City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

July 21, 2017

July 19th

Crossed Cottonwoods

6:00 p.m. Afternoon thunderclouds threaten, but it is for nothing near City Creek Canyon. Where the road first enters the canyon, it gives vistas of the valley and sheets of water can be seen lowering from the clouds across southern and western ends of the Salt Lake Valley. But at the valley’s northern end, no water falls, and the weather station at the airport records only a trace of moisture. The clouds tease the parched land, dried grass and thirty trees. One canyon tree is well-adapted to this climate; it grows large; it puts down deep roots that search for underground water.

Narrowleaf Rocky Mountain cottonwood (Populus angustifolia J.) are numerous in the first mile and are easily identified by their linear, willow-like leaves. True Freemont’s cottonwoods (Populus fremontii) with their broad triangular cordate leaves are more difficult to spot, and the home range of Freemont’s cottonwoods is further to the south in New Mexico and Arizona. Like the F2 generations of Cottam’s hybird Gambel’s oaks that dominate the drier land of the canyon (July 3rd, 4th and 5th), the Narrowleaf Rocky Mountain cottonwoods and Freemont’s cottonwoods have been hybridizing. Like the Gambel’s oak, it makes numerous hybrids along the canyon’s bottom whose leaves are of intermediate forms between the parent types (Lanner 1984). Their more common cross, Populus angustifolia x fremontii S. Wats, have intermediate ovate leaves that look like a larger version of a Western water or River birch leaf and resemble other common native and introduced trees (Arizona State University and Baker 1993). This confuses identification of trees in the first canyon road mile.

There are many trees in the canyon, and learning tree identification can be eased by examining known exemplars. The following is a list that cross-references some known trees species in the canyon with local examples at the University of Utah and Westminister College in Salt Lake City. The list is weak on conifer exemplars:

List of Exemplars for Trees in City City Creek Canyon at University of Utah, Westminister College Emigration Creek Natural Area and Miscellaneous (2017)

At the University of Utah (University of Utah Tree Tour))

• *Horsechestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) (University of Utah Tree Tour. No. 5, located at the southwest corner of the George Thomas Building on President’s Circle. Lat. 40.763604, Long. -111.8539387.)

• Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum) (University of Utah Tree Tour. No. 7, located at the southwest corner of the George Thomas Building on President’s Circle. Lat. 40.763848, Long. -111.8522112.)

• Big Tooth maple (Acer grandidentatum). (University of Utah Tree Tour No. 8. Located south of the George Thomas Building (the old Natural History Museum) and east of University Street. Lat. 40.76375, Long. -111.851917.)

• *Norway maple (Acer platanoides) (University of Utah Tree Tour No. 15. Located north of the George Thomas Building on north side of President’s Circle Drive. Lat. 40.764604, Long. -111.8536557.)

• *Purpleleaf plum (Prunus cerasifera) (University of Utah Tree Tour No. 21. This is similar to the cultivar Newport flowering cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera Newportii) found in the canyon. On the north side of the President’s Circle at the intersection with Lat. 40.7646614, Long. -111.8506819.)

• Gambel’s oak (Quercus gambelii) (University of Utah Tree Tour. No. 24 located northwest of the Talmage Building on President’s Circle Drive. Lat. 40.764621, Long. -111.8521057.).

• *Norway Spruce (Picea abies) (University of Utah Tree Tour. No. 28 located south of the Widtsoe Building on the south side of President’s Circle Drive. Norway spruce were planted in City Creek Canyon around May 1st, 1918 by the City (Salt Lake Tribune). Lat. 40.765321, Long. -111.8526205.)

• *Siberian elm (Ulmus pumila). (McPherson and Graves (1984, 66-67) No. 46. A massive Siberian elm in the quad at the east end of the Bookstore. Lat. 40.764521 Long. -111.8500557. There is also grove of these elms in Lindsey Gardens at the north east corner of M Street and 7th Avenue. Lat. 40.777452 Long. -111.8659852.)

• Serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora) (University of Utah Tree Tour No. 64. Located on the back east side of the Pioneer Memorial Theatre. This is similar to the native Saskatoon serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia) found in the canyon. Lat. 40.762741, Long. -111.8512532.)

• Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) (University of Utah Tree Tour No. 82. Between LINCO and Business Buildings along walkway from Marriott Library. Also along South Campus Drive Traffic Roundabout. Lat. 40.765543, Long. -111.8441142.)

• Cottam’s F1 Hybrid Cross of Gambel’s oak and Arizona shrub oak. (Author taken July 2017 at 1760 South Campus Drive, University of Utah, Lat. 40.760233, Long. -111.8415315.)

At Westminister College Emigration Natural Area Tree Project: Trees)

General directions: At Westminister College on one-eighth mile stretch where Emigration Canyon Creek crosses the campus (Harrison 2002). Park in the main visitor parking area along 1300 East and walk to the starting point in front of Giovale Library at Lat. 40.730536 Long. -111.8558192. Refer to Owens 1999 map for location descriptions.

• Narrowleaf cottonwood (Populus angustifolia). (The Narrowleaf Cottonwood is on the south bank of the stream surrounded by other species in Owen’s Reach No. 2. Look for the narrow leaves from the viewing point. Saplings are closer to the top of the stream bank. Go across the footbridge near Giovale Library and head east to viewing point at Lat. 40.730154 Long. -111.8570887.)

• Hybrid cross between Freemont’s poplar and Narrowleaf cottonwood (Populus angustifolia x fremontii). (Go down the stairs to the west of Giovale Library to the trail that overlooks Emigration Creek. Go to the Nunemaker Amphitheater along the trail in Owen’s Reach No. 3. Hybrids are along the back of the stage. Compare the intermediate forms of these leaves that are between the parent Narrowleaf and Freemont poplars. Lat. 40.730537 Long. -111.8585217.)

• Freemont’s poplar (Populus fremontii). (Freemont’s poplar is located further west along the trail near the end of the parking lot structure on the north border of the trail in Owen’s Reach No. 6. Lat. 40.730521, Long. -111.8588057.)

• Box elder (Acer negundo). (Box Elder trees are prevalent in Salt Lake City An exemplar can be found east of the footbridge. From in front of Giovale Library, go along the sidewalk at the east of the residence hall to the east. Lat. 40.73029, Long. -111.8552372.)

Other

• Coyote willow (Salix exigua) (There is Coyote willow along east Bonneville Drive about one-quarter mile after the turning on to the one-way Bonneville Drive from 11th Ave. Lat. 40.7826391 Long. -111.8825331.)

Source: University of Utah, Department of Facilities Management (2017). Tree Tour (Web). Link (GIS Map Tour of trees in the Walter Cottam Tree Collection spread throughout the University of Utah campus.), McPherson and Graves 1984, Harrison 2002, Boogert 2017, Owens 2000, and Author. * – Cultivar or invasive.

The Westminister College Emigration Creek Natural Area is a deep gulch about 1,000 feet long that holds one of the Salt Lake Valley canyon streams. The four streams flowing from the north and east of the City, Red Butte, Emigration, Parley’s and City Creek, are for the most part encased in underground conduits, but where Red Butte, Emigration and Parley’s Creeks cross soft soils on the elevated east bench of the City, they cut small gorges in which it was impractical to build. There four mini-canyon parks provide short, cool walks under the shade of native trees during the oppressive heat of afternoon summers. Red Butte Creek runs through the Miller Natural Park near 1100 South and 1700 East and from there it continues on bordered by private lands to Liberty Park. Emigration Canyon Creek runs through Wasatch Hollow Nature Area near 1500 South and 1700 East, then the Blaine Street Nature Area, and then on through the Westminister College Natural Area described above. Parley’s Canyon Creek flows through a small gorge Hidden Hollow Nature Area surrounded by office towers and a shopping center near 2100 South and 1300 East. In this way, City residents always have some form of City Creek Canyon always close at hand.

The Westminister College Emigration Creek Natural Area is a deep gulch about 1,000 feet long that holds one of the Salt Lake Valley canyon streams. The four streams flowing from the north and east of the City, Red Butte, Emigration, Parley’s and City Creek, are for the most part encased in underground conduits, but where Red Butte, Emigration and Parley’s Creeks cross soft soils on the elevated east bench of the City, they cut small gorges in which it was impractical to build. There four mini-canyon parks provide short, cool walks under the shade of native trees during the oppressive heat of afternoon summers. Red Butte Creek runs through the Miller Natural Park near 1100 South and 1700 East and from there it continues on bordered by private lands to Liberty Park. Emigration Canyon Creek runs through Wasatch Hollow Nature Area near 1500 South and 1700 East, then the Blaine Street Nature Area, and then on through the Westminister College Natural Area described above. Parley’s Canyon Creek flows through a small gorge Hidden Hollow Nature Area surrounded by office towers and a shopping center near 2100 South and 1300 East. In this way, City residents always have some form of City Creek Canyon always close at hand.

