming them. Hartley explains that where animals can eat a particular plant specie, they usually have evolved a genetic resistance to that plant’s chemical defenses. For example, cabbage contains chemicals that make it partially toxic to domestic livestock and rabbits, but the human gut has evolved to tolerate its poison. Similarly, caffeine and tannin in tea and coffee plants are those plants’ biological insecticides and fungicides, and their poisons only incidentally and accidentally provide billions of drinkers with a desired pharmacological boost. In contrast in the canyon, Scrub jays, Rock squirrels and mule deer eat the acorns of Gambel’s oak trees. To humans, the oak’s acorns are bitter and inedible, but after leeching out its toxic gallotannins for several days and much labor, the acorns can be processed into a gruel or flour. Hartley notes land plants and animals co-evolve. Plants become toxic to prevent being eaten, animals gain resistance and eat more, plants increase the dose or develop and entirely new toxins to ward off animals. Hartley opines that since land animals can consume only small portion of the total terrestrial biomass, plants are winning to co-evolution race (Hartley 2010). In the canyon, plants do not sing, fly, or leap to our delight, but they and not us are in control.

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On June 30th, 2002, Great Salt Lake Audubon plans a bird watching hike up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 30th, 1996, coliform levels in City Creek Canyon stream have quadrupled in the last few years, and the City is considering replacing outdated restrooms in the canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 30th, 1919, Water Commissioner Clarence C. Nelsen opined that recent water shortages were caused by city residents wasting water (Salt Lake Telegram). Salt Lake City delivers 42,000,000 gallons of water, or 350 gallons per resident each day. Nelson notes that Los Angeles, a city five times the size of Salt Lake City, uses only 20,000,000 gallons of water each day (id). On June 30th, 1910, City Councilperson L. J. Wood gave his views on the proposed repeal of the prohibition of automobiles in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune):

“Another phase of the affair is that the people who cannot afford to hire conveyances and go to more distant places can easily take their lunches and other accompaniments for a day’s outing, and go up City Creek canyon, where they can be free from molestation by buggies, motorcycles and automobiles. It is now the poor people’s pleasure spot and should be kept free from any privileges that will change the present enjoyable features of the canyon as nature arranged it” (id).

In response, on July 1, 1910, a Salt Lake Tribune editorial argued that the road should be improved by adding paved pedestrian walkways and then opened to motorists. (In 2014, United States President Barrack Obama designated the San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles in the Ashley National Forest as the San Gabriel National Mountain. He did so in response to complaints by low-income minorities that they had inadequate park lands on the Los Angeles Valley floor for recreation.) On June 30th, 1904, the water rights claim of Douglas A. Swan in City Creek Canyon was denied by the City Waterworks Committee (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 30th, the City Board of Public works approved specifications to lay a new iron pipeline up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune).

June 24, 2017

June 23rd

Filed under: Cheat grass, Fire, Guardhouse gate, Jupiter, Stream, Western tent caterpillar moth — canopus56 @ 6:06 am

Canyon Habitat Overview

9:45 p.m. The heat wave has temporarily broken and temperatures fall in the eighties degrees Fahrenheit. I take only a short walk in the canyon’s summer late-evening twilight, and enjoy the coolness of night. The stream has gone down by two-thirds since the end of snowpack melt on June 4th. It must half again before the minimum flows of summer, at about 12 cubic feet per second, are reached. Now the stream runs only from underground water seeping from underneath both halves of Salt Lake salient. True darkness does not come until 10:15 p.m., and when it finally does arrive, bright Jupiter hangs over the road to the south like a guiding star. During the winter, Venus played that role (January 30th).

As I return to Guardhouse Gate, a large 4 inch moth is resting near the guardhouse lights. Its coloration is spectacular gradation of gray and ruddy brown, and it has large green frilled antennae the size of a woman’s pinky finger. It is a Western tent caterpillar moth (Malacosoma californicum). I have seen none of its characteristic tent colonies on trees in the canyon, but looking back through my photographs, I saw the caterpillar form of this moth on May 24th.

