Yesterday morning I couldn’t stand the thought of heading to Antelope Island State Park or going up to northern Utah because of the no-see-ums (biting gnats) that are so bad right now. I had been chewed up the on the 9th while in northern Utah and have lumps where the bites are to prove it so instead I drove out to the West Desert and explored some of the canyons in the Stansbury Mountains. I’m glad I went but the views going to Davenport and North Willow Canyons have changed, drastically.
I couldn’t resist photographing this tiny Chipping Sparrow singing while perched on a “cedar” fence post with the sky and dark juniper behind it. The lighting isn’t the best but I adore that blue and green background.
The dirt road heading up to Davenport and North Willow Canyons currently is in pretty bad condition in some areas with plenty of deep ruts and sharp, exposed rocks.
You may have noticed that I wrote cedar fence post above using quotes and that is because people here call our Utah Junipers “cedars” even though they are junipers. Junipers make strong fence posts that can last a hundred years or more.
But junipers have become a problem since the arrival of the first pioneers to the west because their historical range has expanded into the sagebrush-grass communities below the juniper-pinyon communities that are typically higher in elevation. We humans do alter natural habitats and that isn’t always for the good.
I noticed several areas yesterday on my way up to the canyons where junipers have been cut down and chopped up and at first I was sickened by the sight, mostly because I know that birds are nesting right now and in my mind these junipers should have been chopped down during the late fall or during the winter when the birds aren’t nesting. I’d been up in these canyons in March and the junipers were standing then.
You can see not all of the junipers were chopped down. I am not certain at this point in time if the areas where the junipers were removed is on private or federal lands.
Junipers can crowd out herbaceous and shrub species. Fire suppression, overgrazing and climate change have been identified as potential causes for the expansion of junipers in Utah and other locations in the western U.S..
So while the views I saw of the destroyed junipers yesterday were a shock to me this may be a change for the better or at least a step in the direction of what this landscape was and looked like before the European settlers came to Utah.
One hillside appeared to have 50% fewer junipers on it. Over the years I have seen hawks perched on some of the junipers that were chopped down so it was a bit of a punch in the gut for me but they still have some to perch on.
I don’t know if the removal of the junipers was done to increase grazing land or if it was done to keep the junipers in check but the views I was used to seeing have changed.
Who knows, maybe more birds might show up in those areas. I’ll have to wait to see but hopefully the grasses and shrubs will grow and cover the areas where the junipers have been removed. It will be interesting to see what eventually happens to these areas.
I was able to photograph this Mourning Dove yesterday as it sat on top of an old “cedar” fence post next to the road. And I didn’t get bitten by a single insect yesterday.
Life is good. Even when things change.
More information on the Mechanical Mastication of Utah Juniper Encroaching Sagebrush Steppe Increases Inorganic Soil (The title of the article appears to be truncated on this page)