* * * *

Eckenwalder at the University of Toronto is credited demonstrating prolific ability of poplar’s to hybridize, including Fremont’s poplar-cottonwood (Eckenwalder 1984), but he did specifically cross-breed Fremont’s cottonwood and the Narrowleaf cottonwood. In 2002, Schweitzer, Martinsen and Whitham at the University of Northern Arizona crossed and back-crossed Fremont’s poplar and the Narrowleaf cottonwood (Populus fremontii x P. angustifolia) using trees along northern Utah’s Weber River. They found that in terms of seed mass and seed weight, the F2 back-crosses fell between the more productive Fremont’s poplar and the less productive Narrowleaf cottonwood. Thus, they concluded that the hybrids were at least as productive as one of the parent trees.

Sparks and Ehleringer at the University of Utah used Narrowleaf cottonwood, Fremont’s poplar-cottonwood and Coyote Willow to investigate whether trees maintain lower or higher levels of photosynthesis at different elevations (Sparks and Ehleringer 1984). This is a deceptively simple question. As elevation increases, carbon dioxide is less dense and leaves may thicken to protect against harmful ultra-violet radiation. The stoma (pores) in leaves may also restrict in order to better retain water at the lower pressure of higher altitudes. Conversely, higher altitude mountain plants get more water. How do these factors balance? Contrary to other studies, Sparks and Ehleringer found that Fremont’s poplar and Narrowleaf cottonwoods in Big Cottonwood Canyon do more photosynthesis as altitude increases.

* * * *

On July 19th, 1895, a Mr. Taylor reported to the city council that he intended to develop 26 mining claims in the canyon and then force the city to buy him out in order to protect its water supply (Salt Lake Herald).

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June 13, 2017

June 3rd

Missing Frogs, Missing Beavers

5:30 p.m. It is the first day of a heat wave. On this Saturday, about forty people are strolling up and down the road. Wild geranium are open through mile 1.1 and are reaching their peak. Near mile 0.3, a cultivar green crab apple tree is bearing small fruit, now about 1 inch in diameter. It is another occurrence in the canyon that somehow was gone unnoticed by me and that seemingly occurs overnight. Chokecherry bushes at mile 0.2 are pollinated, their leafs are shriveled, and the ovaries are swelling with this falls fruit. This is a sign of the impending end of the vernal season and of the beginning of next estival season. Another invasive weed that follows cattle and cars, Yellow sweet clover (Melilotus officinalis) dominates the road’s edges through mile 2.0, along with the occasional rising bull thistle. Although an invasive, the Yellow sweet clover plants provide nourishment to a variety of bees and butterflies that can be seen feeding on them today.

Ants are busy cleaning the forest floor. On the road, two black ants drag a fly 3 times its body size and a boring bug 5 times its size back to their respective burrows. A common female worker Fuzzy-horned bumble bee (Bombus mixtus) is stranded on the road.

At Guardhouse Gate, another lost mallard chick cries loudly from the thick undergrowth, and despite searching, I am unable to locate it. This year’s stream water is too high, too fast, and out of synchronization with the mallard’s breeding cycle. The chicks are getting swept downstream from their parents. At mile 1.1, a community of six Warbling vireos exchange loud songs with a group of Song sparrows. As I exit the canyon, a loud cawing draws my attention upward, and in the calm wind, a Peregrine falcon furiously beats its wings in order to cross the canyon. The mallard chick is unseen below.

For another year, I am reminded of the absence of frogs in the lower canyon. There is year-round flowing water, and they should awaken with the arrival of insects.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 3rd, 1853, he notes the pine woods are full of birds, including robins, and notes painted cups are at their peak. He records that grey hairs have disappears from tree leaves. On June 3rd, 1854, huckle and blueberries perfume the air. On June 3rd, 1856, he finds a chickadee nest. On June 3rd, 1857, he sees pitch pine in blossom. June 3, 1860, he notes red maple seeds on the road, pine shoots rising from the ground, and that the air contains many scents.