Reaching my car, city parking enforcement has left me a warning citation for parking at Guardhouse Gate after 10 p.m. Even five years ago, this would have been laughable, and throughout the winter this parking regulation was never a problem. But now the ridgelines are covered in early two feet tall dry cheat grass. A small spark could cause a brushfire that in the past have burned between 20 to 200 acres, or about one-third of a square mile. The city wants to deter summer nighttime revelers from entering the canyon in order to prevent them from starting campfires or lighting sparklers or other fireworks. Today, there are over 1,500 acres burning in Utah, about half of which I estimate are Cheat grass brush fires, and on arriving home tonight, the news reports a 100 acre grass fire in the Gambel oak chaparral above Farmington, Utah, about 20 miles north of the canyon.

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Per Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 23rd, 1840, he hears a young golden robin. On June 23rd, 1860, he notes that night hawks fly in a path similar to butterflies. He describes three types of cinquefoil. On June 23, 1852, he hears a bobolink and an owl. He sees mountain laurel and partridge berry (Mitchella repens) in bloom. He smells wild rose, sweet briar, blue geranium, and swamp pink. He notes that the undersides of leaves, particularly of the aspen, are lighter than the top side. On June 23rd, 1853, he sees leaf-heart and loose strife. On June 23rd, 1854, he sees three broods of partridges. On June 23rd, 1856, he sees baywings.

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City Creek Canyon is an undeveloped east-west trending canyon that extends 12 miles from Salt Lake City’s downtown business district. The canyon clefts the Salt Lake salient, an east-west trending spur of the north-south running Wasatch Front Mountain Range. The salient was created by an earthquake faults, principally the Pleasant Valley fault, deep below the canyon that is also perpendicular to the main north-south running Wasatch Fault. The canyon defines the northern end of the Salt Lake valley. A similar fault at the south end of the valley created the Traverse Mountains, another east-west salient that defines the boundary between Salt Lake County on the north and Utah County on the south. The difference between the Traverse salient and the Salt Lake salient is that limestone formations that are the bedrock of Salt Lake salient allowed water to flow down the middle of the ridge, and over geologic time, water flows carved out a canyon that clefts the salient in two. The canyon bottom begins at the city near 4,300 feet in elevation and rises to about 6,000 feet in elevation another 8 miles up canyon.

There are four principal habitats in the canyon. At the lowest elevations are grasslands mixed with sagebrush that covered the valley floor before pre-European colonization (Christensen 1963). These grasslands spread up both sides of the canyon walls and ridgelines through canyon mile 6.0 where water is insufficient to support the drought tolerant Gambel’s oak forest. It includes Bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata a.k.a. Agropyron spicatum), Wild bunchgrass (Poa secunda), invasive Cheat grass (Bromus tectorum), and Big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) (Christensen 1963, Rogers 1984).

The second habitat by elevation is Wasatch chaparral that is dominated by pure stands of Gambel’s oak trees (Quercus gambelii) (Hayward 1945; Christensen 1949). Such stands can be found around the base of and to the north of Ensign Peak. They continue below the western ridgeline of the Salt Lake salient to milepost 2.0.

The third habitat is Wasatch lower montane (Hayward 1945, p. 10; Hayward 1948; Rogers 1984). This habitat is a mid-elevation association between 4,500 feet and 8,000 feet above sea level that consists primarily of dwarf Gambel’s oak trees mixed with Norway maple trees (Acer platanoides), and Big Tooth maple trees (Acer grandidentatum) (Hayward 1948; Ream 1960). In City Creek Canyon, this habitat begins at the Guardhouse Gate and continues up to approximately milepost 4.0. On the shaded north facing slopes of the canyon, water-loving maple trees dominate. On the sun-exposed south facing slopes, Gambel’s oak trees that have deep water-seeking tap roots dominate. Between the two slopes and surrounding the canyon’s stream is a mixed community of oaks, maples, Box Elder trees (Acer negundo), Rocky Mountain narrowleaf cottonwood trees (Populus angustifolia), and Western water or River birch trees (Betula occidentalis). Bohs at the University of Utah has prepared an extensive list of plant species in City Creek Canyon near the Guardhouse Gate (Bohs 201).

