Earth Notes

The Colorado Plateau is one of North America’s human and environmental treasures. Ancient cultures have called this land of sun-baked deserts and lush mountain landscapes home for centuries. Earth Notes, KNAU’s weekly environmental series, explores the Plateau by telling stories of the intricate relationships between environmental issues and our daily lives.

Rooted in science and wrapped in human interest, the two minute long segments encourage listeners to think of themselves as part of the solution to environmental problems. Upbeat and informative, the program tries to foster hope and dampen despair about the environment, and motivate listeners to become more conscious and informed stewards of the Colorado Plateau.

NASA/NOAA GOES Project

It’s unusual for the southwestern states to be affected by hurricanes. Most years, predominant wind patterns in the Eastern Pacific Ocean steer storms away from the region. But about once every five years – like this year – the ocean winds change direction.

And those shifting winds steer hurricanes closer to northwestern Mexico, making them more likely to head northwards and track across the southwestern U.S.

The American beaver is an appealing animal, with dexterous paws, curious eyes and paddle-shaped tail. But, these rodents, the largest in North America, were nearly wiped out by the early 1900s as trappers sent mass quantities of the thick brown pelts back East for stylish top hats.

Grant Harley

Reporter John Fleck wrote an unusual obituary in the Albuquerque Journal in September – on the death of a 650-year old Douglas-fir.

Known as “Yoda,” the tree was an icon for climate scientists. Growing out of a lava flow at El Malpais National Monument and measuring barely 7 feet high, Yoda was tiny for a Douglas-fir—which can grow 150 feet tall in moist southwestern canyons. But despite its diminutive size, an annual growth ring count showed that the tree had been alive since at least 1406.

Arizona’s Aubrey Valley just west of Seligman is home to an animal until recently considered one of the most endangered mammals in the world.

philarmitage.net

The Colorado Plateau has seen its share of energy booms and busts. In eastern Utah, another one may be poised to begin.

Arid grasslands once covered significant parts of the Southwestern states — as much as 24 million acres in Arizona, for example. American pronghorn were widespread in these open spaces, along with many other grassland-dependent wildlife species. 

On Sept. 3, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the National Wilderness Preservation System Act. With the stroke of a pen, 9 million acres of federal land in the United States was designated as wilderness — with a capital “W.”

Courtesy photo

In the 19th century, William Henry Jackson introduced many Americans to the scenic wonders of the country’s West — and to the power of landscape photography.

One of the enduring mysteries of the Colorado Plateau is why the area’s ancient Puebloan population dropped to almost zero in the late 13th century, after peaking at as many as 40,000 people just 30 years earlier.

When Bea Cooley and Brooks Hart headed down Oak Creek Canyon to do some birding last winter, they had no idea just how close their bird encounters would be.

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