* * * *

One never hears frogs in the lower or upper most reaches of the canyon, even though a suitable stream is present. Frogs are missing from the canyon because they are typically associated with lakes and beaver ponds. Historically, there was a lake in the highest City Creek Canyon glacial hanging valley, but by 2017, the lake is no longer present. Beavers are systematically removed by Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County in all of the Salt Lake valley canyons, including City Creek Canyon. With no beavers, there are no frogs. In April 2017, Salt Lake County threatened to fine a Salt Lake County homeowner 750 USD per day for not removing a beaver dam from their backyard that is adjacent to Big Willow Creek as it runs along the valley floor near the I-15 freeway. The county was concerned the beaver dam can break and clog a downstream water treatment plant. The property owner’s administrative appeal is still pending (Catalyst, May 2017). My last personal encounter with beavers in the Salt Lake valley canyons occurred in the early 1990s. For a summer, a few beaver constructed a dam in upper Millcreek Canyon, and City and County officials were slow to respond. The trailhead parking lot at the end of Millcreek Road was full, and a steady stream of urban hikers walked the mile up stream to watch the beaver and to see their dam. In the fall, the beaver were removed by watershed officers.

Because beavers are not present in the canyon, I have not included references to Thoreau’s many observations of frogs in my digests of his Concord journals.

Salt Lake City and County water managers fear beaver dams will create log jams that will break apart and flood downstream areas during years of high stream run-off. Although extricated from urban Salt Lake County, Utah’s beaver population is about 29,000 (Bassett et al, 2010). That is why their occasional appearance in Salt Lake County always causes much interest among the urban outdoor community.

The beaver has a long association with Utah Euro-american history. The first Euro-americans to reside in Utah were attracted here for beaver fur. Peter Skene Ogden, who led an early expedition to Utah, reported on May 13th, 1925 that his company had completed trapping their 2,000th beaver in Cache Valley, Utah (Rawley, 16) (March 3rd, above). The Utah State Capitol features four early Utah scenes painted into its dome’s pendentives, and one of the vignettes painted by Lee Greene Richards during a 1930s Works Progress Administration project was of three trappers, one of whom is kneeling over a beaver (Rawely, frontpiece).

Despite this association, Utah wildlife laws did not protect them. Early Utah wildlife protection laws divided wildlife into three categories: unregulated, noxious, and game. Territorial laws of 1872 protected game and other animals deemed beneficial by prohibiting hunting them during their breeding seasons. Quail, grouse, mallards, ducks, and other defined game birds generally could not be hunted between March and September, and deer, elk, antelope and mountain sheep could not be hunted from January through July (Rawley, 97). A territorial law of 1872, readopted with modifications as a new statute on Utah’s admission to the United States in 1896, defined noxious animals for which the state would pay a bounty. Noxious animals included lynxes, mountain lions, wolves, bears, jack rabbits, muskrats, weasels, minks, weasels, gophers, squirrels, prairie dogs, pelicans, blue cranes, loons, osprey, mergansers, and English sparrows (Rawley, 98). Essentially, the noxious list is any animal that was potentially bothersome to agriculture or ranching. For example, osprey have a taste for farm chickens and cougars a penchant for sheep. (A vestige of Utah’s early “noxious” animal list is Utah’s current coyote bounty program (Sept. 7th). Under that program, the State annually expends about 500,000 USD to pay 20 USD bounties for each coyote killed, and it harvests about 7,000 animals each year (id).) Bounties under the 1896 law ranged from two cents for a House sparrow egg up to 10 USD for a bear, or 63 cents to 316 USD, respectively, in 2017 currency. This left the beaver in the unregulated wildlife category, and hunters could take them in unlimited numbers.

