Friday, February 27, 2015

The 2015 PIT Tag Workshop: Learning about rare fish and rare-fish databases

The PIT Tag Workshop is a conference hosted approximately every four years to address use of, technology improvements to, and analysis of passive integrated transponder (PIT) tag data for rare fish in the Columbia River Basin and beyond. Database and web-application developer Kirstin Holfelder and zoologist Rob Schorr attended the 2015 PIT Tag Workshop in late January at the Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, Washington. Holfelder is being assisted by Schorr and Amy Greenwell in the development of STReaMS (Species Tagging, Research, and Management System), which will be the new database for the Upper Colorado and San Juan river basins rare fish data. These data are used to monitor some of the West’s rarest fish species, including Colorado pikeminnow (Ptychocheilus lucius), humpback chub (Gila cypha), bonytail chub (Gila elegans), and razorback sucker (Xyrauchen texanus). The meeting sponsors, PTAGIS, presented the evolution of the database used to house Columbia River rare fish data, and it gave Holfelder and Schorr a chance to identify needs or modifications to the developing STReaMS.
Kirstin Holfelder in front of Multnomah Falls.

Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, Washington.

View of the Columbia River from Skamania Lodge.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The West’s rarest fishes are getting help from CNHP: Database planning at the Upper Colorado and San Juan River basins fish recovery programs’ researchers meeting

Database and web-application developer Kirstin Holfelder and zoologist Rob Schorr attended the 34th annual Researcher’s Meeting of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program and San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program in Moab, Utah. Holfelder gave a talk describing the structure of the newly-developed and evolving Species Tagging, Research, and Management System (STReaMS). Holfelder is the brains behind an interactive database and web-accessible interface that will allow researchers and managers access to decades-worth of rare fish data from Colorado and San Juan rivers research and monitoring efforts. These data are used to monitor some of the West’s rarest fish species, including Colorado pikeminnow (Ptychocheilus lucius), humpback chub (Gila cypha), bonytail chub (Gila elegans), and razorback sucker (Xyrauchen texanus). Holfelder and Schorr were able to interact with the West’s premier fish biologists and discuss how researchers and managers want access to fish data.
Kirstin Holfelder presents the structure of STReaMS, the developing database system for rare fish data in Upper Colorado and San Juan river basins.

Kirstin Holfelder enjoys sights at Arches National Park during downtime in Moab, Utah.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Job Announcement: Ecology and Botany Field Techician

Colorado State University seeks experienced ecology and botany field technicians for summer field work at two riverine national parks in north-central Nebraska and south-central South Dakota. The work entails vegetation sampling requiring field botany or field ecology skills. Knowledge of plant taxonomy and species identification required. Experience identifying flora of the area is preferred. A crew leader position is available to suitably qualified candidates.

Visit the Warner College website to apply and view a complete position description. First consideration of applicants will begin February 1st, 2015. Applications will be accepted until all positions have been filled or through June 30, 2015, whichever comes first.

CSU conducts background checks on all final candidates and is an EO/EA/AA employer.

View of the Missouri River.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

State Wildlife Action Plan Update: We Need Your Input!

CNHP is working with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to update the State Wildlife Action Plan. The Plan outlines a ten-year vision for managing Colorado’s fish, wildlife and natural habitats. Stakeholders are encouraged to review draft sections of the plan. The Threats and Conservation Actions chapters are now available for review by Feb 16, 2015. Visit the CPW website to read available drafts and provide comments.

The updated State Wildlife Action Plan outlines threats and conservation actions
for many of Colorado's rare and imperiled species, including Northern leopard frog (Lithobates pipiens). 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Job Announcement: Wetland Ecology Field Technician

Position Announcement:

The Colorado Natural Heritage Program (CNHP) at Colorado State University (CSU) seeks 4 experienced field technicians for summer field work assessing the condition of wetlands throughout the lower Arkansas River Basin in southeast Colorado. Positions require field botany and ecology skills. Pay rate is $2000-2800/month. Position duration is 3 or 5 months (May–Sept or June–Aug 2015). Knowledge of plant taxonomy and species identification required. Preferred qualifications include experience in wetland or riparian ecology, local flora, and familiarity performing field work for long days (10+ hours).

