Tuesday, September 2, 2014

CNHP studies little brown bats to understand stability of populations in Colorado

by Rob Schorr and Jeremy Siemers, CNHP Biologists

In 2006, a new disease called White Nose Syndrome (WNS) appeared in New York that decimated bat populations.  This disease, caused by a cold-loving fungus, appears as a white dusting on the nose of bats has progressed westward as far as Missouri, and there is fear that it will continue its deadly march through to Colorado.  Yet, if it did, would we know? The nocturnal and secretive nature of bats makes monitoring their populations challenging.  That, in addition to the fact we have little knowledge of where many bats overwinter in Colorado, would make detection of a WNS-induced decline would be all but impossible to identify. There may be an alternative, however.  We may be able to monitoring summer (breeding) populations of bats to identify population-level declines.

Bats in flight around ranch house on a star-filled night
(Photo by George Fargo)
CNHP biologists, Rob Schorr and Jeremy Siemers are collaborating with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Yampa Valley Land Trust, and The Nature Conservancy to monitor little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) populations at 2 ranches in the Yampa Valley.  This summer Schorr and Siemers marked nearly 600 bats with passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags and will return in 2015 to determine how many of the bats return and use the area annually.  This level of monitoring will provide insights into population stability for a healthy population of little brown bats in Colorado.

Schorr releases a female little brown bat after marking (Photo by George Fargo)

Jeremy Siemers and Rob Schorr assembling a 12-foot-tall harp trap
for capturing bats (Photo by Paul Cryan)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

CNHP Director’s Adventures in India - Part 4

by David Anderson, CNHP Director

On August 3rd, Dr. Ishwari Rai, Botanist at the Wildlife Institute of India, and I departed for a seven day trip to the Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary.  We were joined by Umed Singh, our field technician and also four porters from the village of Ransi, where we started our trek.  
  
Our expeditionary force on top of Dwara Pass (about 14,000 ft elev).
From left to right: Umed Singh, Dr. Ishwari Rai, B. Khoyal, David Anderson,
Rakesh Bhatt, Jitendra Panwar, and Dinesh Khoyal. 
One of our key goals for this trip was to document rare plant locations to help us delineate a preliminary boundary for an Important Plant Area (IPA).  An organization called PlantLife International has drafted guidelines for creating IPAs worldwide, and when following these guidelines IPAs are also recognized by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs).  There has already been some work in the Western Himalayas to identify IPAs for medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs), but the Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary was not studied previously so we had the opportunity to define an area here that is particularly rich in biodiversity and home to some of India’s rarest and most threatened plants.  

The Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary area is recognized for the presence of high quality habitat for Musk Deer, but it has not been surveyed extensively.  Unlike the Valley of Flowers area, livestock grazing is allowed in the Sanctuary and the area is very much a working landscape.  This afforded us a chance to compare these two areas and document the impacts of human activities on high elevation ecosystems here.

A herd of goats and sheep above the treeline.
It was wonderful to learn so much about the alpine ecosystem dynamics of the Western Himalayas on this trip from Dr. Ishwari.  The climax community above treeline here is a diverse grassland dominated by Danthonia cachemyriana and Kobresia royleana.  This community currently occupies vast areas of the Western Himalayas.  Danthonia is a bunchgrass that forms tall tussocks, which may reach ages of 1000 years or more.  Near treeline, Danthonia is the dominant species, while at higher elevations it is replaced gradually by a predominance of Kobresia, which is a close relative of sedges.  These areas provide excellent forage for livestock, which are predominantly goats and sheep in this area.  These areas have no doubt been grazed for many hundreds of even thousands of years by both resident and nomadic herdsmen.  Historically, grazing was light in this area, but it appears that in recent years it has increased and is reaching unsustainable levels in some places.  