The fourth habitat begins about 6 miles up canyon, or four miles above the Guardhouse Gate above Bonneville Drive, where the Wasatch oak community gives way to Wasatch upper montane habitat (Hayward, 1945). This habitat is includes Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta Dougl.), Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesli) and Quaking aspen trees (Populus tremuloides) (Hayward 1945, Hayward 1948). On shaded north-facing slopes conifers dominate, and on sunny south-facing slopes Aspens dominate with some Utah juniper trees (Juniperus osteosperma.

The Gambel’s oak trees in the vicinity of City Creek Canyon are all dwarfs. Gambel’s oaks can grow to be mature trees thirty or forty feet in height, but where they are limited by water or other environmental stresses, then they reach only about ten feet in height (Christensen 1949). Christensen also noted that the seeds of these oaks while not germinate if they fall under the shade of an existing tree, but that does not limit the rate of their expansion. He observed many species distributing Gambel oak acorns, such as Western scrub jays, rock squirrel (Spermophilus variegatus), and Lewis woodpeckers (Melanerpes lewis) (Christensen 1949). In the canyon during the winter, I have also seen mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) and Wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) browsing for acorns. Thus, the oak’s acorns are widely distributed, and other constraints like lack of water must constraint its growth. Because the Gambel’s oak’s acorns are randomly distributed around the perimeter of copse, copses of these oaks have a characteristic inverted bowl shape. The oaks are found either in these bowl shaped groups on chaparrals or in uniformly covered broad sections of hillsides. The Gambel’s oaks around Salt Lake City are at the northern limit of that specie, and so, their development is under constant limiting pressure from northern Utah’s climate.

This journal primarily concerns the Wasatch lower montane habitat in the first two canyon miles above Guardhouse Gate within 500 feet on either side of the stream. Over the course of a year, all of the four habitats are visited.

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On June 23rd, 2012, Smith’s Food King, a dominant supermarket chain in the valley, decides to no longer sell fireworks because of the risk they pose to starting fires on valley benches and in valley canyons, including City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 23rd, 2010, the 31st Wasatch Steeplechase run over Black Mountain was run (Salt Lake Tribune). The Steeplechase was begun in 1979 by McKay Edwards as a summer solstice celebration (id). On June 23rd, 1918, the Salt Lake Tribune featured a photographic story-advertisement extolling the pleasures of automobile driving up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 23rd, 1899, a City Committee will investigate the lack of water on the east side due to problems in the distribution system for City Creek water (Salt Lake Tribune).

June 14, 2017

June 10th

Sego Lilies and Cheat Grass

6:30 p.m. The jet stream has reconnected over the Intermountain west to its usual spring route, and this has brought back strong, cooling breezes. This evening, I drive to the end of the road at North Terrace Hills Drive to walk up the trail from the Avenues to the south ridgeline of the Salt Lake salient that looks down into City Creek Canyon. I am looking for the Sego lily which blooms this time of year. One-quarter mile below where the trail intersects the road, I find patches of this Utah state flower (November 30th) among the parched Cheat grass. It is a bulb flower that rises from the hard ground sometimes without any leaves, and its four inch blossoms have delicate cream petals that are yellow at the base surrounded by splashes of dark red-purple. Against this central yellow backdrop, contrasting thick, white-colored stamens rise. I estimate about 80 lilies along are within a 100 feet along the trail for one-half mile below the ridgeline. Like most native desert wildflowers, it is a metaphor for beauty under adversity.

