earth notes

Earth Notes: WAG Bags

Sep 22, 2021

The coronavirus pandemic has led to an explosion of recreational use on public lands across the Southwest. Land managers have been overwhelmed by the dramatic increase in visitation and by the amount of human waste left behind.

For decades, backpackers, hunters, boaters and campers have been coached to dig a “cathole.” But now public land agencies and the Leave No Trace Program are recommending the use of WAG bags: individual-use plastic bags complete with hand sanitizer, toilet paper and an enzyme powder to break down solid waste.

Friends of the Verde River

All kinds of labels help people make decisions these days: organic, water-smart, earth friendly, fair trade. What about a label for homes and businesses that are friendly to the local river?

That’s the idea behind the “River Friendly Living” Certification, a new program launched this year by the nonprofit group Friends of the Verde River. The certifications go to homes, businesses, farms, and ranches that have made strides to protect the region’s water supply for future generations.

Rapids are returning to lower Cataract Canyon in southern Utah after decades underwater in the far-upper reaches of Lake Powell. The damming of the Colorado River in Glen Canyon in the 1960’s submerged the river’s channel and native vegetation. But climate change, extended drought and extreme heat have caused Lake Powell’s water level to drop to new lows, revealing the once-submerged rapids.

Sheila Murray

A team of botanists with the Arboretum at Flagstaff just finished a two-year survey of three rare plant species found at Capitol Reef National Park in southern Utah: the endangered Wright’s fishhook cactus, the threatened Winkler’s pincushion cactus and the Last Chance Townsend Daisy.

Grand Canyon National Park/Facebook

Pictorial weaving is an innovation born out of traditional Navajo geometric designs. Since the 1970s, the style has become increasingly popular among Indigenous artists.

Florence Riggs of Tuba City, is a renowned Diné textile weaver who learned the craft from her mother, grandmother and great grandmother. In keeping with tradition, pictorial weaving is done on an upright loom, working from the bottom up. Florence has taken her designs into new territory – using them to tell stories about the vivid life and landscapes around her.

Kaibab National Forest

One of northern and central Arizona’s most iconic tree species is in trouble. The shaggy bark juniper, known for its distinctive outer layers that appear to be shedding, has been dying off in significant numbers in recent years. 

The phenomenon was first documented in 2018. Since then, biologists estimate close to 100,000 acres of the conifers have perished between the communities of Paulden and Ash Fork, as well as north of Williams. Thirty percent of junipers in some areas have been wiped out. Others have turned a sickly brown.

U.S. Forest Service

Across the country, iconic signs mark the trails, campgrounds and other features on nearly 200 million acres of land managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

The signs were the brainchild of long-time Forest Service employee, Virgil Carrell. ‘Bus’, as he was commonly known, wasn’t a professional designer, but he was a professional forest ranger. He started his career in the West, and worked nearly every job expected of a ranger in the 1940s and ‘50s.

Gary Alpert, MNA Center for Bio-Cultural Diversity

There’s a new conservation plan for springsnails in Nevada and Utah. It’s aimed at protecting these strictly aquatic snails that depend entirely on springs for their existence.

More than 100 species of springsnails are known in the two states. Some of these unique gastropods are about the size of a match head, others are microscopic. They have names like the Rocky Mountain duskysnail, Green River pebblesnail and Grand Wash springsnail.

Margo Robbins, Yurok Tribe

Indigenous peoples of North America have long known the benefits of fire. It’s a vital part of ceremonies and cultural practices, and a key element of keeping landscapes healthy. A group called the Indigenous Peoples Burning Network is working to preserve the culture of fire for future generations.

Earth Notes: Summer Spadefoots

Jul 14, 2021

The sound of monsoon rains beating the ground is irresistible to one animal in particular. A toad-like amphibian called a spadefoot responds instantly to rain, emerging from an underground burrow where it stays dormant most of the year.