Thursday, July 29, 2010

7th Annual Colorado Rare Plant Symposium this September

7th Annual Colorado Rare Plant Symposium
Conservation Efforts and Status Review of G1 Plants of Colorado
September 10, 2010; 9:00 am-4:00 pm
UC Denver Auraria Campus
Denver, Colorado

Join members of the Colorado Rare Plant Technical Committee (RPTC) for the 7th Annual Colorado Rare Plant Symposium. The RPTC is an ad-hoc group of agency and NGO botanists that has been working for years to advance rare plant efforts in the state. The RPTC will provide a photo review of the globally critically imperiled (G1) plant species known from Colorado, including some recently described species. Discussion of their relationship to Colorado's important plant areas, current conservation status and potential threats will be emphasized. Come prepared to exchange your knowledge of our rarest species with other amateur and professional botanists from throughout the state.

This one-day workshop will be held in collaboration with the Colorado Native Plant Society's annual meeting (Sept. 10-12). The symposium is open to any one with an interest in the rare plants of Colorado. A full agenda will be posted in August. Contact Jill Handwerk for more information at (970)491-5857 or email. There is a nominal fee of $10 to attend. To register visit the CoNPS website.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Site profile: Parachute Creek, Garfield County

B2: Very High Biodiversity Significance
Parachute Creek

This site was visited in 2000 as part of the Garfield County Inventory. This large site encompasses the Parachute Creek drainage as it descends from the top of the Roan Plateau toward the Colorado River west of Rifle. Here Parachute Creek and its tributaries have excavated a geologic section in sedimentary strata of the Tertiary Green River and Wasatch formations. Each tributary makes a dramatic plunge off the Roan Plateau over 100 to 200 foot shale cliffs.

Thalictrum heliophilum
Thalictrum heliophilum basking in the sun in its shaley habitat

The site supports numerous occurrences of several rare plants, including Roan Cliffs blazing star (Mentzelia rhizomata, G2/S2), Utah fescue (Argillochloa dasyclada, G3/S3), and sun-loving meadow rue (Thalictrum heliophilum, G3/S3), as well as an excellent example of a hanging garden of the type characteristic of the Utah High Plateau, dominated by hanging garden sullivantia (Sullivantia hapemanii var. purpusii).

Mentzelia rhizomata
Mentzelia rhizomata - the Roan Cliffs blazing star

South-facing slopes are dominated by sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata), serviceberry (Amelanchier), and mountain spray (Holodiscus dumosus), while Douglas-fir / spruce - fir (Psuedotsuga menziesii - Picea) forests cover north-facing slopes. The more gentle slopes dropping off the Roan Plateau support high quality grasslands and sagebrush shrublands. Although the canyon bottom has been heavily impacted by gas well development, there is lush riparian vegetation remaining in portions of the canyon, including examples of the globally vulnerable (G3/S2) box elder / chokecherry (Acer negundo / Prunus virginiana) montane riparian deciduous forest and the globally vulnerable (G3/S3) narrowleaf cottonwood / skunkbrush (Populus angustifolia / Rhus trilobata) riparian forest.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Two new internships with CNHP

We have two new internship opportunities available for students enrolled at Colorado State University. The Colorado Natural Heritage Program is housed within the Warner College of Natural Resource's Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology and as such, we are usually able to host a number of internships every year.

Conservation Outreach Internship - The needs for raising awareness of conserving Colorado's biodiversity resources have never been greater. This internship, made possible by the Warner Minigrant from the Warner College of Natural Resources, represents a rare and important opportunity for CNHP to move forward in promoting its mission and resources while providing an opportunity for an intern to assist with this effort.

The goal of this internship is to raise awareness of CNHP's role in Colorado and promote CNHP's mission to connect science and conservation. This will include proactive steps towards making key people more aware of Colorado's biodiversity conservation challenges, and raising awareness of the resources CNHP can offer to address these challenges. Forming additional ties within CSU to promote collaboration between students, faculty, researchers, and institutional leadership is another goal that CNHP hopes to advance through this internship.

This internship is intended to provide a unique opportunity to one or more students that can help enhance their skills in program development and outreach. The intern(s) will work independently much of the time and will be given freedom to develop an outreach program based on their particular interests and strengths as they relate to CNHP's mission and needs.

