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Creatures Of Habitat

Creatures Of Habitat: The Changing Nature of Wildlife and Wild Places in Utah and the Intermountain West

Mark Gerard Hengesbaugh
Dan Miller Photo Editor
Foreword by Barry Scholl
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Creatures Of Habitat
    Book Description:

    From flying squirrels on high wooded plateaus to hanging gardens in redrock canyons, the Intermountain West is home to some of the world's rarest and most fascinating animals and plants. Creatures of Habitat details many unique but little-known talents of this region's strange and wonderful wild inhabitants and descibes their connections with native environments. For example, readers will learn about the pronghorn antelope's supercharged cardiovascular system, a brine shrimp-powered shorebird that each year flies nonstop from the Great Salt Lake to Central Argentina, and a rare mustard plant recently discovered on Mount Ogden. Emphasizing how increasing loss and degradation of habitat hinders native species' survival, Mark Gerard Hengesbaugh discusses what is happening to wildlife and wild places and what is being done about it. Well illustrated, this book has habitat maps, pen-and-ink illustrations, and fifty photos of wildlife and wild places selected by photo editor Dan Miller. Also included are guides to wildlife viewing and lists of Utah species, including those considered sensitive, threatened, or endangered.

    eISBN: 978-0-87421-455-0
    Subjects: Biological Sciences, Zoology, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Foreword: Lessons from song dogs
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Barry Scholl

    A few years ago, while camping in a remote canyon (I forget exactly where), I was shocked from sleep by a sound that has stayed with me ever since.

    I’ve been sleeping on the ground for more years than I care to remember and have squandered countless nights entombed in a sleeping bag futilely trying to dislodge the pebbles that had somehow lodged under my back during the night. But I had never been so violently dragged from a deep sleep. Undiminished by a city’s glare, stars soared overhead, big as dinner plates, and a satellite blinked in its ongoing...

  2. Introduction: How well do you know your neighbors?
    (pp. 1-3)

    From seep-watered hanging gardens in redrock canyons to flying squirrels on wooded plateaus, the Intermountain West is a celebration of unique plants, animals, and places. With contrasting geographical regions—Rocky Mountains, Great Basin, Colorado Plateau—we’re blessed with a natural heritage that includes some of the world’s rarest and most fascinating plants and animals.

    This is no exaggeration. Approximately one in ten of Utah’s native plant species grow nowhere else in the world. Another example: black-footed ferrets, recently reintroduced into eastern Utah, are considered the rarest mammal on earth. The talents of the native plants and animals with whom we...

  3. Part One What’s Happening to Wildlife?

    • CHAPTER ONE Animal life on the edge: Does it take a special breed?
      (pp. 7-23)

      Does it take a special breed to live on the edge? Or does living on the edge create a special breed? Small groups of animals who live on the outer limits of their species’ range—such as Utah’s Mexican spotted owls, desert tortoises, and Gila monsters and Arizona’s peccaries—encounter a tougher environment than individuals of the same species who live in the optimal conditions of their core habitat. But far from being sideshows, these small populations that survive the challenging conditions on the fringe of their habitat make a critical contribution to the evolution and survival of their entire...

    • CHAPTER TWO Endangered animal communities: The keystone concept.
      (pp. 25-37)

      Prairie dogs are a keystone species. A keystone is a particular block of stone in the central position of an arched entranceway; all the other blocks lean on it for support. The keystone locks the stones of the arch in place and, if you remove it, the arch collapses. Like a keystone, prairie dogs are the central species in a natural community that supports a large complement of other kinds of creatures, such as black-footed ferrets and burrowing owls. Biologists have identified more than 170 species that rely on prairie dog towns in some way. Each of these species is...

    • CHAPTER THREE Historic herds: Reintroducing native large animals into today’s limited space.
      (pp. 39-51)

      At one time, bison, antelope, and bighorn sheep were abundant in the Intermountain West. By 1900, however, most of the herds had disappeared from overhunting. When wildlife biologists attempt to reintroduce these native grazing animals into our transformed modern environment, they aren’t sure how many will live—or for how long.

