Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fun with fens

CNHP botanists Peggy Lyon and Janis Huggins have been inventorying fens on the White River National Forest this summer. At every site, they must dig a soil pit to check for depth and quality of peat. Peggy sent in this photo of herself reaching as far down as she can into a pit. She says she doesn't mind the occasionally uncomfortable conditions because it's an awesome place to work. This wetland northwest of Silverthorn did turn out to be an actual fen.

Peggy on her way to China

Fens in Colorado are generally small and fairly rare on the landscape. These squishy habitats are found only in specific environments defined by ground water discharge, soil chemistry, and peat accumulation of at least 40 cm (about 16 inches). Fens form at low points in the landscape or near slopes where ground water intercepts the soil surface. The fairly constant year-round water level, with water at or near the surface most of the time, leads to the accumulation of organic material (peat). In addition to peat accumulation and perennially saturated soils, many fens have distinct soil and water chemistry, with high levels of one or more minerals such as calcium, magnesium, or iron.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Plains leopard frog - Rana blairi

Rana blairiThe plains leopard frog (Rana blairi)
Photo by Joe Stevens

The plains leopard frog historically inhabited wetlands in the vast prairie grasslands of North America, and still does inhabit prairie wetland remnants, but now has also adapted to areas of human disturbance, including areas used for agriculture and ranching.

Rana blairiIf they don't move, they look remarkably like mud
Photo by Renée Rondeau

This species requires open water for breeding but adults can be found some distance away. Some known or hypothesized threats to this species include habitat loss, water pollution, water extraction, pesticides, predation by introduced game fish, competition with introduced fish and amphibians, and climate change resulting in increased aridity.

plains leopard frog habitatAn example of plains leopard frog habitat in southeast Colorado
Photo by Renée Rondeau

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

*NEW* Interactive map and additional content on our website

We have added some exciting new content and features to our website.

We now have an interactive map showing our recent activities across the state, and another map of all our county inventories over the years.

CNHP County Inventories

Additionally, our GIS data now has its own page, and we have broken out all of our Potential Conservation Area (PCA) reports into single documents organized by name.

As always, we welcome your questions and feedback, and please check back periodically for additional features and updates. Thank you!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Report from the 6th Annual Rare Plant Symposium

Colorado Rare Plant Symposium

The 6th Annual Rare Plant Symposium, an off-shoot of the Colorado Rare Plant Technical Committee, took place on September 11, 2009. CNHP botanists Susan Panjabi and Jill Handwerk presented reviews of Colorado’s rare plant species, and solicited new information from participants. The meeting was attended by 50-60 people, including representatives of the Bureau of Land Management, City of Fort Collins, Colorado Natural Areas Program, Denver Botanic Gardens, The Nature Conservancy, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Forest Service, University of Colorado Herbarium, and the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database, as well as other interested botanists from the region.

Some highlights included a report of new state records in New Mexico for two species: Porter’s feathergrass (Ptilagrostis porteri), and Colorado Divide whitlowgrass (Draba streptobrachia). Ben Legler was responsible for these finds, as well as discovering a new species of phlox from the Vermejo Park Ranch in northern New Mexico. These two species were previously believed to be endemic to Colorado. Although the new records extend the known range of the species, they are both still considered rare. Tim Hogan reported a county record and range extension for Saussurea weberi in Custer County.

Draba streptobrachiaDraba streptobrachia (Colorado Divide whitlowgrass)
Photo by Peggy Lyon

The meeting included quite a bit of discussion about the federally listed species, which have been receiving more monitoring attention recently. Many participants also noted the large number of occurrence records from the northwestern portion of Colorado (especially Moffat County) which have not been observed for 20 years or more. Although we have good records of these species from the late 1980’s, CNHP has so far been unable to secure funding to re-survey these occurrences, or to look for new ones in this area. One of our primary challenges is how to fund the continual updates needed to keep our database current, since “stale” data makes conservation planning and action more difficult.

Ptilagrostis porteriPtilagrostis porteri (Porter’s feathergrass)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The endangered Astragalus osterhoutii

Astragalus osterhoutiiOsterhout milkvetch (Astragalus osterhoutii)

CNHP Botany Information Manager Jill Handwerk took these photos of the federally endangered Osterhout milkvetch (Astragalus osterhoutii) earlier this summer. This member of the pea family grows on highly seleniferous (containing the element selenium) soils derived from Niobrara Shale in Grand County. It is a narrowly endemic species estimated to occupy about 800 acres in north central Colorado.

Astragalus osterhoutii habitatA. osterhoutii in its native habitat - sagebrush shrublands

A few dozen species of Astragalus, including A. osterhoutii, have been identified as “selenium indicators”, accumulating the element in their tissues as they grow on seleniferous soils. In the early decades of the 20th century, selenium was identified as the underlying cause of “alkali disease” which affected livestock that were fed grains or grasses grown on certain soils. Selenium gives a characteristic and lasting garlic-like odor to the plants, and herbarium workers can always tell when someone has opened the cabinet containing these specimens.

Astragalus osterhoutii in shale
Not many plants can grow in such heavy shale soils, but A. osterhoutii likes it

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Covering Colorado and beyond...

Every county in Colorado has been a part of CNHP projects. Since 1993, we have completed more than 50 projects with a study area at the statewide level or greater, and more than 250 projects covering smaller areas of Colorado (see map below). Project area sizes may be as small as a few acres, a county, a local watershed, or as large as the eastern plains and the southern Rocky Mountains. Park, El Paso, and Boulder counties top the list with more than 30 projects each in addition to their inclusion in the statewide tally.

CNHP projects by countyNumber of projects by county.
This does not include all of our statewide and larger projects.

CNHP is committed to making our project documents available to the public whenever we can. Visit our Documents and Reports page for electronic versions of reports currently available, and check back periodically as we gradually add both new and older publications.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A rare relative of our state flower

Aquilegia chrysantha var. rydbergiiAquilegia chrysantha var. rydbergii, the golden columbine

CNHP botanists Jill Handwerk and Susan Spackman Panjabi visited Arkansas River Canyon in late June to capture these images of the golden columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha var. rydbergii) in bloom.

Aquilegia chrysantha var. rydbergiiThe golden columbine is a critically imperiled (S1) species in Colorado, though the aphids don't seem to care.

In the same genus as the more common Colorado columbine (Aquilegia coerulea), this species is the only all-yellow flowered columbine on the eastern slope of Colorado. Although other very closely related varieties of the golden columbine are found from Texas to Utah, this variety is endemic to El Paso and Fremont counties in Colorado.

Aquilegia chrysantha var. rydbergii

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Collaborative Conservation Conference Sept. 8-11

Our friends at the Center for Collaborative Conservation are holding a conference titled Bridging the Gap: Collaborative Conservation from the Ground Up. The conference will be at Colorado State University from September 8-11 (next week!), and will focus on the power of pooling resources for effective conservation.

A number of CNHP folks will be there. If you're going, don't miss Susan Panjabi and Jessica Parker with their poster on the Rare Plant Conservation Initiative.