Monday, June 28, 2010

CNHP in the Pikes Peak Courier View

Teller County's local paper, the Pikes Peak Courier View has a great article about our Teller County survey of critical biological resources happening right now. Teller County is the 34th major inventory project  since CNHP began these projects in 1992. This kind of inventory work is what forms the core of our mission to build and maintain Colorado's most comprehensive biodiversity database.

Be sure to check out this excellent summary of the project with pictures of and quotes from CNHP ecologists Denise Culver and Allison Shaw. These two, along with a number of other CNHP employees, are hard at work surveying the rare and imperiled animals, plants, and natural communities that call Teller County home.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Job Opening - Conservation Data Services Research Associate

CNHP has a new job opening! The Conservation Data Services Research Associate will work closely with other members of the Conservation Data Services Team to manage CNHP's conservation database (BIOTICS), promote the use and continued funding of CNHP data through the development of projects and partnerships, and facilitate yearly information exchanges with NatureServe. The incumbent will also provide database design, programming, and support services for both internal CNHP and external partner data management projects, and oversee systems administration and website development.

This is a full-time position, contingent upon available funding. The incumbent is expected to collaborate with other staff and CNHP partners to develop and submit proposals for grants and projects to ensure continued funding of their position. This position has the potential for advancement into a leadership position within CNHP.

Closing date is July 23, 2010. For more information about the position and how to apply, please see the announcement on the Employment and Volunteering page of our website.

Monday, June 21, 2010

SE Colorado Canyonlands Bioblitz - Results

southeast Colorado canyonlands

Earlier this month CNHP ecologist Renée Rondeau and Denver Botanic Gardens Curator Dina Clark coordinated a bioblitz of the JE Canyon Ranch in southeast Colorado. A bioblitz is an intensive survey of the biodiversity of an area. For this one, more than 50 participants, including botanists, entomologists, mycologists, zoologists, ecologists, ranchers and others converged on the ranch for about 24 hours, documenting every species they could find. The final tally was 924 species:

•        Plants: 322
•        Mammals 20
•        Birds: 62
•        Amphibians and Reptiles: 18
•        Fish: 3
•        Moths: 181
•        Butterflies: 29
•        Other Insects: 280

Participants had a pool to guess the final tally, which was won by CNHP director Dave Anderson with a guesstimate of 940. The prize was a guided trip, led by Dina Clark, to the Denver Botanic Gardens for him and his family.

The Denver Botanic Gardens has posted Renée's summary of some preliminary highlights on their blog.

Here are some additional photos from Dave Anderson:

Buchloë dactyloides
Buffalo grass (Buchloë dactyloides) in flower. This important shortgrass prairie species has both male and female plants.

Bromopsis pumpelliana
A native species of brome (Bromopsis pumpelliana). Nice to see the native species instead of the common introduced species.

Dalea jamesii
Dalea jamesii, a member of the pea family, found on sandstone rimrock and sandy arroyos in southeastern Colorado.

Eriogonum tenellum
A wild buckwheat (Eriogonum tenellum), also common on rocky areas in southeastern Colorado.

Calochortus gunnisonii
The spectacular Gunnison's mariposa lily (Calochortus gunnisonii)

Ptelea trifoliata
Hoptree (Ptelea trifoliata) fruits.

Philadelphus microphyllus
The small-flowered mock-orange (Philadelphus microphyllus).

Penstemon barbatus
The only red-flowered penstemon on Colorado's eastern slope (Penstemon barbatus).

More photos soon! (Inlcuding some people and animal shots, we promise!)

Thanks again to all the participants! Special thanks go to Jerry Wenger and his family, Ralph and Curtis Tichnor, Jim Davis, and Chris West. This effort wouldn't have been possible without you.  Thanks also to the Denver Botanic Gardens and the Colorado Cattlemen's Agricultural Land Trust for all the help with planning and logistics.

shooting stars
 Meteor shower in a sky full of stars over southeast Colorado.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Groundtruthing wetland mapping

As a part of our Setting Mitigation in the Watershed Context project, we are attempting to use aerial imagery to not only locate wetlands, but to classify them by type. Wetlands are frequently difficult to identify from a distance, and manual photo interpretation can be very time consuming. We hope to eventually use our manual photo interpretation results as training data for pattern recognition software. For our imagery, we are using National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP) digital aerial photos taken in 2009. The images are at 1 meter resolution and cover about 1,300 square miles of the Cache La Poudre, Big Thompson, and South Platte River watersheds in northern Colorado. The near infra-red color band of these photos is especially helpful in identifying wetlands, however, NAIP flight-lines are typically flown in the summer, when the leaves on deciduous trees can obscure what occurs underneath.

