Utah Native Plant Society

The posts contained herein may not always necessarily represent the official positions and views of the Utah Native Plant Society and are mine alone; nonetheless, this blog is intended to largely supplement the Utah Native Plant Society web site and has similar goals and objectives and when I think my slant about something is perhaps either controversial or straying from what might be generally supported by UNPS, I will try to so indicate since I am also the webmaster for the UNPS web site, a former UNPS board member, conservation co-chair, Utah rare plants guide coordinator, and remain actively involved with day-to-day issues involving the organization. Much of the information contained here will therefore no doubt therefore relate to issues of current concern to the UNPS board and/or its members, inquires made to unps@unps.org, postings made on the UNPS listserv, and the activities our various committees are involved with (conservation, restoration, rare plant issues, invasive species, horticulture and more) and our many and various botanical connections not the least of which are the herbariums based in Utah and elsewhere, and other conservation organizations that have goals that overlap those of UNPS.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

FWS to conduct status review of Monarch butterfly as a result of positive 90-day finding

On December 29, 2014 the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that it would be publishing a positive finding on December 31, 2014 in the Federal Register with respect to a petition filed by several groups to list the North American Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus plexippus, under the Endangered Species Act.


FWS Dec. 29, 2014 bulletin

The petition process is outlined here:


As a result, the FWS will proceed to conduct a status review that will be completed within one year.

The Utah Native Plant Society has not taken an official position on the listing of the Monarch butterfly but certainly strongly supports its conservation.  We in fact just recently highlighted it in our November 2014 newsletter:


Local citizens can do many things to promote Monarch butterfly conservation.  This includes not only the planting of native milkweed species (see Sego Lily article above) along with other native forb species but also in advocating for the protection of our relatively few remaining wetland, wet meadows and freshwater marsh habitats remaining particularly along the Wasatch Front (as well as throughout the state).

A Monarch butterfly on Marsh Aster 
(Symphyotrichum lanceolatum var. hesperium, syn. Aster hesperius)

A priority also needs to be placed on the removal of the invasive Russian Olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) and to not continue to plant it.  Birds and occasionally butterflies use Russian Olive trees only because that's all that we've given them to use, not because they need them.  There is a terrible misunderstanding by many members of the public about Russian Olive; it is an ecological nightmare and contributes to the decline of numerous species.  And birds spread their seeds far and wide causing Russian Olive to be found everywhere throughout the state, exacerbating the problem.   Property owners can make a positive contribution by removing any/all Russian Olive on their property and by never planting it in the first place.   As a prolific seed producer, continued due diligence in removing seedlings and juvenile plants must then occur into the indefinite future following removal if we ever have any hope of getting it under control.

In place of Russian Olive and  where appropriate (and particularly in areas near or within open spaces), individuals and government agencies in valley to foothill habitats that are sufficiently moist should consider planting in its place (along with tall forb and other species besides these native trees and shrubs) local genotypes of:

Peachleaf willow (Salix amygdaloides)  (and other locally native willow species)
River hawthorn (Crataegus rivularis)
Golden currant (Ribes aureum)
Wood's rose (Rosa woodsii)

Some related links:







Asclepias speciosa receiving a visit from an adult Monarch
(non-native Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum, at far left, another significant invasive species problem)

More views of a Monarch butterfly on Marsh Aster

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Uinta Basin smog: un-fracking believable

As a prelude to future posts about the impacts of air pollution on not only us but also on native plant and other life, here is a recent blog posted dated November 13, 2014 by Earthjustice staff attorney Robin Cooley:

Un-Fracking Believable: Smog in the Rural West | Earthjustice

Saturday, December 6, 2014

In memoriam: the “Utah” Blue Spruce (1933-2014)

Utah's state tree was the Blue Spruce, Picea pungens, from 1933 to 2014. By statute it was referred to as the Blue Spruce and that is one of its common names.

Because of the reference to our state tree as the “Colorado” Blue Spruce in 4th grade elementary school text books, some often misguided efforts have been made to change our state tree (which instead should have involved some changes to the text books). The latest of these efforts succeeded in early 2014 when Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed a bill to change the state's tree to the also beautiful Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides).

This was done however to a large degree out of ignorance.

A similar effort was made in 2008 when a 4th grade class pushed to instead make the “Utah” Juniper the state tree.

Colorado also designated the Blue Spruce as its state tree but not until 1939, more than five years after Utah's designation.

Essentially our text books were wrong in referring to the tree as only the “Colorado” Blue Spruce and should have instead educated school children (and future legislators) that plants have all sorts of common names, and that the Blue Spruce is a Utah native tree. The “Utah” Juniper is also not limited in distribution to Utah.