Also along the road are blossoming Canadian thistles (Cirsium arvense). Although a weed, its three inch light purple blossoms are a visually pleasing example of complexity in nature. Hundreds of small, spike like petals surround a central circular whirl of about 150 short, cylindrical, vertical stamens. The whirl pattern in its stamens betrays two counter-spirals of stamens that are arranged in left and right spiraling Fibonacci series.

Near the Sego lilies, there is a 10-inch diameter coyote burrow in the road bank to the west of the trail. That it sits along a heavily traveled mountain biking trail – perhaps between 50 to 100 people traverse this route each day – is unusual. It is not clear whether the burrow is currently occupied. The mouth of the burrow shows no recent signs of entry or exit, but there is contrasting excavated soil radiating below the entrance.

Below the ridgeline back over a mile to the trailhead, Gambel’s oak forest covers most of the land to the west of the trail, but the oaks only cover patches of ground to the east. Birds sing from their hiding places. I see Black-billed magpies at the trailhead and a Green-tailed towhee within the first quarter-mile. Near the ridge, Song sparrows, Black-headed grosbeaks, a hummingbird, and chukars are heard. From their calls within one-third of a mile of the ridgeline, I estimate 150 birds are present. None appear to be flying.

I reach the east-west running ridgeline and begin to climb another 150 feet to a small peak to the east of the intersection of trail and ridge. As with my last visit to this peak (January 5th), wind is blowing strongly from the north. The reason for the song bird’s grounding becomes apparent: in the steady wind, an avian farmer, a Cooper’s Hawk, hovers motionless about 20 feet above the ridge. The low Sun is filtered through clouds to the north, and its light sets the yellow molted breast feathers blazing. The hawk continues for hover for another minute, turns and glides off to the east just below the ridgeline.

From the peak, which bears a concrete and metal Salt Lake City survey corner marker indicating an altitude of 4,905 feet, or about 900 feet above the valley floor, there is a clear view down 20 miles of Wasatch Front Mountain Range from Grandview Peak and Little Black Mountain on the north, to Lone Peak on the south. In the evening light, the two sandstone geologic “U”‘s synclines that define Red Butte Canyon, Emigration Canyon, and part of Parleys Canyon are easily seen (January 9th). These sit on top of a larger deeper “U” shaped syncline of limestone that stretches from City Creek Canyon on the north and emerges again in Millcreek Canyon on the south. Perhaps this geology also explains why the streams in Red Butte and Emigration canyons reduce to trickle. Unlike City Creek and Millcreek with their limestone upper canyons, the surface bedrock of Red Butte and Emigration are porous sandstone. (Parleys Canyon contains two dams that hold back the stream.) Underground water may not be trapped along limestone layers. This is speculation, and another possibility is that Red Butte and Emigration canyons, unlike City Creek, were never reforested after the foresting and mining eras of the last half of the 19th century. Summer surface water may simply evaporate. To the west, the jet stream is marked by a fast moving line of clouds that extends from the southwest to the northeast.

Looking at the lands around the peak, they are one-third green oak forest, one-third dried brown Cheat grass, and one-third still green native brome. It must have been an impressive spring sight of green meadows before the invasive grasses arrived. The peak itself is covered in Cheat grass about six inches deep, and because of this year’s heavy winter snow, an acquaintance reports stands several feet in height along the Bonneville Shoreline Trail below this peak. The cheat grass is read to burn, and within the last week across the state, six large cheat grass wild fires of over 1,000 acres have burned. Several smaller cheat grass fires of a few acres in size also occurred in Salt Lake Valley over the last week, but those were quickly suppressed. Although overgrazing immediately after the Euro-american colonization of the valley in 1847 quickly converted fire resistant native bromes and bunch grasses to non-native adventive grasses spotted with sagebrush (March 13th), cheat grass was not present in the valley or on the Avenues ridgeline. This weed grass was introduced in California in 1870 (id), and the grass followed along the railroads lines east (Monson and Kitchen, 1992, p. 24), but may have also traveled as a contaminant in feed grain (id at 33). Cheat grass was first collected in Utah in 1894 by M. E. Jones on Provo, Utah (Barbour and Billings, p. 264; Monson and Kitchen). How fast it overtook native grasses statewide is unclear, but in 1932, Pickford of the Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station noted that while Cheat grass, which he called Downy brome, was found in all areas of the north half of the state, it was only dominate in the Great Salt Lake area (Pickford, 1932; Monson and Kitchen, 24). Pickford found that Cheat grass was most dense (11 percent coverage) on plots that had been both grazed and then subjected to a grass fire, but it was absent from plots that had never been grazed or subjected to a burn. What makes Cheat grass different is the higher frequency of its burn cycle and the higher temperatures at which it burns (Monson and Kitchen, 24). There is a direct relationship between the level of the prior winter’s precipitation and cheat grass fires in the following summer (Monson and Kitchen, 24). One-hundred and twenty-three years later, this hot burning grass covers the Avenues ridgeline, more than half of the City Creek canyon walls of the Salt Lake salient, and much of the State. The state and federal agencies spend about 83 million USD per year fighting wildfires in Utah (Stambro et al, 2014, Chap. 9), and much of that total is related to cheat grass fires.