An example of NAIP near-infrared imagery overlaid with mapped wetlands
identified by type.

Because even the best photo interpreter can have false positives (identifying irrigated hayfields or stock ponds as wetlands), or false negatives (missing wetlands due to leaves obscuring the image), we have been groundtruthing several locations within the project area in order to help refine our search pattern.

One of the wetlands recently visited during groundtruthing.

CNHP GIS Analyst Zack Reams and Ecology Technician Ellen Heath recently went out on a groundtruthing excursion. Using their trusty GPS for navigation, they visited several tentative wetland signatures near urban areas. The first area they went to, east of the Centerra Mall in Windsor, turned out to be a stormwater catchment area and not an actual wetland, but they were able to confirm the remaining sites as actual wetlands.

Zack consulting a print-out of NAIP imagery to see if he's near
the wetland he's looking for. Photo by Ellen Heath.

Zack linked his collected GPS coordinates with the digital photos Ellen took at each site so that pictures of the visited areas can be stored with their spatial coordinates in a Geographic Information System as a part of the groundtruthing validation process.

Zack getting a GPS waypoint. (Ellen has the camera, so there aren't any pictures of her!)
Photo by Ellen Heath.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Two new zoology publications

CNHP Zoologist Brad Lambert is an author on two newly published, peer-reviewed papers;

Pilliod, D.S., Muths, E., R.D. Scherer, P.E. Bartelt, P.S. Corn, B.R. Hossack, B.A. Lambert, R. McCaffery, and C. Gaughan. 2010. Effects of amphibian chytrid fungus on individual survival probability in wild boreal toads. Conservation Biology, published online: Apr 20 2010.

Muths, E., R.D. Scherer, and B.A. Lambert. 2010. Unbiased survival estimates and evidence for skipped breeding opportunities in females. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 1, 123-130.

Brad has been studying boreal toads (Bufo boreas) in Colorado since 1999, and has contributed a great deal of information about the species and the threats it faces. This information is very valuable to the scientific, natural resource management, and conservation communities. These two papers use data from Brad's studies and were written in collaboration with the U.S. Geological Society, CSU faculty, and others, and add to Brad's growing list of publications. Congratulations Brad!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Biodiversity without boundaries conference in Austin, TX

CNHP Botanist Susan Panjabi and Director Dave Anderson attended the Biodiversity Without Boundaries Conference, hosted by NatureServe, in Austin Texas in April. Susan gave a presentation on the Rare Plant Conservation Initiative and Dave gave a panel presentation on the Biodiversity Scorecard Project. It was a great chance to get to know others from around the network of heritage programs! And they had a great time exploring Austin too.

One thing Austin is famous for (besides its music scene) are its bats! The evening emergence of 1-2 million Brazilian Free Tailed Bats from the bridge on Congress Avenue has become famous and hundreds of people come to see this spectacle every night.

bats flying from under bridge
Bats emerging from the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin

About an hour south of Austin is Bracken Cave. This cave is home to over 20 million Brazilian Free Tailed Bats and is the single biggest congregation of mammals on Earth (except perhaps Tokyo?).

lots of bats
The bat exodus from Bracken Cave on April 25, 2010

This cave is on private property that is owned by Bat Conservation International who carefully manages the property and controls visitation. The bat emergence from this cave is one of the most spectacular natural phenomena in the animal world. Below is a video of the emergence on April 25th, taken by Dave Anderson:

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Volunteering for conservation

It's a small world in Colorado conservation. Over the years many of our staff (and former staff) have served in volunteer positions with a number of other Colorado non-profits and coalitions, including the Colorado Native Plant Society, the Colorado Natural Areas Program, the Colorado Rare Plant Technical Committee, the Colorado chapter of the Wildlife Society, local Audubon chapters, the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, the Shortgrass Prairie Partnership, the Colorado Renewables and Conservation Collaborative, the Colorado Noxious Weed Advisory Committee, and more.