Website Development Internship - The continuing development of CNHP's website is critical to our ability to continue to meet the needs of Colorado's conservation community. This internship, made possible by funds through the Warner Minigrant, represents a unique opportunity to make continued improvements to our site.

This internship is intended to provide a unique opportunity to one or more students that can help enhance their skills in website development. The intern(s) will work independently much of the time. The internship will begin with identifying a discrete website upgrade that the intern will implement from start to finish between August and December, 2010.

More information about both internship opportunities and how to apply can be found here. Closing date to apply is August 20, 2010.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

News from afar - former CNHP intern checks-in from Indonesia

Note - Jessica Parker, CSU Human Dimensions of Natural Resources graduate and former intern for CNHP, has moved on to her dream job helping with orangutan rehabilitation efforts in Indonesia. Here is an update from her regarding all the great work she has been doing. If you would like to read more, be sure to check out Jessica's blog. Thanks for the update, Jessica, and keep up the good work!

Hello! Since leaving CNHP in May, I have had many new adventures while working for Orangutan Foundation International in Kalimantan, Indonesia. During the month of June, I was part of a dynamic volunteer team from around the globe that built a new bridge between one of the pondoks, housing young rehabilitant orangutans, and the surrounding peat swamp tropical rainforest. In just three weeks, our team of inexperienced workers built over 250 meters of bridge out of locally grown ironwood! You may ask how a bridge is contributing the conservation of orangutans. Well, indirectly, the bridge is a critical part of the rehabilitation process that will help to return over 300 young orangutans to the wild and contribute to the long term survival of the orangutan species. How? The bridge extends the amount of forest that the rehabilitants have access to during "jungle school," where they learn critical survival skills including the identification and processing of food, arboreal locomotion, and social interaction. After we finished our work, our group had tears in our eyes as we watched the first group of orangutans tumble down the bridge, racing towards the forest and a future in the wild.

Jessica at the new bridge she and other volunteers built.

Since the completion of the bridge, I have been working as the Environment Enrichment Fellow at the Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine (OCCQ) in Pasir Panjang. What does this work entail? In short, the goal of enrichment is improving the quality of life for captive animals through the provision of novel objects and manipulation of their environment. For primates, enrichment can be summed up as trying to be smarter than they are; we often wonder if we are enriching the orangutans or they are enriching us! I am providing enrichment for 75 orangutans, a playful Malaysian sun bear, and a beautiful cassowary, and they are providing me with an unforgettable glimpse into the lives of some of Indonesia's most charismatic and endangered species.

Jessica of the Jungle!

There are more than 320 orangutans at the rehabilitation center and enrichment is a vitally important tool in the survival toolbox, stimulating the complex learning process that can take more than seven years in the wild. For most of the orangutans, enrichment consists of daily trips to the 80 hectare forest surrounding the facility. The orangutans at the veterinary pondok where I work often cannot participate in these trips to the forest due to a variety of reasons, such as physical disabilities, so they are given special enrichment within their enclosures. Every day, we hand out truckloads of acacia branches to stimulate foraging, nest building, and play. Well, those are the activities we hope to encourage but the orangutans have some of their own ideas. The acacia fruit makes the orangutans foam at the mouth and they spend several enjoyable minutes rubbing the soapy fluid up and down their arms before they gleefully slurp it off. Others use the branches as very stylish headwear and walk around like Roman gods with wreaths of acacia rather than olive leaves. The most mischievous use the branches as whips as they hang from the top of their enclosures and assail their comrades with occasional whacks across the back.

We also make swings and hammocks from recycled tires and plastic barrels, which keep the hairy orange residents physically and mentally active as they romp and learn how to dismantle our work. Locally produced rattan balls are filled with peanuts and raisins, creating a puzzle for the young orangutans to solve. Tool production and use are encouraged by smearing the inside of PVC pipes with peanut butter. Branches must be carefully selected, stripped of leaves, and then used to scrap off the sticky treat. Miniature scavenger hunts are created by hiding popcorn and raisins under the orangutan night nests. The older ones merely raise their eyebrows at this game as if asking if we really thought they did not know where we hid the goodies.

A friend catches a ride on Jessica's back.