While it is true that the Blue Spruce occurs to a greater degree in Colorado than Utah and that its type locality was named from a plant collected in Colorado, this does mean it is more of a Colorado than a Utah tree. In fact the Quaking Aspen has a type locality that is uncertain and is believed to be in Canada. And, ironically, the aspen tree is certainly equally, if not more, iconic of Colorado than Utah. And the Quaking Aspen has a much more extensive distribution throughout much of North America compared to the more narrowly distributed Blue Spruce limited to the western United States.

Central Utah's extensive aspen stand dubbed Pando is thought to be the largest living organism on the planet. Each connected plant is genetically identical (clones). Somehow the idea of this interconnectedness was thought to represent a symbol of Utah's reproductive prolificness, its connectedness in general, and the ability of everyone to work together collectively. Unless we consider ourselves to be genetically identical clones and have the common goal of overpopulation, this symbology is questionable. And in another ironic twist, Pando is thought to be dying from the effects of climate change; yet our state (and federal) legislators largely “do not believe” that global warming is occurring.

Did Utah want to turn over a new leaf (the analogy used in Herbert's 2014 State of the State address) by designating a state tree the most famous member of which is dying from climate change? Is this not instead symbolic of a state that frequently fails to use science and facts in its decision-making process?

An unfortunate additional aspect of designating higher elevation trees is that it then also tends to lead to the less than responsible placement of these trees in our lower elevation landscapes. Most Utahns do not live at elevations appropriate to where these trees grow. Appropriate habitat and aspect including things such as sun exposure, water, soil, and elevation are all critical consideration in determining what to plan and where. All too often Quaking Aspen (and Blue Spruce) are planted in completely inappropriate and nonsensical places where they often look sickly (for example, along the Wasatch Front at elevations less than 5,000 feet).

Blue Spruce needles

Blue Spruce planted at the University of Utah

More information:

Some additional background with respect to Utah Native Plant Society and some individual actions that took  place in the second half of 2013 when we first learned about the proposed bill as well as in early 2014:

A tremendous amount of misinformation occurred with respect to this issue as result of this bill's proposal.  If Utah wanted to change its state tree, that was fine, but it should have been  done for the right reasons and not based on a long list of misunderstandings.  Contacts were accordingly attempted with the bill's sponsors to which there was no response whatsoever in the fall of 2013 (as well as with the governor's environmental advisor at around the same time in the fall of 2013 who seemed to appreciate the information but we suspect never took the issue up with the governor and/or otherwise ignored it). Salt Lake area House Rep. Carol Spackman Moss did listen, but the bill came up for a vote before she could do much other than voice some of the concerns. The bill did not pass unanimously in the House (there were 19 votes against) as it had in the Senate.

Trib article by Kristen Rogers-Iversen published October 2, 2010:

I only recently became aware of the article “How a Colorado spruce became Utah 's state tree” which discusses some of the history (some I knew but some I didn't) and how in 1919 there was the first attempt to designate the Blue Spruce.  See:

(Note the reference to "unclean" and "undesirable" tree with respect to potential Box Elder tree designation discussions.  That is such a typical and incorrect reaction to the use of many native trees.  Native trees are no more trashy than other trees.)

I knew about the attempt to designate the “Utah” juniper as Utah's state tree that had been made in 2008, but did not know that it was the Utah Cattlemen Association that rose up against its designation. That is not surprising, but that was a rather ridiculously ignorant action on their part since designation of a state tree gives it no protection whatsoever (just like the designation of the Sego Lily, Calochortus nuttallii, has afforded it no protection and its lower elevation habitat along the Wasatch Front  has been largely eliminated; neither state trees nor state flowers nor even state cooking pots are protected from anything). And the juniper would have been a much more logical and iconic choice.

Strange and weird factoid:

Did you know that a syrup is made from Blue Spruce?

(Quaking Aspen does not stand a change of competing in the syrup marketplace!)

Misleading and at least partially incorrect or incomplete articles:

This recent Pioneer.utah.gov page about Utah's state tree does indeed contain some information of value, but also gives a very skewed account of the aspen designation and is not an unbiased nor completely accurate account:


And, this Colorado State University extension article:

indicates in one place that Picea engelmanni was our state tree.  That is wrong.  I have written to them to ask them to fix that article as there is enough confusion about this already.  Also the reference there to Picea pungensglauca” is not really correct and should been written differently. It is not taxonomically recognized in that fashion. The author is referring to the cultivar "glauca" and should have used “forma” or some other designation and further should not have indicated that "glauca" is the "true" Blue Spruce.  The Colorado state tree is designated simply as Picea pungens which can be green and not just blue.   Plants, like people, can have variable characteristics.