      The stout, white buffalo bones littering a ravine bottom near Woodruff, Utah, look five, rather than fifteen hundred, years old. But on closer inspection you can see that many of the hefty vertebrae and femurs have fine grooves cut across tendon attachment points—a sure sign these bison were...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Alpine plants and animals: Hardy inhabitants of Utah’s high country.
      (pp. 53-73)

      Hiking to the top of a high peak in Utah is like traveling to the Arctic. As you ascend, the mountain-adapted plants and trees become more dwarflike and hug the ground because they must survive hammering by harsh weather. The summer growing season is a blink of an eye, then winter roars back with hurricane-force winds and subzero temperatures. The robust native plants and animals up here have a strategy that centers on endurance. They are often specialists, requiring very specific habitats in a rare environment surrounded by a sea of lowlands.

      From a hundred miles west you can see...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Great Basin birds: Frequent flyers at Utah’s busiest airport.
      (pp. 75-85)

      Millions of birds depend on the east shore of the Great Salt Lake and other water sources in the Great Basin to provide their resting, nesting, breeding, and feeding needs. Migrating birds need specific habitats in seasonal sequence, so at certain times of year, the abundance of wildlife in places such as the Great Salt Lake’s Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is unmatched nearly anywhere else in the world but the Serengeti Plains of east Africa.

      Utah’s busiest airport is north of Salt Lake International’s runways. It’s the east shore of the Great Salt Lake—where the Bear, Weber, and...

  4. Part Two What’s Happening to Wild Places?

    • CHAPTER SIX Island syndrome extinctions: How small an area is too small for nature to carry on?
      (pp. 89-93)

      Islands cause extinctions, and Utah’s wild places are rapidly becoming islands of natural landscape surrounded by a sea of human impact, say experts. Our national parks and other protected native landscapes were once shielded by buffer zones around them and by corridors of natural area between them. Now they are increasingly cut off and surrounded by human encroachments such as ranchettes, cabins, subdivisions, strip malls, overgrazed pastures, clear-cut forests, fenced farmlands, and highways.

      Whether oceanic island or mainland island of wilderness, the smaller the size, the more extinctions, say ecologists. For example, Bryce Canyon National Park, which is only about...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Aliens have invaded! Weeds take over habitat.
      (pp. 95-98)

      Wherever people live, work, or play, weeds follow like a dark shadow. When we visit natural areas to hike, bike, or take a Sunday drive, seeds of these alien travelers stowaway on us and invade our complex, yet balanced native ecosystems. These exotic hitchhikers root and spread quickly wherever humans have disturbed natural landscapes—places like roadsides, trailheads, and cow-pounded pasture.

      When this happens, a single variety of scrappy foreign plant will overrun many types of native plants—and the resulting weed field is either inedible or poisonous to wildlife. Consequently, weeds have become a major cause of habitat loss...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Western hydro-logic floods critical wildlife habitat.
      (pp. 99-108)

      It took the soupy Colorado River 10 million years to sculpt Glen Canyon from a heart of radiant red and tan sandstone. It took federal Bureau of Reclamation engineers just 20 years to fill it to the rim with slackwater. A bureaucrat named the reservoir “Lake” Powell.

      To John Wesley Powell, in 1869, Glen Canyon was an unexpected refuge from the roaring, whitewater chaos of Cataract Canyon and the wild upper Colorado River. His rapids-pounded wooden dories slowed to a crawl beneath towering walls with hanging gardens of fern and moss. Willows and cottonwoods fringed the riverbanks and deep alcoves...

    • CHAPTER NINE Can Utah’s golf courses go green?
      (pp. 109-112)

      Chemical dependency is hard to kick. Take your local golf course’s putting green. It’s mowed down to a tenth of an inch tall. The stubble is seared by the sun, dried by wind, and stomped by humans in plaid pants. Underground, its unnaturally shallow roots are vulnerable to mold, fungus, and insects. Because a putting green is constantly on the ragged edge of survival, without regular fixes of fertilizer, fungicides, and insecticides, it’s deader than Astro-Turf.

      It’s not just the greens either. In Utah, manicured tees and fairways planted with nonnative bluegrass require constant chemical maintenance as well. Without it,...

    • CHAPTER TEN Transforming the Wasatch Mountains into an amusement park.
      (pp. 113-119)

      Go figure. The number of skiers in the U.S. is falling as the Baby Boom generation ages, so why do Utah ski resorts expand facilities each year and crowd further into what was once wildlife habitat?

