Elk on the Utah skyline

March 7, 2017

Utah’s wildlife managers were plugging the deadline to apply for permits to take an elk in the wild, and they added this picture:

Utah elk in the sagebrush, with mountains in the background. Photo from Utah Division of Wildlife Resources,

Utah elk in the sagebrush, with mountains in the background. Photo from Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, “courtesy Jim Shuler.”

Don’t know the location, but I’m guessing south of Provo, since the mountains in the back look a little redder than they would be just from afternoon sunlight (anyone know?).

In my original home town, Burley, Idaho, we got Challenge Dairy products. For reasons I don’t remember or know, my mother bought Challenge butter over others, from a large display in the small Sparr’s Grocery (did I get the name right? Still there?) . I liked their stuff because they had the coolest logo. I regretted losing access to that stuff when we moved to Utah.

Butter box from Challenge Dairy showing the full logo for the company.

Butter box from Challenge Dairy showing the full logo for the company.

That photo above reminded me of the Challenge logo.

Surprised to discover Challenge Dairy is a California co-op, and not an Idaho concern.

Today we get Challenge Butter in our local Tom Thumb supermarkets in North Texas — but Tom Thumb was bought by Safeway, which was bought by Albertson’s, both of whom have deep history in the west.

Deadline for Utah elk permits was March 2, by the way. Probably about the same time next year, for 2018, if you’re looking to hunt.


Annals of Global Warming: Dramatic Links Found Between Climate Change, Elk, Plants, and Birds

March 14, 2012

Understanding the physics of the Earth’s atmosphere poses great problems — it is an astonishingly dynamic, fluid environment.  Understanding the relationships between species in ecosystems is no less complex, and no less vexing.

Wise followers of science recognize that when findings in biology, chemistry and physics, point the same direction, something powerful creates the convergence, and is not to be ignored.

So it is with these findings from the University of Montana and the U.S. Geological Survey, demonstrating clear links between climate change and the changing life patterns of large animals like elk, small animals like birds, and the plants the animals live in and consume.  This study is so complex that climate denialists haven’t figured out which part to deny, yet.  (This press release came out in January.)

From the USGS, with no adornment from the Bathtub, a press release on a letter in Nature Climate Change:

Dramatic Links Found Between Climate Change, Elk, Plants, and Birds

Released: 1/9/2012 11:30:00 AM

U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Office of Communications and Publishing

In partnership with the University of Montana

Missoula, MT – Climate change in the form of reduced snowfall in mountains is causing powerful and cascading shifts in mountainous plant and bird communities through the increased ability of elk to stay at high elevations over winter and consume plants, according to a groundbreaking study in Nature Climate Change.

Red-faced warbler in Arizona, photo by Tom Martin, USGS

Red-faced warblers are one of the species affected by climate change in the form of reduced snowpack in the Arizona Mountains, according to a USGS Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit study. Photo by Tom Martin, USGS, May 1998, in the Coconino National Forest

The U.S. Geological Survey and University of Montana study not only showed that the abundance of deciduous trees and their associated songbirds in mountainous Arizona have declined over the last 22 years as snowpack has declined, but it also experimentally demonstrated that declining snowfall indirectly affects plants and birds by enabling more winter browsing by elk. Increased winter browsing by elk results in trickle-down ecological effects such as lowering the quality of habitat for songbirds.

The authors, USGS Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit scientist Thomas Martin and University of Montana scientist John Maron, mimicked the effects of more snow on limiting the ability of elk to browse on plants by excluding the animals from large, fenced areas. They compared bird and plant communities in these exclusion areas with nearby similar areas where elk had access, and found that, over the six years of the study, multi-decadal declines in plant and songbird populations were reversed in the areas where elk were prohibited from browsing.

Hermit thrushes in the Coconino National Forest, Arizona - 2005 photo by Tom Martin, USGS

Hermit thrushes are a songbird species that was strongly affected by plant community changes in mountains because of reduced snowpack and cascading ecological effects, according to a USGS Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit study. 2005 photo by Tom Martin, USGS, in the Coconino National Forest

“This study illustrates that profound impacts of climate change on ecosystems arise over a time span of but two decades through unexplored feedbacks,” explained USGS director Marcia McNutt. “The significance lies in the fact that humans and our economy are at the end of the same chain of cascading consequences.”

The study demonstrates  a classic ecological cascade, added Martin. For example, he said, from an elk’s perspective, less snow means an increased ability to freely browse on woody plants in winter in areas where they would not be inclined to forage in previous times due to high snowpack. Increased overwinter browsing led to a decline in deciduous trees, which reduced the number of birds that chose the habitat and increased predation on nests of those birds that did choose the habitat.

Elk excluded, aspen growth increases - photo by Tom Martin, USGS, Coconino National Forest

When elk are excluded, aspen growth dramatically increases - Climate change in the form of reduced snowfall in mountains is causing powerful and cascading shifts in montane plant and bird communities through the increased ability of elk to stay at high elevations over winter and consume plants. Here, you can see an example of the difference in aspen growth inside versus outside a fence that excludes elk. Photo by Tom Martin, USGS, in Coconino National Forest

“This study demonstrates that the indirect effects of climate on plant communities may be just as important as the effects of climate-change-induced mismatches between migrating birds and food abundance because plants, including trees, provide the habitat birds need to survive,” Martin said.

The study, Climate impacts on bird and plant communities from altered animal-plant interactions, was published online on Jan. 8 in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Elk in winter at Camp Creek Feed Ground, Northwestern Wyoming - USGS photo

Elk in winter at Camp Creek Feed Ground, Northwestern Wyoming - USGS photo

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