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Appreciating our Sage Brush Steppe Areas

January 6, 2019
Kay Merriam

So, you ask, why talk about Sagebrush when your readers are looking for super events to see, enter or at least consider? Well, as a matter of fact there are many aspects of entertainment, learning and consideration which we should all not only be aware of, but should learn to protect.

Hence, here is a bit of information about our Sagebrush Steppe, why it is important and how the local Stage Brush Steppe Land Trust has been and will continue to be active in saving Sage Brush areas. Very recently, the Land Trust has designated a large portion of land on the east side of fifth Street across from Century High School to be kept exempt from a large housing development plan. While Pocatello is in the midst of such housing plans, there are some areas which are best used in other ways.

Often, people move to this part of the country because they love its natural beauty in addition to the fishing, climbing, hiking, Skiing, back packing and other outdoor activities that are available close by. As an example, Idaho State University has attracted many excellent professors due to this proximity. As with our animal habitats, open natural vistas have provided us with wonderful proximity to the deer, and other examples of wild animals.

So, what’s the big deal about Sagebrush? And, why should we cherish it, rather than do our best to get rid of it? And personally, why am I considering this an attraction we should all spend some time gaining information about? If you have walked your dog on the AMI trail, you have seen several animals. Whether large or small, they are seen among Sage Brush because it is helpful to them because it provides shelter in the winter, food either in the form of smaller animals or through the plants that grow protected by the Sage Brush.

One plant which keeps on increasing in the Sage Brush Steppe is Cheat Grass (Bromus Tectorum). Often it increases to the extent that fires easily get started. Those fires are very hard on wild life including sage grouse, pygmy rabbits, prairie falcons and golden eagles, among others. If you have walked on the trail, you may have seen a fox, coyote, or mule deer or maybe even a cougar. Elk also make good use of Sage Brush areas, although we don’t see them close by.

Climate Change is known to cause a 60 percent negative effect upon plant life through the carbon dioxide concentration which is double that of historic levels . So, who cares? Well, with more cheat grass, we are more likely to have fires. While that is a problem in itself, the diminishment of the Sage Brush also affects water which will either run into streams carrying more soil, and/or keeping water from soaking into soil. Also, this can have a negative effect upon sedimentation of local water ways, decreased water quality and severe droughts.

Conservation measures have included control of exotic plant species but increasingly dry summers and high temperatures encourage invasive plant species. Some people might say “that sounds good to me.” But often that perspective is the result of a lack of knowledge.

So,here is your opportunity for a coming attraction to be the product of your investigation. Take a walk on the AMI trail; look to see any of the animals which use the Sage Brush for protection, food or warmth. Also, look closely at the Sage Brush, which is one of the few plants that have blossoms in the fall and or early winter.

Whatever you do, try not to say what one City Council member said to me several years ago as we walked in that area: “If we could just get rid of all these big plants, it would be positive for Pocatello.”

Now, you see that my interest in having you learn more about the Sage Brush has several reasons: 1) it never hurts us to find out what makes the Pocatello area beautiful; 2) learning about the native plants can help us understand their value; 3) whenever our children are given the opportunity to see how native plants and animals provide positive information that is of value to us, they are provided with reasons why our natural habitat plants and animals are of value, not only to our environment, but to our enjoyment of that environment. So, have a happy investigation and enjoy your walk.

Kay Merriam of Pocatello has a Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut. She was the president of the state League of Women Voters for two years and president of the Pocatello chapter for two years as well. She was the president of the Bannock County Planning and Zoning Committee for 11 years and on the Pocatello-Chubbuck District 25 School Board for six years.

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