Once an area becomes overgrazed, most commonly in areas where shepherds camp, the highly palatable graminoids are replaced by a flora of unpalatable nitrophilous species.  Included among these are Polygonum polystachium, Rumex nepalensis, Polygonum chinense, Saussurea hypoleuca, and a few others.  Although the nitrophilous species are native, they thrive under disturbance regimes created by overgrazing, and as such their presence starts out as a symptom of mismanagement.  However, once they become established, these species alter the soil chemistry, precluding the recolonization of a site by graminoids and impeding succession back to a graminoid-dominated system.  So this conversion represents a nearly permanent loss of productive grazing lands, and also biodiversity, and seriously compromises the sustainability of grazing in these areas.  To add insult to injury, the areas without grass roots to hold the soil become highly susceptible to erosion and landslides in the heavy monsoon rains.  

While most of the area we visited remains in good condition, we noted many areas where the Danthonia tussocks have been completely lost, and many others where the conversion is underway, and resting from grazing is urgently needed to allow the grasses to recover. 

This area has been used by people for a very long time (the Hindu temple at Kedarnath was built around 900 AD!), and it will continue to be an important area for the livelihoods of many people.  In delineating this IPA, we hope that it can be used as a tool to improve management and lead to more sustainable grazing.

Danthonia cachemyriana- dominated grassland at approximately 13,000 feet
 in the Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary- this site is in excellent condition.

Degraded Danthonia grassland with increasing dominance of
nitrophilous species.  The broad-leaved plant is the most common
 indicator of overgrazing here, Polygonum polystachium. 

Heavily degraded area that has lost all graminoid species, dominated almost entirely
by Polygonum polystachium. Note that Danthonia is still present on top of the large
rock at top right of the photo where the livestock can’t eat it!

One of the highlights of this trip was the discovery of a new site for Platanthera pachycaulon.  Dr. Ishwari recently rediscovered this species of orchid at a site west of here- it was first described in the 1800’s but hadn’t been seen in over 100 years.  This story is much like that of Gilia sedifolia in Colorado.  The site that Dr. Ishwari found on this trip (which was right next to our campsite!) is now a second location for this species.

Platanthera pachycaulon, discovered by Dr. Ishwari at our campsite!
This specimen will be deposited in the Herbarium of the Botanical Survey of India.  
And of course, another highlight was the spectacular view we got during a break in the Monsoon of the high peaks of the Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary.  

Mountains at the head of Mandani Valley during a break in the Monsoon.
These mountains start about where ours end in Colorado!  Photo by Ishwari Datt Rai.

Friday, August 15, 2014

CNHP Director’s Adventures in India - Part 3

by David Anderson, CNHP Director

Are you familiar with the “Open Standards for Conservation”? You might have heard of them as Conservation Action Planning, or “CAP,” as referred to by The Nature Conservancy.

The Conservation Measures Partnership (CMP) has worked over the past decade to combine principles and best practices in adaptive and results-based management to create the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation. It is a simple, powerful, and effective approach for planning, implementing, and measuring success for conservation projects. It has been tested and deployed successfully by hundreds of teams working to conserve species, sites, ecosystems, landscapes, watersheds and seascapes across the globe. It is an adaptive management framework that uses a 10-step process to build a comprehensive conservation plan for a given area from the ground up. I really like how this method can be used to bring people with disparate values together to find a path forward that everyone can agree on. These methods guide groups through the process of developing a plan, but also incorporate monitoring to measure progress towards goals and modify activities if necessary to meet those goals. CNHP, with The Nature Conservancy and other partners, has used these methods for many years, as part of the Rare Plant Conservation Initiative and in the San Juan Basin.

On July 21 and 22, the Wildlife Institute of India hosted an Open Standards Seminar and Workshop, which was attended over 30 faculty and students.


Dr. Sathyakumar welcoming the participants to the
Open Standards Seminar and Workshop.

The story of this workshop actually starts three years ago when I, along with Michael Menefee, CNHP Environmental Review Coordinator, attended a training in Conservation Action Planning led by Terri Schulz with The Nature Conservancy. At that time I had just started working on becoming a Fulbright Specialist, and talking with Terri about this we realized that there was a huge opportunity to explore these methods with the WII. We discussed this with Dr. Vinod Mathur, Director of the WII, who agreed that this was of great potential value for conservation in India, so it was included in the WII’s proposal to Fulbright for this project.