The younger orangs and those that are convalescing from illness, malnutrition, or surgery are given thick towels for comfort and warmth, towels that can be used as cloaks, nest liners, food holders, seat cushions, and tents. It is always enjoyable to walk through the special care section and see a whole host of dark eyes gazing at you from under different colored security blankets. In addition to the emotional and cognitive enrichment that we are providing, nutritional enrichment has also become a focus of my work for the special care orangutans that have suffered from malnutrition, anemia, depression, etc. Their daily fruit diet is supplemented by fortified milk, eggs, peanuts, and raisins to provide additional vitamins, minerals, calories, protein, and fat. The results are already evident: there has been an increase in activity, appetite, and overall health in many of these orangutans. For example, Ulin, a small twelve year old female who had suffered from severe malnutrition in captivity, would not eat and spent most of her time curled up in a ball in a lethargic stupor. She has become a new orangutan, eating a wide variety of foods, interacting with other orangutans during her outings, and building nests each night inside her tire swing. She recently became a Colorado Rockies Fan after we found an official Rockies towel in town for her! Now that she has been elevated to royal status, she arranges her branches and towel into a towering nest that she lazily lays on, feeding herself with her feet; Queen Ulin at your service!

I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment when I look at Ulin and see how my enrichment work has vastly improved her quality of life. Today, we took her for a walk and she spent the majority of her time at the top of a tall tree, foraging on fruit and leaves and gazing into the distance. Is she thinking what we are thinking about the future of her species in the wild? We will never know but what we do know is that Ulin is an ambassador for her species, an ambassador that reminds us of the importance of our work: to orangutans, to biodiversity, and to the entire planet.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Field techniques - density

A number of bird species are believed to be sensitive to the density of shrubs, so this characteristic is frequently measured by people monitoring or mapping potential habitat for these species. Density is the number of things (such as shrubs) per unit area. It is important to be able to distinguish the individual things being counted, so it is more usual to measure the density of easily identified individuals such as trees or shrubs, or animals, and not species that form clumps, such as grasses.

Almost any size or shape of area (quadrat) could be used for measuring density, but results can vary with quadrats of different shapes and sizes. It is important to apply consistent boundary rules about whether a plant is in or out of the quadrat, especially for long narrow quadrats, which have more edge than square or round quadrats. Some options are:

  1. count only one out of every two plants that are on the boundary
  2. count all plants that touch the boundary, but only for two sides of the quadrat
  3. count plants that have more than 50% of their area in the quadrat

taking a density measure of sand sagebrush
CNHP ecologist Karin Decker measures the density of sand sagebrush (Artemisia filifolia) in potential habitat for the lesser prairie chicken, using a 1 meter-long stick to find and count shrubs within 1 meter of the 50 m tape.

low density transect
Example of low density sand sage (4 per 100 square meters).

high density transect
Example of higher density sand sage (44 per 100 square meters).

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Moose (Alces alces)

Moose were introduced to Colorado in the late 1970s. From the original location in North Park, Jackson County they have expanded into neighboring counties, and have also been transplanted to the Upper Rio Grande drainage and Grand Mesa areas. These large members of the Cervidae or deer family are generally found in forests near lakes or marshes.

The best shot of a moose you're going to see here.

We know that adult moose are extremely large animals (they can be over 6 feet tall at the shoulder, and weigh up to 1,000 pounds), so it seems that such a large animal should be easy to photograph.

However, if you have ever tried to take a picture of a moose, you have probably experienced the Massive Object Optical-Spatial Event or MOOSE phenomenon. This apparently happens when our knowledge of the size of an object greatly inflates our perception of how it will appear in a photo. It is common for researchers to return from the field, download or develop their photos, and say "Hey - where is the moose? I thought I got a picture of it!"

For instance, there are two moose in this photo:

spot the moose
No really, there are.

moose zoom

It may be helpful to add a moose locating element to your photo:

pointing at far away moose

Even if you manage get close to a moose (not recommended), or use the zoom feature, there is no telling if the moose will cooperate:

moose backside
Yoo-hoo - look over here!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

New wetland publication

CNHP wetland ecologist Joanna Lemly is a co-author on a recent paper that will be printed in Wetlands, the journal of the Society of Wetland Scientists.