Helpful USU extension articles about the Quaking Aspen and the Blue Spruce:

Quaking Aspen:

Note the comment: "Over-planted in Utah."   Indeed.

And “ . . . aspen does not like the heat and dry conditions in our lower valleys. Stressed aspens suffer from leaf scorch, leaf spot, borers, cankers, galls, occasionally iron chlorosis, and many other problems. Best grown in cooler high-mountain climates that it is used to. “   

Blue Spruce:

Note the comment: “This is a very good tree, but it is over-used in many areas."   Also very true.

Aspen and climate change:

There are many references to this topic and SAD (Sudden Aspen Decline).

A good overall story that provides some helpful information is the Smithsonian article "What's Killing the Aspen?  The signature tree of the Rockies is in trouble"  by Michelle Nijhuis published in December 2008.


Example of a journal article on the subject:

Rehfeldt GE, Ferguson DE, Crookston NL. 2009. Aspen, climate, and sudden decline in western USA. For. Ecol. Manage. 258(11): 2353-2364 CrossRef.


Quaking Aspen - Utah's state tree as of March 26, 2014

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Utah Land Transfer Study

Utah's $450,000 taxpayer funded land transfer study has been released, and has been endorsed by PLPCO (Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office for the state of Utah) which spearheaded the study following a legislative mandate.

The 732+ page report can be downloaded from this link (scroll down to H.B. 142 and the section "Economic Feasilibility of Transferring Public Lands" i.e. it is the third link):


The last link on that page is PLPCO's November 28, 2014 summary.

The report was prepared by economists at the University of Utah, Utah State University and Weber State University.  The document however was clearly heavily influenced by PLPCO and others in state government.  It can hardly be viewed as an independent study.  And it misses the mark in terms of failing to include a fully multidisciplinary approach, critical for an accurate assessment of the economic impacts of such an incredibly complex land transfer.

Its conclusion:

"In conclusion, from a strictly financial perspective, it is likely the state of Utah could take ownership of the lands and cover the costs to manage them. Our research also suggests that it could put a strain on the state’s funding priorities in the early years as the state adjusts to the loss of federal dollars, evaluates land resources and conditions and develops programs to replace those now managed by federal agencies."

The report is full of tables outlining expenditures and projections but despite its length seems to treat topics cursorily at best and despite being called a "pathway" to further action by PLPCO,  there appears to be little wisdom in spending more time and effort on this transfer lawsuit notion from purely an economic and administrative point of view (much less the exceptionally shaky legal grounds of any potential transfer litigation action by the state, which really seems to be trying to posture itself into a bargaining position rather than trying to really pursue a full takeover of any kind).

It is particularly clear that the purpose of the document is to justify the pathway for development of the state's energy resources more than anything else, and free itself from what it views as excessive bureaucratic oversight and federal laws that it otherwise must comply with.  Yet, at some point the state needs to realize that the federal laws and regulations that they want to simply eliminate have evolved the way they have for a reason.  And that Utah is in fact a part of a country and is no longer either the State of Deseret nor the Utah Territory.

And the report in no way provides a blueprint for how the state would suddenly and realistically manage the resources that it would suddenly come to possess regardless of the state's intentions.

While the report attempts to outline the annual cost of the BLM and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Species endangered species programs (wildlife and plants), it is very unclear as to why that cost is included in the analysis (which recognizes that it isn't really possible to exactly identify those costs that are specific to Utah alone).  Does the state intend to setup new equivalent agencies to manage, for example, currently federally listed plant species and spend at least the same amount of money to fund those new agencies? Will they be changing and dismantling the School and Institutional Trust Land Administration's (SITLA) mandate to force that agency to be more accountable, transparent and responsible to the public, and manage its lands according to multiple use land management practices (that in today's world is referred to more properly as "ecosystem management") and cease its role primarily as a developer of state lands?

