City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

May 5, 2017

April 27th

Filed under: Gambel's Oak, Long-leaf phlox, Mallard, Squirrel — canopus56 @ 12:54 pm

Biophilia – Part VII – Is the Biophilia Hypothesis Necessary?

2:00 p.m. After a night of extraordinarily heavy, cold rain, the sun returns in the afternoon, but temperatures have returned to the high thirties. It is brief reminder of winter, and I have become forgetful and under-dressed for today’s jog. The butterflies and ants have disappeared, but at mile 0.6, a single female mallard flies up the centerline of the road at about 15 feet above its surface. In past years, ducks have raised broods at the flood retention ponds near mile 3.2, and I suspect that the male and female mallards seen along the first mile have taken up residence there. Only five birds, heard by their calls, are detected in the first mile. At mile 1.2, opposite picnic site 9 and at milepost 1.5, two fields of pink Long-leaf Phlox have bloomed. One is about fifty by twenty feet and the second is one-hundred and fifty by fifty feet. Up canyon from milepost 1.5, the western roadside shows more immature phlox, and this proposes further showings over the next week. Scott’s Hill and Little Black Mountain are all frosted with snow, but it is a thin layer. The SNOTEL stations at Louis Meadow and Lookout Peak record only one inch of new snow. I spend today logging all of the flowering cultivar trees, principally crab apples and plums, along the first two miles of the upper canyon road. Tamarisk at the entrance to picnic site 11, has leafed in. Turning down canyon, Pleasant Valley is an idyllic greening sight under the spotting of clouds, bright sunlight and crisp air. The angle of the sun on the eastern sandstone cliffs reveals new movement of water. The heavy rain at the ridgeline has seeped through the soil and at the top line of the sandstone cliffs, sunlight glints off of sheets of water that leak from under the soil and down the vertical sandstone cliffs.

Before picnic site 12, I see for the first time in decades in the canyon, a Rock squirrel disappear into one of the several small burrows that dot the roadside in the first one and a half miles. I have always suspected these were squirrel burrows, but this is the first time that I have actually seen a squirrel disappear into one. The squirrel had paralleled me along the road making a noisy traverse of the underbrush. Then is popped out by the side of road, watched me for a few moments and then retired to it burrow underneath a large Gambel’s oak tree. The burrow looks empty; there are many leaves around its entrance and going down into the four-inch tunnel. This illustrates how the Gambel’s oak forest provides a nurturing habitat for the squirrels beyond the oak’s cornucopia of acorns. If the rock squirrel burrows into the ground alone with an earthen ceiling, its tunnel would run the risk of collapse and flooding. The contorted roots of this species of oak may provide a sturdy wooden roof for the squirrel’s den, and the thick layer of leaves dropped by the oak absorbs snow and rain. Residing under the oak may keep their den dry and warm. But the squirrels also have many tree nests along the road (Dec. 10th), and I have seen several similar nests inhabited by squirrels near my home. When will the squirrels rise from beneath the ground and take to the trees, and will they be hunted there by the Cooper’s hawks?

The cold weather leaves an empty parking lot at two in the afternoon, and I have the road largely to myself. But on returning at five, the steady sunshine has refilled it with cars and people.

* * * *

Wilson and Kellert argue essentially a political position using informal argumentation from signs: genetic drive for biophilia is necessary justification for the preservation of nature given the accelerated extinction rates of species caused by humankind’s activities (Wilson 1984, Kellert 1993). Current levels of specie extinction are nearing to that seen in catastrophic meteor extinctions events, and this extinction is a hallmark of the Anthropocene era (March 2nd). Nature needs to be preserved to preserve humankind. But is a genetic compulsion to seek nature only a sufficient justification for preservation? There is along history of conservation and biophilia that created our national parks, that created the environmental movement, that protected us against environmental toxins, and that raised the alarm of loss of diversity that pre-dates the development of genetics and behavioral psychology. In the nineteenth century John Muir in his journal and writings celebrated nature and at the beginning of the twentieth century Walt Whitman in the “Leaves of Grass” cried, “Give me solitude – give me Nature – give me again, O Nature, your sanities!” Many contributed to developing the importance that our modern culture gives to the natural environment based on their feelings, not their genes: Aldo Leopold in the 1940s, Rachael Carson in the 1960s, David Brower in the 1970s, and Arne Naess’s deep ecology movement of the 1980s and 1990s. Political action to reserve natural lands from human use flows from human emotions and the human will, and genetic biophilia is not a necessary justification for communities to decide to preserve lands. The counterargument is that genetic biophilia is needed to counteract the increasing reliance on informal argumentation based on signs in post-industrial culture; genetic biophilia is a sufficient justification to preserve nature.

