John Hollenhorst ReportingWanted -- your old family photos! Scientists are appealing to the public for snapshots of southwestern Utah dating back 100 years or so. But they're valuable to science only if they show the Great Outdoors.
In 1899 Southern Utah residents rolled their covered wagons up to Fish Lake for a 4th of July picnic. They never dreamed they were doing a favor for scientists a century later. If you look at the same landscape in the year 2000, you see big spruce trees have invaded the stand of willows near Fish Lake.
Dr. Charles Kay, Utah State University: “I evaluate all these photos for long-tern vegetation change.”
Ecology researcher Charles Kay has collected more than 2,000 pairs of landscape photos. He compares the vegetation then and now.
Dr. Charles Kay: "You've heard the old axiom that a photograph is worth a thousand words. Well, if that's true, a repeat photograph is priceless. One of the few pieces of information you can have that shows how things used to be in the past are those old photographs. There’s been a vast increase in woody vegetation – conifers, pinyon, juniper, and also increase in sagebrush.”
Severe overgrazing by sheep did drastic damage a century ago. Kay's new photos indicate those effects have largely disappeared.
Dr. Charles Kay: “They still graze, it’s just that grazing has changed. Of course people have learned a whole lot more too.”
Kay's research is moving into new territory, the area in and around the Dixie National Forest in southwestern Utah. He's hoping people will step forward if they have old photos showing the landscape as it used to look.
Dr. Charles Kay: “You have to have enough identifying features that a person like myself can go out in the field and find the exact same camera station.”
If he can find the exact same vantage point for his camera, the old photos in your attic may help science understand our changing environment.