Terri is part of the Conservation Coaches Network (CCNet), a group of 300 trained professionals represented by 82 organizations in 52 countries around the world who help support conservationists throughout the world to learn about and apply the Open Standards. It was through her connections that we began talking with Adam Barlow, Christina Greenwood Barlow, and Lucy Boddam-Whetham, who are Coaches with a UK-based non-profit called WildTeam. WildTeam has worked for many years in Bangladesh and is very interested in expanding their work into India, so coming to the WII to meet everyone and lead an Open Standards seminar and workshop was a wonderful opportunity for them. It also worked out for Terri to join us, so we had an amazing group of both workshop participants, representing India’s leading thinkers in wildlife management and conservation, and coaches.

First, WildTeam led a seminar to introduce the Open Standards methodology, using some great examples from their work to conserve tigers in the Sundarbans area of Bangladesh. Then for the workshop we focused on an area within the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve called the Khiron Valley, which contains many conservation targets and important wildlife habitat. While this area is part of the Biosphere Reserve, it is not managed as a protected area- it suffers now from overgrazing and faces many threats. We divided into four groups and each group worked on a particular target. My group’s target was high elevation grasslands and meadows. Within this target we identified several subtargets including the rare plants that you read about in my previous blog. Then we identified and ranked threats, and mapped behaviors that drive them.

Getting started with the seminar.

Adam Barlow from WildTeam teaching us about Open Standards.

Lucy Boddam-Whetham from WildTeam introducing the Open Standards Workshop.

Christina Greenwood Barlow with WildTeam (writing) and
Terri Schulz with TNC (at right) leading my group through the
Open Standards process for alpine grasslands and meadows.

This event was successful in several ways. In the seminar, many of the faculty and students were exposed to these methods and learned about how they can use them in their projects and careers. And in the workshop we created the foundation for an in-depth conservation plan for the Khiron Valley that WII Faculty, along with other partners, will continue to work on. We discussed the possibility of hosting future Open Standards trainings and workshops at the WII, and how the WII could become a lead institution in India for training and dissemination of these methods. Dr. Mathur would like to adopt these methods and would like an interested subset of the faculty be become part of CCNet. Here are a few of the comments from the participants:

"This method really helps to break down the questions" - Dr. Bilal Habib
"This helps us identify what we actually need to do" - Preeti Sharma
"Organization is an important part of planning" - Prangyar A. Lama
"I will use these methods for grant writing" - Dr. Gopi G.V. (who also expressed the desire to become a coach)
"These methods have great importance for the Himalayan region" - Dr. Ishwari Rai

These two days were phenomenally successful and rewarding in many ways. This was due to the skill of the coaches, the knowledge of the all the experts in the room, the generosity of the WII in hosting this and providing wonderful hospitality, and above all the spirit of exploration and enthusiasm of all of the participants.

If you are not familiar with the Open Standards methodology you can learn more about it here.

The participants at the end of the workshop, happy with a sense of accomplishment!

Friday, July 25, 2014

CNHP Director’s Adventures in India - Part 2

by Dave Anderson, CNHP Director

My first two weeks in India have been amazing!   Everyone has been so incredibly kind to us.  Dr. Vinod Mathur, who submitted the proposal to bring me to India as a Fulbright Specialist, and his wife Geetika had us over for dinner shortly after our arrival here and they said that it is customary to treat guests as gods here.  That has truly been the case with everyone at the Wildlife Institute of India, and they have made us feel so incredibly welcome.

For the first two days at the WII, I was given a really nice office, had the privilege of meeting several faculty and students here, and was given a great tour of the Institute by Dr. Sathyakumar.
Dave's new workspace
On July 13, I departed with Dr. Iswari Rai and Umed Singh to explore areas that we’ll be focusing on for the Open Standards workshop on July 21 and 22.