But reliance only on signs alone to prove hypotheses removes critical thinking from hard science, since proof is not subject to contradiction. At times, informal argumentation from signs inflates to bureaucratized psuedo-science. Thereby, the power of individuals has been reduced rendered ineffective and reduced to Fromm’s homo consumens by free-market economic theory, by the coarse narcissism of Ayn Rand-based libertarianism, by biological behaviorism, and by the modern need to have all policy subjected to scientific proof, often pseudo-scientific proof. Frequently, the pre-condition of scientific proof before policy change degrades into the abuse of mathematical models and of critical statistical thinking. By pseudo and bureaucratized science, I mean that human and natural reality are too complex to be properly modeled mathematically or to allow for the ethical validation of a model. Models and mathematical models of reality are an essential check that enables people to distinguish between that which is from that which humanity wants to be, but all abstract models have their limits. It is important to distinguish between a beautiful idea and an elegant model from what actually is, and to not become so enamored with our models or ideology that were ignore the world. Lacking the ability to fully model all causes in a complex reality, governance becomes policy based on signs supported by weakly verified scientific evidence and provisional hypotheses. Too frequently, I see policy and expert pronouncements being supported by only small-sized studies that at best give doubtful signs of whether our view of the world is correct. Nonetheless, such scientific opinions are presented as if they are immutable law instead of as doubtful provisional hypotheses.

An example of the risks of informal argumentation from signs is in the field of economics. Although economics is a science, economic theories are often incapable of verification and contradiction. A leading modern economic theory is the Phillips curve – the inverse relationship between inflation and unemployment. A statistical relationship between the unemployment and inflation did exist in the United States for a short-period ending in 1968, but since then, there is no correlation between the two. Despite searching economic data for over forty years, economists were only able to again find an exemplar of that association in the United States mid-west (Nicolini and Fitzgerald 2013). Even so, Federal Reserve policy uses the Phillips curve a core guiding indicator that places millions in unemployment lines and despite the lack of supporting statistic proof.

Over the last few years, science itself has moved to reduce abuse of statistics by informal argumentation from signs. In 2016, the American Statistical Association issued a statement discouraging the use of statistical p-value statements in research (Wasserstein and Lazar 2016), and that move was prompted in response to the increasing problem of non-reproducibililty of experiments in many branches of research (Ioannidis 2005, Nuzzo 2014). Current research practice emphasizes the need for multiple studies that demonstrate a dose-dependent relationship between a causal factor and an effect (see Wasserstein and Lazar 2016). This discourages making inferences from limited associations established by studies supported only by simple frequentist statistics. Research also involves turning data into a model. The science of modeling is also changing by techniques that emphasize statistical selection of factors used in proposed causal models. Whether a researcher proposes to include or exclude a potential causal factor can dramatically change the results of statistical analysis, and thus, analytic techniques, such as mathematical factor analysis, are encouraged to select causal factors and to reduce researcher bias in selecting causal factors.

Given the state of non-reproducibility in science, critical reading of scientific studies that justify policies in the political, environmental or economic spheres is a necessary democratic skill. The American Heart Association has a useful approach for determining what weight should be given to studies and whether scientific theory is supported by reasonable evidence or whether an unproven theory should be considered provisional:

• Level A: Multiple populations evaluated. Data derived from multiple randomized trials or meta-analysis.

• Level B: Limited populations evaluated. Data derived from a single randomized trail or non-randomized studies.

• Level C: Very limited populations studied. Only consensus opinion of experts or case studies evaluated (Stone et al 2013).

The American Heart Association also adds a second vector that consists of three degrees of beneficial effect created by the treatments studied: small, medium and great. Taken with the three types of studies, a conceptual grid is created to guide decisionmaking. Studies of limit populations that contain primarily expert opinions and whose beneficial effect is small suggest no action should be taken until efficacy is proven further. Studies based on multiple randomized blind-trials whose interventions have a large beneficial effect should be looked at closely for implementation. This decision-making schema is usefully for approaching the many scientific and psuedo-scientific claims that bombard every day life. Claims made based on small sized studies that promise only marginal benefits do not require much energy-grabbing attention.