Chimner, R.A. J.M. Lemly, and D.J. Cooper. 2010. Mountain Fen Distribution, Types and Restoration Priorities, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, USA. Wetlands. Published online 25 April 2010.

Joanna and her colleagues spent two summers studying fens in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. The team first mapped fens from aerial imagery, and then visited over 200 mapped sites. Data collected was used to characterize the different types of fens found in the area. The study also identified disturbance levels and restoration potential for each site visited. The work was funded by two Wetland Program Development grants from the EPA's Region 8. Information about these relatively rare wetland communities provides an important tool for land management agencies in the San Juans, especially the U.S. Forest Service.

Congratulations Joanna!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tales from the Bioblitz - the long-hood milkweed

Asclepias macrotis
long-hood milkweed
G4 S2

CNHP director Dave Anderson took these photos of the long-hood milkweed during the JE Canyon bioblitz. This species is considered rare in Colorado, and occurrences are tracked by CNHP.

Asclepias macrotis whole plant

Asclepias macrotis is a member of the Milkweed family. Nearly all Asclepias have latex canals that when broken release a milky fluid, hence the common name "milkweed" for the genus. The genus Asclepias is also familiar to many as the food of monarch butterfly larvae. Milkweeds are characterized by a specialized floral structure and pollination mechanism. Milkweed flowers have five showy petals that are typically bent severely downward (reflexed). Below the petals are five (usually greenish) sepals. Above the petals is an additional whorl of floral structures called "hoods" that arise from bases of the stamens. Each hood usually contains an inward arching "horn" that serves as a nectar reservoir. The hoods and horns together form the corona, an additional floral layer above the corolla. Asclepias macrotis has long, slender hoods (macrotis means "long-eared", and is often part of the scientific name for some species of bats and other animals that have long ears).

Asclepias macrotis flowers
My, what long ears you have.

In Colorado, this milkweed is at the northern edge of its range. Populations are known from Las Animas, Baca, and Bent Counties in Colorado, and the species is also known from southern Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Texas and the Oklahoma panhandle adjacent to New Mexico. Colorado populations are typically found on sandstone rimrock, rocky shale, or rocky slopes of eroded sandstone in the canyon country of the southeastern corner of the state. Here they grow in sparsely vegetated areas of one-seed juniper (Juniperus monosperma) and native prairie grasses such as the grama grasses (Bouteloua spp.) and needle-and-thread (Hesperostipa spp.)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Bob Jenkins Visits CNHP

By Dave Anderson, CNHP Director and Chief Scientist

We recently had a very special guest visit CNHP! We were visited by Bob Jenkins, who is famous within the world of conservation for inventing much of the methodology used by natural heritage programs, and for starting the network of natural heritage programs, of which CNHP is a part. When he was the Chief Scientist of The Nature Conservancy, Bob pretty much single-handedly created the network of natural heritage programs and got many of them started as components of state governments (a number of the programs, like CNHP, are instead affiliated with universities). His innovation and determination has led to the creation of an international enterprise that employs thousands of scientists working in 82 programs throughout the Western Hemisphere, and unified by the methods he developed as member programs of NatureServe.

Bob Jenkins (red plaid) talks to CNHP folks in our conference room.

Bob coined the term "element" to collectively recognize species and natural communities as fundamental units of conservation. He was the first person to see a way to prioritize elements based on their rarity, distribution, and qualities of their populations, and use that prioritization as a framework to guide conservation efforts. His work transformed the way that The Nature Conservancy makes decisions about land acquisitions and management.

Bob shared several stories with us about the formation of the Natural Heritage Network. It was great to hear the personal side of his moments of discovery (his "Eureka" moments). Bob had several of these during his career that led to transformative and monumental changes in the way we view conservation. Bob also talked with us about our challenges and successes and how our program is doing. It was such a treat to have one of the conservation community's greatest thinkers in our midst to ponder these with us. And somehow, having a visit from our founding father was incredibly validating and inspiring. Thank you so much Bob! I hope we will see you again soon.

Bob at the whiteboard

At the Biodiversity Without Boundaries Conference in Austin Texas in April, NatureServe awarded Bob the first NatureServe Conservation Award for his achievements. He said that of all the awards he's received, this one meant the most to him. Read more about Bob's award and the text of his acceptance speech, in which he tells the story of the formation of the network of heritage programs.