Creatures Of Habitat
The Changing Nature of Wildlife and Wild Places in Utah and the Intermountain West
Publication Year: 2001
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.
Published by: Utah State University Press
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Foreword: Lessons from song dogs
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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, ...
Introduction: How well do you know your neighbors?
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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 ...
PART ONE—WHAT’S HAPPENING TO WILDLIFE?
1. Animal life on the edge: Does it take a special breed?
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Utah’s Mexican spotted owls live on the edge—literally. These one-pound feathered hunting machines perch and pounce on woodrats and bats from the ledges of towering cliffs in southern Utah’s steep-walled canyons. On the edge figuratively, they live at the extreme northwestern fringe of Mexican spotted owl habitat, ...
2. Endangered animal communities: The keystone concept
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When you drive south on I-15 through Cedar City, scan the median strip between the north and southbound lanes near the 200 North interchange. Here you’ll see—sandwiched between four lanes of roaring interstate traffic—a thriving colony of rare Utah prairie dogs. ...
3. Historic herds: Reintroducing native large animals into today’s limited space
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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 butchered with flint blades. ...
4. Alpine plants and animals: Hardy inhabitants of Utah’s high country
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From a hundred miles west you can see Snowbird ski resort’s home—it’s that massive wall of mountains towering 5,000 feet above Salt Lake Valley, the Wasatch Front. The western storm track doesn’t miss this sheer rampart either; these mountains are hammered by storm after Pacific storm. The steep vertical exposure creates ...
5. Great Basin birds: Frequent flyers at Utah’s busiest airport
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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 Jordan rivers pour fresh water into briny marshland—that witnesses the arrival and departure of millions of frequent flyers each year. This east shore is an oasis for more than two hundred ...
PART TWO—WHAT’S HAPPENING TO WILD PLACES?
6. Island syndrome extinctions: How small an area is too small for nature to carry on?
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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. ...
7. Aliens have invaded! Weeds take over habitat
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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 ...
8. Western hydro-logic floods critical wildlife habitat
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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. ...
9. Can Utah’s golf courses go green?
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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 ...
10. Transforming the Wasatch Mountains into an amusement park.
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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 Boomers ...
PART THREE—WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
11. The legacy of predator control
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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. ...
12. Decline of hunting leaves habitat hurting
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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 ...
13. The Nature Conservancy of Utah: Wheeling and dealing in race with extinction
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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, ...
14. Birdwatching in the Beehive State: Its popularity soars
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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. ...
15. Watching wildlife in wild places
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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. ...
16. The Blame Game: Whose responsibility is habitat loss?
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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 ...
About the author
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Mark Gerard Hengesbaugh is a freelance writer who lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. For the past six years Hengesbaugh has been researching and writing articles about the native plants, animals, and landscapes of the Intermountain West. He spends most of his free time tramping the West’s backcountry ...
About the contributing artists
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Publication Year: 2001