Departing for the field from the Wildlife Institute of India’s Guesthouse with
Dr. Ishwari Rai (left) and Umed Singh (middle).  
We spent the next six days at (and en route to) the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve in the Western Himalayas.  It is a World Heritage Site that contains two National Parks - Valley of Flowers and Nanda Devi.  It took us a day to drive there, and another day to hike the 10 mile trail into the village of Gangaria.  From there we spent one day exploring parts of Valley of Flowers National Park.  The next day we climbed to a glacial lake at 13,700 feet elevation called Hemkund Sahib.

At Hemkund Sahib

We saw at least 15 plants in the area that are on the IUCN Red List.  Here is one of the most spectacular- Saussurea obvallata, called Brahma Kamal in India, is a critically endangered member of the sunflower family.

Saussurea obvallata (Brahma Kamal)

In Colorado, we also track a member of this genus- Weber’s Sawwort (Saussurea weberi).  Here in the Himalayas there is a great variety of Saussurea species and several of them, like S. obvallata, are highly threatened by collection.  They are used for Ayurvedic medicines and, in the case of S. obvallata, are collected as offerings for religious purposes.

Meconopsis aculeata
Here is another one- Meconopsis aculeata- the Himalayan poppy.   This species is endemic to the Western Himalayas and is considered to be one of the most beautiful species here.  It is listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List due to collection for medicinal purposes.



You’ll recognize both of these species on the entryway to the Valley of Flowers!

We will address the threats to these and other conservation targets in this area in our Open Standards workshop on July 21 and 22.  Stay tuned for an update on that in Part 3!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

CNHP Director's Adventures in India - Part 1

Dave about to depart to India!
CNHP’s Director Dave Anderson has departed for India, where he’ll spend the next six weeks working in an exchange of conservation practices with the faculty of the Wildlife Institute of India (WII).  He is doing this with support as a Fulbright Specialist.  The WII Director, Dr. Vinod Mathur, and Dave have spent the last three years working to make this happen, and it is finally going forward!  The scope of work for this partnership includes doing fieldwork on sites in the Western Himalayas with another faculty member of the WII, Dr. Ishwari Rai, to document rare plants and other conservation targets, and assess their Key Ecological Attributes, threats, and viability.  They will then use this information to support the development of a Conservation Action Plan.  Four Open Standards Coaches are coming to the WII to lead this workshop - Terri Schulz from the Colorado Field Office of TNC, and Lucy Boddam-Whetam, Adam Barlow, and Christina Greenwood Barlow from a UK-based non-profit called WildTeam.  Dave will also be giving lectures and meeting with the Faculty to share the methods used by CNHP and the NatureServe Network of Heritage Programs.  Stay tuned for updates on Dave’s adventure!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Common Wetland Plants of Colorado’s Eastern Plains: A Pocket Guide

CNHP is excited to announce the release of the Common Wetland Plants of Colorado’s Eastern Plains: A Pocket Guide.  The pocket guide is a complimentary publication to the comprehensive Field Guide to Colorado’s Wetland Plants. The Pocket Guide highlights common wetland plants, both native and non-native located within the Eastern Plains. It is designed to help landowners and other wetland managers correctly identify common wetland plants, manage for preferred species, and control noxious ones.

Cover photo: a playa on the plains

The Pocket Guide contains 119 species with 6 key characteristics (with bolded highlights of diagnostic characters), similar species, habitat and ecology comments, and management comments.

Sample page from the pocket guide

This project was made possible with an U.S. EPA, Region 8, Wetlands Program Development Grant with in-kind match from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Wetland Program and Colorado State University. The Pocket Guide is available for free from CNHP or can be mailed for $6.00 shipping and handling cost.  One can order from the CNHP Wetland Information Center website here or contact Denise Culver (Denise.Culver@colostate.edu) for more information.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

CNHP wins the 2014 Collaboration Award at the Biodiversity Without Boundaries Conference

This year’s Biodiversity Without Boundaries Conference was held in New Orleans April 6-10, and eight of our staff were able to attend this time, giving a wide range of presentations on our work while building connections with other members of the NatureServe Network. There were many highlights from this conference - it is always a place where we form new friendships and renew old ones, and become energized by learning about all the amazing things happening throughout the Network. Three of our staff also completed training in Leadership (Jeremy Sueltenfuss and Rob Schorr) and Natural Heritage Methodology (Bernadette Kuhn).