When they aren't working or playing in Colorado's beautiful environment, CNHP staff keep busy by lending their expertise to other organizations, leading field trips, giving presentations and workshops, and working to build and strengthen our state's conservation community.

CNHP Ecologist Renée Rondeau recently led a Colorado Native Plant Society field trip to Pueblo Chemical Depot to identify prairie plants and view a riparian restoration project.

Renée (red shirt) discusses plant identification with members of the Colorado Native Plant Society.
Photo by K.M. Canestorp, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The blog is 1 year old!

The Colorado Natural Heritage Program Blog has been going strong for a year now. A big thank you to everyone who reads it, we hope you are finding it to be informative and fun.

We thought it would be neat to see what the last year of posts looked like as a word cloud (courtesy of Wordle):

(Click on the image for a more readable version)

Yep, that about covers it!  Join us as we head into our second year of documenting the work that we do and the importance of Colorado's biodiversity.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Rare Plant Conservation Initiative CAP meeting: Dolores and San Miguel Counties

By Bernadette Kuhn, CNHP Botanist

Our group walked gingerly over the lichen-encrusted soil to get a closer look at a plant species known only from gypsum outcrops in Mesa, Montrose and San Miguel counties. Cryptantha gypsophila (Gypsum Valley cat's-eye), a species described in 2006, dotted the low hills of Big Gypsum Valley, one of the field trip sites for the latest in a series of Conservation Action Planning (CAP) meetings. Our timing was impeccable - the plants were in full bloom.

Cryptantha gypsophila
Cryptantha gypsophila (Gypsum Valley cat's-eye), with a ring for scale.

Photo by Bernadette Kuhn.

The CAP workshop and field trip, held May 4-6, convened in the town of Norwood, with field trips to the Big Gypsum Valley and Dan Noble State Wildlife Area. A CAP workshop is an iterative and adaptive process that looks at conservation targets at multiple spatial scales in order to be as effective as possible with the knowledge and resources available. The participants for this meeting consisted of county officials, land managers, land trust representatives, botanists, and planners. Susan Spackman Panjabi (CNHP), Betsy Neely (The Nature Conservancy) and Peggy Lyon (CNHP) led the workshop.

Betsy Neely
Betsy Neely of The Nature Conservancy photographing the Gypsum Valley cat’s-eye and unusual lichens growing in Big Gypsum Valley.

Photo by Bernadette Kuhn.

The priority action areas for the workshop are Big Gypsum Valley, Miramonte Reservoir, and Lone Mesa State Park. These areas are ranked by CNHP as having Outstanding Biodiversity Significance (B1). The following rare plant species are found at these sites: Cryptantha gypsophila (Gypsum Valley cat's-eye), Gutierrezia elegans (Lone Mesa snakeweed), Physaria pulvinata (cushion bladderpod), Puccinellia parishii (Parish's alkali grass) and Sporobolus neallyi (Neally's dropseed).

group shot
Workshop participants on field trip to Big Gypsum Valley: Carol English (purple shirt), Cara MacMillan (striking a pose), Dave Schneck (kneeling), Susan Spackman Panjabi (bandana, camera), Alicia Langton (grey shirt), Al Schneider and Bernadette Kuhn (background). Photo by Betsy Neely, The Nature Conservancy (used with permission).

Our group worked together to identify stresses to the rare plants (current, future and potential), then developed strategies to address them. We also identified the knowledge gaps and monitoring needs for the rare plant species.

vehicle tracks
Gypsum hills that provide habitat for Cryptantha gypsophila showing signs off-highway vehicle use. During the CAP meeting, we developed a strategy to communicate with the off-highway vehicle community and explore ways of working together to minimize impacts on the plants and their habitats.

Photo by Betsy Neely, The Nature Conservancy (used with permission).

This is the sixth CAP meeting held by the Rare Plant Conservation Initiative. Future meetings are slated for the following locations: Gateway, North Park, Middle Park, the Middle Arkansas Valley, Piceance Basin, and Pagosa Springs.