By the foregoing, I do not mean to be anti-science by claiming that experts and the long tradition of journal publication and review should be discounted, as currently occurs among some political elites. Rather, science must be read and understood by ordinary citizens and presented by expert authors with acknowledgment of its limits. This means that many times scientific research can only provide loose guidance despite the enormous expense and effort that good science demands, and citizens should not expect it to always provide the level of certainty and stability that people expect their politicians to provide. Scientific research and science-based policy-making cannot be a full substitute for human value-based decisions and human judgement calls. The ethical use of scientific studies results ultimately rests on the courage to say that in many cases one does not know the answer, but to proceed with the humility of ignorance.

In this current culture that requires proof by informal argumentation from sign, genetic biophilia is a needed, but not necessary, justification that supplements human values for the preservation of natural places. It is needed to combat the prevalence of poor critical thinking that supports anti-environment forces. However, given the weakness of scientific proof supporting the signs of genetic biophilia, it should not be a mainstay of the argument from preservation. Ultimately, people must decide to preserve for the simple reason that they like nature and not because it has some utilitarian value, even the utilitarian value of satisfying a genetic-based human need.

* * * *

On April 27th, 1920, a special water bond election was held to issue $3,300,000 for water supply improvements, including $200,000 for building a reservoir in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald). On April 27th, 1902, the Salt Lake Tribune overviewed the city’s reservoirs and lines, including the High Line and partially excavating reservoir at Pleasant Valley in City Creek Canyon.


April 25, 2017

April 20th

Filed under: Long-leaf phlox, Mallard, Poison ivy, Weather — canopus56 @ 7:19 pm

Biophilia – Part II – Nature Liking Studies

External Link to Image

Snotel Snow Pack at Louis Meadows. Source: Natural Resources Conservation Service. (2017).

4:30 p.m. It has rained for most of the morning, and a brief interlude of sunlight breaks the coldness. As I start today’s jog, the Sun is replaced by the cloud shelf of the next approaching rain front. It is raining as I start today’s jog; this turns to hail near mile 0.8; but then the returns to a slow drizzle. Even in this inclimate weather, there are about ten people walking or running through the cold spring rain. The rain and snowmelt has surged to a new highest level accompanied by a deafening roar, but at the Zen Rock which I use to determine stream height, in a small rock protected calm near the shore, a single mallard sleeps while the stream gently rocks it back and forth. The stream lulls the bird to sleep. I would have missed the mallard since it was visible only through a thick of trees, but by turning its head around and resting it on its back, the mallard’s iridescent green neck made an incongruous flash of color against the otherwise grey and brown shoreline. The stream’s loudness may not continue because the mid-level snow pack is spent. The SNOTEL station at Louis Meadows, elevation 6,700 feet, reports that the snow pack is gone, but the Lookout Peak station at 8,200 feet near the canyon’s headwaters record about thirty-two inches water-equivalent snow left on the ground, or perhaps as much as four or five of snow feet once the air-content is included. This higher elevation snow might continue to feed the overwhelming white noise of the stream through most of May.

In the glade above picnic site 3 that holds purple Long-leaf Phlox, late blooming yellow poison ivy flowers have opened. The glade is also punctuated by shafts of dark horsetails, and it is framed above by orange complex inflorescences of a blooming river birch tree and on the sides by the new green leaves of small trees.

* * * *

In 1984, Nobel laureate E. O. Wilson proposed another explanation of humans’ attraction for nature by re-purposing Fromm’s biophilia term that may also explain my fascination with nature. Wilson’s biophilia hypothesis stated that modern humans have a genetic predisposition to be attracted to and to be fascinated by nature, and this predisposition is the result of eons of years of natural selection acting on pre-history humans (Wilson 1984, Wilson 1993). Humanoid precursors that paid close attention to nature would have had a higher probability of surviving and of passing their genetic material to latter generations (id). Thus, my attraction to nature and stream noise is driven my genes.

The biophilia theory was subsequently was developed by many evolutionary biologists and in 1993, Wilson, with Stephen Kellert at Yale and Roger Ulrich at Texas A and M published a review of its development (Kellert 1993, Ulrich 1993, Wilson 1993). In that review Ulrich discusses evidence supporting the hypothesis based on studies done by many researchers. Types of studies include biophillic (liking nature and positivistic), biophobic (fear of nature and negativistic), and genetic heritability. The body’s biophilic reactions are more difficult to measure behaviorally and are less susceptible to behavioral conditioning. Thus, biophilic studies provide less definitive evidence for a genetic basis for human attraction to nature. Biophilic studies involve viewing images containing various degrees of natural through urbanized settings. Participants rate their preference for each scene. Several biophilic studies found that across cultures, people express a preference for viewing savannah-like open forests (Ulrich, 90-96). This is interpreted as indirect proof of a genetic preference formed as early man evolved on the African plains. A recent liking study replication reaching similar results is Han (2007).