One of the most exciting highlights this year was receiving the Collaboration Award. This award is given to one program each year, who is selected based on nominations from other programs around the Network of 82 programs in Canada, the US, and Latin America, as well as NatureServe. CNHP was nominated for our collaborations with other programs and innovative partnerships for conservation. These contributions include our role with the US Section Council, our participation in the NatureServe Leadership Program, our lead role in crafting the NatureServe Network statement of shared goals and values, and our partnership with Odell Brewing Company to conserve the Hops Blue butterfly. Sabra Tonn, Program Supervisor for the Arizona Heritage Data Management System, was able to get ahold of a few of the last bottles of Celastrina, which Mary Klein, President and CEO of NatureServe, gave to each of the winners of the awards this year! So we enjoyed getting to taste this beer with others around the Network during the award ceremony.

Mary Klein, President and CEO of NatureServe, announcing the award winners at
Biodiversity Without Boundaries, sweetening the pot with
bottles of Celastrina for the award recipients. 

The other winners of awards this year were the New York Natural Heritage Program (Conservation Impact), and Michigan Natural Features Inventory (Scientific and Technological Achievement).

David Anderson, Director of CNHP (Collaboration Award),
DJ Evans, Director of the New York NHP (Conservation Impact Award),
and Brian Klatt, Director of the Michigan Natural Features Inventory
(Scientific and Technological Achievement Award).
We did not all plan to wear blue shirts!

It is such a huge honor to be recognized by our peers for our collaborations and partnerships. Because this award is based on cooperation, we really feel that it is as much a testament to our own collaborations as it is to those of the other members of the NatureServe Network, who have embraced so many challenges and opportunities with us in recent years. Being part of a network that is so deeply committed to the grand collective effort we make to conserve biodiversity is something that gives all of us a reason to go home from work feeling good about what we did each day! And we feel very fortunate to be able to draw so much inspiration from the NatureServe Network, and the partners that we work to assist every day.

Left to right: Bernadette Kuhn, Renee Rondeau, Jeremy Sueltenfuss, Susan Panjabi,
Rob Schorr, Jill Handwerk, Michael Menefee, David Anderson, Anibal Ramirez Soto
(Pronatura Veracruz, Mexico), and Mary Klein (President and CEO, NatureServe).

Check out the NatureServe press release about our award here!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Mapping Gopher Tortoise Burrows in Louisiana

By Bernadette Kuhn, CNHP Botanist

I recently had a chance to attend a NatureServe Core Methodology training just north of New Orleans, Louisiana. Keri Landry, a wildlife biologist from the Louisiana Natural Heritage Program, and Whitney Weber from NatureServe instructed our group on how to map element occurrences for animals. The training was held north of Covington, Louisiana in a longleaf pine forest that provides habitat for the gopher tortoise. Once a widely distributed in the southeastern U.S., this species is now listed as Threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Gopher tortoise populations have declined throughout the southeast due to the loss of longleaf pine forests, disease, hunting, and forestry practices.

Our training group spent the morning mapping gopher tortoise burrows. Keri extended a tiny camera on a flexible hose down inside two of the burrows. The camera projected an image onto a small field laptop screen, and we were able to see two gopher tortoises hunkered down in their burrows.


Keri has a tortoise-in-tow that she uses for public outreach and education. She let our group spend a few minutes admiring him up close. We were also fortunate to see the state’s southernmost documented population of Orobanche uniflora, oneflowered broomrape. This plant species, although somewhat common in Colorado, is rare in the southeast and is tracked by the Lousiana Natural Heritage Program as a G5 S1. The botanists in the group gleefully helped the LNHP staff map new populations of the delicate, parasitic plant. We were all excited to learn new ways to collect field data for element occurrences through a hands-on session in a beautiful and diverse ecosystem. Thanks to the NatureServe staff, Keri, and Amy Jenkins (Florida Natural Heritage Program) for a great training day!