Field technician Spencer Rubin surveys wetlands on the
Southeastern Colorado Plains in 2014.
Fieldwork will take place in wetlands and riparian areas ranging from excellent to poor condition as part of a wetland condition assessment project in the lower Arkansas River Basin. Standard duties will involve driving and hiking to field sites; in-field plant identification, in-office plant identification with a microscope; detailed completion of field survey forms, data entry, landowner interaction; and extensive collection of vegetation, water, soil, wildlife habitat, and environmental data. Data will be collected using both rapid assessment protocols and more in-depth vegetation surveys. Field housing will likely be based in Pueblo, CO. Some camping and travel will be necessary.

Field technician Cat Weichmann surveys wetlands on the
Southeastern Colorado Plains in 2014.
To apply and view a complete position description, please visit and select Wetland Ecology Field Technician Research Associate I.

First consideration of applicants will begin February 16, 2015. Applications will continue to be considered until all positions are filled or until July 31, 2015, whichever comes first.

Reflecting departmental and institutional values, candidates are expected to have the ability to advance the Department's commitment to diversity and inclusion.

CSU is an EO/EA/AA employer and conducts background checks on all final candidates.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Boom or Bust: Searching for Ute Ladies-Tresses Orchids

Winter in Fort Collins has us reminiscing about the 2014 field season. Last summer we searched for a lovely white orchid called Ute ladies-tresses (Spiranthes diluvialis). This federally threatened orchid prefers moist areas adjacent to creeks and rivers, and is also found in wet meadows. The population size of this species is known to fluctuate wildly. The orchid easily eludes field botanists because it spends most of the year in a dormant state with no above-ground structures or in a vegetative state with no flowers.
Figure 1. Ute ladies-tresses in full bloom.
We started our search on the West Slope of Colorado, combing 43 miles of the Colorado River from State Bridge to Dotsero. Portions of this section of the river were identified by Karin Decker as potential suitable habitat based on a model she created for the Little Snake BLM Office. CNHP ecologist Dee Malone, along with botanists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, BLM, and the Colorado Native Plant Society used rafts, kayaks, and duckies to conduct the surveys. Unfortunately, no orchids were found during the trip.

Figure 2 (top). U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service botanists Ellen Mayo (front) and Gina Glenne (back) searched for Ute ladies-tresses along the Colorado River. Figure 3 (bottom). A river otter pokes it head up to check out our flotilla.

Back on the East Slope, Pam Smith visited sites along Clear Creek where hundreds of Ute ladies-tresses had been documented in previous years. We were not able to locate any individuals in our surveys. Jill Handwerk and Bernadette Kuhn also checked a known site just outside Fort Collins with Crystal Strouse, a botanist from the City of Fort Collins Natural Areas. Still, no plants turned up. While 2014 was a bad year for the orchid, we know population sizes exhibit large annual fluctuations. Here’s hoping for a boom year in 2015.
Figure 4. Botanists Jill Handwerk (CNHP) and Crystal Strouse (City of Fort Collins) look for Ute ladies-tresses near Fort Collins. Despite the hopeful number of pin flags we brought, no orchids were found.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Protecting Rattlesnakes and Rare Plants at Devil’s Backbone

Brad Lambert, CNHP zoologist, spent last spring at Devil’s Backbone Open Space lifting up rocks using a hiking pole. He was looking for prairie rattlesnakes, hoping to find them emerging from their dens. These dens, also called hibernacula, can contain hundreds of prairie rattlesnakes. Lambert’s surveys were part of an effort to find and protect rare animals and plants in one of Larimer County’s most popular hiking, mountain biking, and trail running destinations. Prairie rattlesnakes are not considered rare in the foothills of Colorado, but staff members from Larimer County’s Open Space Program aim to use Lambert’s findings to keep trails away from hibernacula. Lambert, with help from CNHP botanist Pam Smith, documented 32 potential hibernacula in rocky outcrops, prairie dog towns, and piles of concrete debris.

Brad Lambert, CNHP zoologist, searches for prairie rattlesnakes at
Devil’s Backbone Open Space, Larimer County, Colorado

A prairie rattlesnake hesitates before coiling 
Lambert and Smith also documented a new population of jeweled blazing star (Mentzelia speciosa var. speciosa) along a rocky, hogback ridge. Jeweled blazingstar has bright yellow petals and seed capsules that are covered in Velcro-like hairs. The capsules readily cling to animal fur and clothing, allowing the seeds to be dispersed far from the plant’s location. At Devil’s Backbone, the blazingstar was found growing in a native shrubland of mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus montanus) with an understory of New Mexico feathergrass (Hesperostipa neomexicana). This rare plant community is threatened by urban expansion along Colorado’s Front Range.