      It’s a fact: as skiers age, they ski less. Boomers are now 35 to 55 years old, and the U.S. skier market has gradually shrunk by about 15 percent in the 1990s. It’s 18 to 24 year olds who ski more than anyone—about one in ten ski. But there aren’t enough Gen Xers to make a statistical dent in general skier declines because...

  5. Part Three What Does the Future Hold?

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN The legacy of predator control.
      (pp. 123-131)

      Some animals are less equal than others. It’s government policy.

      Take predators. Until as recently as the 1960s, Utah’s predators were officially considered vermin. Grizzly bears, wolves, and wolverines have been wiped out. Most of Utah’s surviving four-legged carnivores—such as cougar, black bear, and fox—are still trapped and hunted both for sport and to keep their populations low. The coyote is officially considered a pest and is actively exterminated still.

      On the other hand, Utah’s wildlife managers have encouraged the growth of prey herds, such as elk and mule deer, for the enjoyment of human hunters. Game officials...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE Decline of hunting leaves habitat hurting.
      (pp. 133-137)

      Utah hunters are becoming an increasingly rare breed. And that’s not necessarily good for the state’s wildlife.

      Yes, you read that right. Here’s why: During each recent fall season, fewer than 80,000 Utahns line up their rifle sights for a deer hunt that, in the past, drew 200,000 residents. What wild animals will be missing is not the crack of hunters’ gunfire, of course, but the money those absent hunters have been contributing to preserving habitat and wildlife for 60 years. A national “guns and ammo tax”—an assessment on the manufacture of firearms and ammunition since 1937—together with...

    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN The Nature Conservancy of Utah: Wheeling and dealing in race with extinction.
      (pp. 139-144)

      Unless you’re a bug or a biologist, this swamp is not pretty. But the Nature Conservancy of Utah’s Layton Wetlands Preserve—a sweep of mudflats, pickleweed, and brine flies that smells of rot—is paradise to birds; they come here to rest and nest by the millions. The preserve, six miles along the Great Salt Lake’s eastern shore, hosts some of the largest concentrations of wildlife ever counted on a lake that’s teeming with birds: for example, a million northern pintail ducks, a half-million sandpipers, a quarter-million American avocets. Utah’s wetlands are comparable to rainforests in the number and variety...

    • CHAPTER FOURTEEN Birdwatching in the Beehive State: Its popularity soars.
      (pp. 145-152)

      According to the latest count, the state of Utah has two bird watchers in the bush for every hunter out there. Over a quarter of a million people watch birds in the Beehive State as an outdoor activity each year, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates. It’s Utah’s fastest growing outdoor sport.

      Birdwatching has a new constituency too. “When I was in school, they called me ‘birdman’—and bird watchers had the image of little old ladies in tennis shoes,” recalls Sugar House ornithologist Mark Stackhouse, whose ebony beard and full head of hair betray no signs of...

    • CHAPTER FIFTEEN Watching wildlife in wild places.
      (pp. 153-164)

      Most of the year, southwestern Utah’s Mojave Desert is an intimidating stretch of stone, sand, and silence. It’s hotter and drier than the Great Basin desert on its north, so outside of St. George, cedar and sage hillsides give way to a rocky landscape bristling with yucca, Joshua trees, and spine-tangled cacti. In summer, the three-digit Mojave heat is stunning. In winter, the desert lies freeze-dried, awaiting a meager few inches of annual rain.

      But spring is different. This time of year, bouquets of delicate wildflowers erupt in rock washes and even the stubborn cacti bloom. Songbirds and butterflies scout...

    • CHAPTER SIXTEEN The Blame Game: Whose responsibility is habitat loss?
      (pp. 165-170)

      In the mid-1800s, American philosopher Henry David Thoreau noted that his experience in the New England forest—because it was lacking so many native plants and animals—was like hearing a symphony performed with most of the instruments missing. Even in Thoreau’s time, only 200 years after the first pilgrims arrived on the east coast of North America, a drastic simplification and dismantling of the natural landscape of New England had already occurred.

      In the Intermountain West we are luckier than residents of many other locations, but we do listen to a similarly impoverished orchestra today. Native plants and animals...

  6. Appendices

  7. About the contributing artists …
    (pp. 204-205)