The peak is also covered in unidentified, one-half inch nymph crickets. When walking forward, every step raises five or six nymphs that jump forward to avoid being crushed. They are marvels of camouflage, and their dark brown, light brown, dusky yellow and dirty white colors perfectly match the surrounding dried grass. They move at the slightest provocation and it takes several attempts to locate one for a photograph. Even knowing where it is, I have to stare at the brown grass for fifteen seconds before I can make out the cricket’s outline.

Despite the invasives, the expansive view of the surrounding hills and mountains is inspiring, and I return home a happy and contented person.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 10th, 1853, he notes honey locust, black willows and blackberries are in bloom. He hears a robin. On June 10th, 1856, he watches a huckleberry bird and finds a pigeon woodpecker nest with young. On June 10, 1857, he sees a snake. On June 10, 1860, he examines a bat suspended in the daytime forest.

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The Fibonacci series seen in the whirls of the center of a bull thistle plant reappears in many plant contexts, including how seeds are distributed around a pine cone (Klar, 2002) and how branches are radially distributed around on tree (Nelson 2004). The study of the arrangement of leaves on a plant is called phyllotaxis. There are several competing hypotheses for how leaves self-assemble themselves themselves in a Fibonacci series, and the prevailing theory is that these spatial patterns are the result of most-efficient packing solutions (Klar). Hormonal diffusion is also theorized but the actual mechanisms are unknown (id). Limited progress has been made in defining the theoretical mathematics of how a circle of undiffentiated meristem plant stem-cell tissue can transform into a spiral pattern and on identifying candidate biochemicals that control the process (Flemming, 2002).

Restoring areas contaminated with cheat grass has proven difficult and expensive in terms of both capital and labor (Barbour and Billings, p. 264; Monson and Kitchen). Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County have spent over 150,000 USD since 2008 trying to rehabilitate about 180 acres (0.3 square miles) in City Creek and Parleys Canyons that are contaminated with both Yellow starthistle and Cheat grass (see May 21st). The best strategy for restoration is reseeding following a cheat grass fire, but its effectiveness is limited to level areas (Barbour and Billings, 264-265) and not the steep slopes of City Creek Canyon and the Salt Lake salient. Although the city considered a controlled burn program in City Creek in 2010 (Gray and Harrison, 1999; Salt Lake Dept. of Public Utilities 2010, Salt Lake City Corporation 2010a), it was not pursued, and currently the Utah Conservation Corps is using the labor intensive method of manually denuding and spraying fields in lower Pleasant Valley, including along a steep slope (May 17th and May 21st).

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On June 10th, 2006, students at the Design Workshop recommend daylighting City Creek Canyon stream from the mouth of City Creek, along North Temple, all the way to the Jordan River (Salt Lake Tribune). Daylighting means raising the creek which now traverses the city’s center in underground pipes back to the surface. (Prior U.S. Corps of Engineer and City proposals recommended daylighting City Creek beginning at 700 West.) On June 10th, 1898, the National Guard plan exercises in City Creek Canyon (Deseret Evening News).