The bright yellow petals of jeweled blazing star in early summer

Jeweled blazing star's dried seed capsules waiting
to hitchhike on an unwitting animal or human
Larimer County Open Space staff members have used Lambert and Smith’s discoveries to plan trails that route recreationists away from potential rattlesnake dens. This strategy will help minimize encounters between recreationists and rattlesnakes, while protecting rare plant communities and rare plants. We extend our thanks to Larimer County for making this project so close to home a big success!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Uncommon partnership for conservation: how rock climbers are leading the way for bat conservation

by Rob Schorr, CNHP zoologist

In North America, bats are declining at unprecedented rates.  Yet, the term “decline” does not do it justice.  For some reason, migratory tree bats have an affinity for wind turbine facilities, and dead migratory tree bats are being found at wind turbine sites throughout the US.  This unexplained attraction has led to an estimated 600,000 bat deaths annually in the US (Hayes, 2013).  This figure forces one to pause and contemplate a loss of this magnitude.  Unfortunately, this is not the most alarming figure from bat conservation over the last decade.  Since 2006 when a new disease, called White Nose Syndrome, made its way into North America hibernating bat populations have been decimated.  This disease is caused by a cold-loving fungus that infects tissues of hibernating bats, disrupting cellular function when the bats are unable to mount an immune response.  It is estimated that nearly 6 million bats have succumbed to the disease since its arrival in North America.  White Nose Syndrome can impact populations so dramatically as to kill 90-100% of the individuals once hibernating at a site (Frick et al, 2010).  For decades there has been mounting concern for bat populations as roosting locations are lost or disturbed, increased pesticide use alters their food resources, and native habitats are converted to other uses, but nothing prepared conservation biologists for this level of demise.

Fortunately for Colorado, mass mortalities at wind turbine facilities have not been seen, and, as far as we know, White Nose Syndrome has not made its way this far west.  Few biologists feel this is reason to let our guard down.  In fact, Colorado is faced with some challenges that would make diagnosing and abating mass die-offs harder than in eastern North America where White Nose Syndrome has been so impactful.  Colorado biologists have been unable to find hibernacula that house the number of bats seen in the East.  Eastern colonies can be in the millions or thousands, whereas Colorado colonies are substantially smaller and, possibly, more dispersed.  The question left for many conservation biologists is, “how will we know if Colorado bat populations undergo a decline?”

Biologist holding a little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) captured in north-central Colorado.
Bat biologists in Colorado have a long history of systematically identifying and evaluating caves and mines as potential bat roosts.  Through ventures like the Bats-in-Inactive-Mines Project by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and numerous cave inventories much data have been collected on what underground structures provide bat habitat.  Yet, even with these survey efforts, few large hibernacula were uncovered.  So where are bats hibernating?

Based on research in Colorado, there is growing evidence that bats may be roosting in cracks and crevices.  Given the abundance of geological features in Colorado the number of potential roosts for bats is unfathomable, and there is little likelihood of biologists ever being able to systematically survey such a resource.  However, there is a recreational user group in Colorado that can help bat biologists with this problem.  Rock climbers in Colorado have shared numerous accounts of bats emerging from cracks and crevices during their climbing excursions.

Rob Schorr, Bernadette Kuhn, and Shawn Davis
On November 24th, bat biologists and rock climbers met to talk about how to develop a unique collaboration that might shed light on bat ecology and conservation in Colorado.  The brainchild of Rob Schorr and Bernadette Kuhn of Colorado Natural Heritage Program and Dr. Shawn Davis formerly of the Human Dimensions Department at Warner College of Natural Resources (now at Northern Michigan University), this project is bringing the two groups together to conserve bat populations.  

Shawn Davis leads bat biologists and rock climbers in
a discussion of the potential challenges and solutions to their partnership.
During their inaugural meeting, hosted as a World Café, the groups discussed how they could develop a mutually beneficial partnership that allow biologists to gain new information about bats’ use of crevices.  There was an overwhelming response that this collaboration could be fruitful and valuable for understanding bat resource use and, hopefully, bat conservation in advance of looming threats from White Nose Syndrome.

Karina Mullen Branson of ConverSketch documenting
the discussions and ideas in a mural format.

The final mural of the bat and climber café meeting.

Hayes, M. A.  2013. Bats killed in large numbers at United States wind energy facilities. BioScience 63:975979.
Frick, W. E., et al. 2010. An emerging disease causes regional population collapse of a common North American bat species. Science 329:679-682.