Rep. Ken Ivory, the sponsor of HB 148 which ultimately led to this study, makes comparisons between SITLA land management and BLM land management that are completely skewed, and he like many of his colleagues enable their elections through "federal fear" campaigns.  While his bill supposedly contains a reference to "multiple use" management, that is not the kind of management that SITLA since its formation in 1994 has ever implemented.  His references to the lack of local management and knowledge by federal natural resource agencies is blatantly wrong.  The individuals working for these agencies are just as local and typically equally if not more knowledgeable than individuals working for state agencies and they have vastly more resources to support them and they are actually working under laws and regulatory guidelines that the state completely lacks.  They live and work in the same communities and often are lifetime Utahns.  How did this not make them "local"?  If SITLA or some other state agency hires someone from out-of-state, does that mean that lands are then no longer being managed by someone local if that person is involved (since at least initially they would have no local knowledge)?  The arguments being made in this regard are ridiculous and without foundation.  Further Utah land management and related agencies due to the lack of Utah laws relating to environmental protection have often had abysmal records and there are numerous examples from reforms needed within the Division of Oil, Gas & Mining, the emphasis on hunting and lack of an ecosystem approach by the Division of Wildlife Resources, the fairly recent elimination of one of the few state botanist positions within the Department of Natural Resources (that continued only with the support of the BLM but moved to operate under Utah State University), the gutting of scientists working on amphibian protection under Leavitt, and on and on.  Despite being local, these agencies have clearly often NOT acted in the best interests of Utah, and more often than not they have instead displayed a defiant, anti-science attitude.

When someone like Ivory or Tony Rampton or others talk about BLM grazing restrictions that "aren't working" they seemingly do that in an oblivious context of not  understanding the devastation that grazing has caused in the arid West (and which have led to our fire-prone landspaces and significantly impacted biodiversity; the overall costs are incalculable and are likely not fixable)   They have failed to read and learn the lessons taught early on by Utahn Walter Cottam.  (And curiously, it has been brought to my attention that ranchers pay much less to the federal goverment for their grazing leases per AUM (Animal Unit Month) than they do with the state.  So why are ranchers so anxious for the state to take over their management?).

And when Ivory and others talk about how the federal government is "tied up in knots" to the point where they can't act, and that organizations like SUWA sue the federal government claiming mismanagement, etc., what they are really saying is that with the state in charge, there won't be an opportunity for public input nor for citizen lawsuits.  With more Gestapo-style control and management as is already exhibited in a number of state resource management agencies,  the public won't have the opportunity that it does now to be involved and won't be able to force state agencies to do the right thing when needed, and live up to mandates and standards that they currently lack.  They will simply be able to do whatever they want.

And the mantra that we hear from various local agencies, governments and legislators that "We live here, so of course we will do that right thing" is often not supported by the actions that they take, which are almost never appropriately balanced approaches.

Many state legislators adamantly deny the existence of climate change.  Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz even recently went so far as to call it a "farce."  With these enlightened minds, our lands will be better managed with more local control?

The economists would have to know how the state's philosophy is going to change in terms of how it is going to manage its lands differently than it does now in order to properly assess the costs of a transfer, and they would then need appropriate input from the scientific community and others in order to make that financial analysis.

For example, while there are some references in the study with respect to invasive, noxious, and fire-prone plant species, plants are otherwise not referred to in any way.  We still have no state laws that protect endangered, threatened, sensitive or rare plant species.  How is this going to change legislatively, if at all, should a land transfer occur and at what cost?   Will the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire & State Lands (formerly the Division of State Lands & Forestry) still be merely responsible for managing the bottoms of rivers and lakes rather than actual lands and forestry (as it was before 1994)?  With essentially no current state botanists on staff, if the state is going to somehow manage T&E plant species in some fashion, then how?  Or, is the whole point to completely do away with any protections for native plant species?

Related Salt Lake Tribune editorial dated December 2, 2014 (entitled "Land transfer would tie Utah’s future to oil"):



Some encouraging developments showing increasing opposition to the idea of federal land transfers in the west have begun to emerge since the posting of this piece.

A large rally occurred in Helena, Montana on February 16, 2015 as further outlined here:


Demonstrators held signs that included:

Keep your hands off our public lands

Keep public land in public hands

No Utah wingnut ideas here in Montana

On February 25, 2015, a coalition of sportsmen groups met at the Denver state capitol in Colorado:


Quote from the article:

"If Utah succeeds in taking over federal public lands, the public would have less, not more, input into land management, and all who utilize what are now public lands — industry and recreation interests alike — would see the cost of access increase substantially," University of Utah law professors Bob Keiter and John Ruple wrote in an analysis of the Transfer of Public Lands Act."

Citation to the U of U law professors' article:

Keiter, Robert B. and Ruple, John, The Transfer of Public Lands Movement: Taking the 'Public' Out of Public Lands (January 28, 2015). Stegner Center White Paper No. 2015-01 Research paper No.99. Available at SSRN:http://ssrn.com/abstract=2555922.

More hopefully will follow.