June 8th

First Loud Cricket with Metamorphosis

7:00 p.m. True night does not come until after 9 in the evening, and the start of the estival season is one week away. It the sixth day of late spring heat in the nineties, the jet stream is forcing its way into the Intermountain west, and the jet stream traveling southwest to the northwest over adjacent Nevada. This has brought high winds to the canyon. The leaved trees whip back and forth under its hand. In response to the days of heat, invasive Cheat grass (Bromus tectorum) that covers the hillsides on both sides of the Salt Lake salient have dried to an early season brown. The hills are a patchwork of brown Cheat grass and other later maturing bromes that are still green. Cheat grass is susceptible to burn in quick moving, high temperature fires, and authorities are worried over a bad fire season. Utah normally has 400 grass fires per year. Under the force of the wind, small birds restrict themselves to short thirty foot flights between trees. At the pond at picnic site 5, I startle a grounded Song sparrow, while a Black-headed grosbeak performs its trill call overhead.

As the wind starts to die down, I hear the first loud cricket – just one – of the season. I suspect that these also may be the cicadas heard yesterday in the tops of Gambel’s oaks (June 7th), and their wings have hardened overnight. In two months, large choruses of crickets will fill the canyon night air (August 15th and August 18th). Large mosquitoes (sp. Culiseta), possibly Marsh mosquitoes (Culiseta inornata), fly through the shadowed evening light.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 8th, 1851, he notes white pines have stamen blossoms. On June 8th 1853, a pair of hawks swoop on him as he walks near his nest. He notes that white pine is in flower. On June 8th, 1860, he notes that the summer afternoon shower season has begun. Red oak leaves have fully developed.

* * * *

Whether cricket or cicada, this clicking insect is a newly hatched pupae that has likely undergone some form of metamorphosis. In complete metamorphosis (holometabolous), such as that which occurs in butterflies, the egg hatches a larvae caterpillar, the caterpillar weaves a pupal sack, and then an adult emerges. In incomplete metamorphosis(hemimetabolism), an insect egg develops into an miniature adult, the nymph, and as it expands, it sheds its exoskeleton as it grows. In the canyon, incomplete metamorphosis is seen in crickets and Box elder bugs. Among the vertebrates, frogs and salamanders also undergo metamorphosis. Since insects, numerically, are the most diverse type of animals, 45 to 60 percent of all animals on the Earth undergo metamorphosis, and our mammalian form of infant development is a relatively infrequent mode (Jabr 2012). The evolutionary just-so story by which metamorphosis arose is that an intermediary stage of development allows the larval and nymph stages to exploit different food niches from adults in the same habitat. Truman and Riddiford suggest that natural selection acted on the hormonal mechanisms of ancestral species to create the radically different developmental stages (Truman and Riddiford 1999).

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On June 8th, 2003, the Salt Lake Tribune reported the experiences of many Salt Lake Valley residents in how they use the local canyons, including City Creek Canyon. The Outdoor Industry Foundation is conducting a study of dispersed recreation use in Utah, and it finds that 81 percent of Utahans engage in outdoor activities (id). On June 8th, 1951, The Audubon Society scheduled a trip up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 8th, 1950, City tests of City Creek Canyon water show a high degree of purity and low coliform count (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 8th, 1933, the Wasatch Mountain Club scheduled a hike from Rotary Park in City Creek to Mueller Park (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 8, 1906, a committee of the City Council recommended that a permit to allow Henry B. Anderson to harvest 24 cords of cedar wood in City Creek be denied on the grounds of a need to protect the watershed (Salt Lake Telegram). On June 8, 1895, the Utah Forestry Association reported on its activities in reforesting stands of trees in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald). The Association also resolved to compile data on the extent of deforestation, rainfall and its impact on flooding (id).

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