Hence, I and other moderns are attracted to being in the canyon because our primitive ancestors grew up in such an environment. But liking studies are a weak sign for the genetic liking of nature hypothesis, a point that Ulrich concedes, because it is almost impossible to develop an ethical controlled experiment that tests the theory or that separates cultural conditioning for its genetic component. This indirect proof of a genetic compulsion could just as easily be caused by a purely sociological and psychological reaction where city dweller seek relief from a stressful modern life. Such indirect proofs, although tempting to believe (and I want to believe them), may be what sociobiology’s critics like Stephen J. Gould, called another “just so” story.

A more recent theory that extends and stretches the limits of the biophillia hypothesis is oceanographer Wallace J. Nichols’s Blue Mind Hypothesis (Nichols 2014). The blue mind hypothesis poses that humans are compelled to be close to water because of a genetic predisposition that associates water with survival. And indeed, forty percent of the world’s population does live within 100 kilometers of a coastline. The proof that he offers is mostly of the indirect liking survey type, and simpler alternative explanations exist. For example, more people may live closer to coast lines because the access to a larger economic network that water travel provides makes getting a living easier.

* * * *

On April 20th, 2006, Ensign Elementary plans its annual fund raising walk up City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune).

March 30, 2017

March 29th

Filed under: Glacier lily, Long-leaf phlox, Western bluebird, Wolf spider — canopus56 @ 4:11 pm

This is Not the Natural Place. – Part X – Road Development and Increased Recreation

1:00 p.m. Sun continues for another day, and insects make a tentative try at recovering. Only three butterflies are seen, and one is unidentified with large orange wings. A spider with a prominent light strip on its thorax, possibly an immature Wolf spider (Hogna carolinensis), scurries along the road. The Glacier Lily field up canyon from picnic site 6 is much larger than I had originally thought, and containing several hundred plants, it extends on the slope above the roadbank for 120 feet by 120 feet. Between picnic sites 4 and 5, a small one-hundred by two-hundred foot field on the south-east of the stream is covered with newly opened purple Long-leaf Phlox (Phlox longifola). Near milepost 1.0, Wild onion (Allium bisceptrum) stalks grow. These are another sign of spring: flowering bulbs are rising. At Guardhouse Gate, a Western bluebird (Turdidae sialia), lands on a nearby branch and sings. I estimate perhaps 20 song birds in the trees along the first mile, but the bluebird is the only one visible. The parking lot and road remain full of runners, walkers and bicyclists.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 29th, 1859, he sees crows and possibly an eagle.

* * * *

The fourth era of human utilization of the canyon was road development and increased recreation use. In the era before indoor air-conditioning and with the rise of the middle-class in Salt Lake City, escaping the city summer heat by going to City Creek in horse-drawn carriages became a popular activity. A 1901 Salt Lake Tribune article noted that, “It is estimated by a man that not less than five hundred equipages passed through Eagle Gate and the drivers of all these were bound for the canyon” (Salt Lake Tribune, Sept. 16, 1901). In 1903, the Tribune noted that on Sundays, “hundreds” of City workers would escape to City Creek for relaxation and camping. Camping in the canyon was a popular past-time (Salt Lake Tribune, May 24, 1903).

With the arrival of the automobile and expansion of Salt Lake City’s middle class, more demands came from the public for improved scenic roads. Utah law had long allowed for the municipal use of prison labor (Utah Code Ann. 10-8-85 (1953 amended), and predecessor statutes). The City extensively relied on city prison road gangs to improve City Creek road. As previously noted, on January 17th, 1909, City Water Commissioner Frank M. Matthews reported that City Creek the road was being widened road using prison labor (Intermountain Republican). On December 31, 1916, the Salt Lake Tribune noted that the City Creek road had been improved that year, and the paper endorsed park proposals by a better roads civic improvement group to link and upgrade the Wasatch Boulevard scenic drive, 11th Avenue and the City Creek road in order to create a scenic drive for the now popular automobile. On January 31st, 1917, City Commissioner Herman H. Green reported that jail prisoners were continuing work on grading the new scenic boulevard around City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Telegram). Between 1919 and 1927, the Rotary Club built parks at Memory Grove and picnic grounds at Lower Rotary Park (mile 4.3) and Upper Rotary Park (mile 5.2) (Salt Lake City Corp. 1999b).

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