As a result by 1890s, the beaver population had collapsed and they were rare in Utah (Bassett et al, 5). In 1899, the State Legislature prohibited the hunting of any beaver, and a recovery program was instituted that included the new Utah State Game and Fish Department reseeding beavers into Utah’s geographical basins (id at 5-7). By 1957, beaver populations had recovered, and in 1981, an unrestricted beaver hunt was re-instituted. This unrestricted hunt continues through the present (id, 7). In 2017, beaver, like all wildlife in Utah, is deemed property of the State, and it is regulated by the Utah Division of Wildlife Services. The State’s 2010 Beaver Management Plan (Bassett et al 2010) sets an objective of annually harvesting 3,500 of the state’s 29,000 beavers. The Division also maintains a list of active trappers certified to remove nuisance wildlife. Those individuals remove beavers deemed a nuisance in urban areas.

The collapse and recovery of Utah beavers has its parallels in other state showcase game wildlife. After the 1847 colonists’ “committee of extermination” removed all wildlife in the valley in 1850 (March 5th, above), after unrestricted hunting between 1850 and 1872, and after limited hunting restrictions between 1872 through 1900, state’s deer population collapsed (Sept. 7th). Utah elk were hunted to extinction, and during the 1920s had to be re-introduced (Barnes, “Mammals of Utah”).

The overall lesson from this history is that with effective government intervention and population management, both deer, elk, beaver and the Peregrine falcon (May 15th) recovered to their near pre-colonization levels.

* * * *

On June 3rd, 2001, Mayor Rocky Anderson said when he trains for running races, he goes up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 1, 1996, the Chavurah B’Yachad, Salt Lake City’s Reconstructionist Jewish Community has begun meeting for services in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune, June 15, 1996). On June 3rd, 1991, a Deseret News article recommends hiking from Dry Fork to the City Creek ridge. (This route was later developed into a Bonneville Shoreline Trail segment). On June 3rd, 1923, a party of 200 consisting of Boys Scouts and the Rotarians began clearing brush to support the new Rotary Park in upper City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 3rd, 1921, City Engineer Sylvester Q. Cannon and Mayor C. Clarence Nelsen inspected a proposed dam site one-half mile up from Pleasant Valley that could hold 130,000,000 gallons of water (Salt Lake Telegram). Construction at an earlier dam site had be abandoned when the bedrock was found to be insufficient (id). In an editorial letter to the Salt Lake Telegram, J. W. Sloan argued that gravel pits should be removed from lower City Creek Canyon. He stated that “Some day this canyon will be recognized for what it is and should be, ‘the poor man’s paradise’. . . . City Creek canyon is the property of the people of Salt Lake City” (id). On June 3rd, 1906, Land and Water Commission Frank Mathews impounded 14 cows found illegally grazing in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram).

October 1, 2016

October 1st

The Secret Language of Gambel’s Oaks

10 a.m. Light, weather, and other mysterious factors that speak a secret language known only to the trees of the Gambel’s oak woodland has caused those oaks’ leaves to turn. In just one day, between two to five percent of all the leaves on all Gambel’s oaks in Pleasant Valley have turned or are beginning to turn. This change is too coordinated and too purposeful to not involve communication. Do the oaks exchange chemical messages as the delicate ends of their roots intertwine underground? If so, how does this explain that clusters of oaks far removed from other oaks in the center of the meadow have also changed? Do these oaks exchange some scent, too faint for the human nose to detect, by which they all agree that it is time to go to sleep?

The leaves of the Gambel’s oak do not turn medium brown color in the same way that horse chestnut trees turn. The chestnuts at the Guardhouse gate turn brown from the outside in. The maples turn a uniform red and others a uniform yellow, and then their leaves fall to the ground. At mile 1.5 at the southwest end of Pleasant Valley, Gambel’s oak leaves first brown and curl at the outermost tips. Then suddenly, the whole leaf turns.

Paradoxically, at the northeast end of Pleasant Valley at mile 1.7, the Gambel’s oak leaves first develop brown spots distributed uniformly over the entire leaf. These grow, the leaf edges turn, and then the entire leaf goes. Around the bend in the road at mile 1.8, these spots also cover the red leaves of maple trees, but such spots are absent from both the oaks and maples lower in the canyon near the guardhouse. On closer inspection, the spots are raised dollops of infection, either fungal or bacterial, growing on the leaf surface. As the leaves turn, the leaves become susceptible to infection, and succumb. Also at the northeast end of Pleasant Valley are two crab apple trees, probably planted by the early Mormon pioneers. They are still green, healthy, and free of spots of infection.

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