Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Holidays!

It's getting pretty quiet around CNHP at the moment, as we all head home for the end of the year.

Best wishes from all of us to all of you for happy holidays and a great new year - see you then!

Winter scene near Charles Peak, Eagle County, Colorado.
Photo by Renée Rondeau
(click on photo to enlarge)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Botany A to Z: Brassicaceae

By Karin Decker
is for Brassicaceae
Brassicaceae is the third most frequent family on the list of rare plants tracked by CNHP. This is the mustard family, formerly known as Cruciferae, for the cross-shaped, four-petaled flowers that distinguish its member species. Most people are familiar with common cultivated species in this family including broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and of course, that ubiquitous condiment, mustard.

CNHP tracks more than 50 rare species in the mustard family, including what may be the rarest of all Colorado plants, Draba weberi. Our rare species are found in many different habitats, from lower elevations on the plains up to the highest alpine areas.

Most members of the mustard family are small and not particularly showy unless accompanied by several thousand of their closest relatives. 

A couple hundred individuals of Lesquerella congesta (Dudley Bluffs bladderpod), trying to put on a show. Not really working, is it.

One exception is the desert prince’s plume, Stanleya pinnata, a common component of the spring flower show in desert areas.

Stanleya pinnata
showing off. 
As with the milkvetch genus (Astragalus), mustard family species are identified by the characteristics of their fruits. In fact, fruits of this family have a special name: silique. So, if you want to key out a mustard, remember to get a sample of the fruits or you won’t get far.

Fendler's bladderpod (Lesquerella fendleri), with a nice view of both the four-petaled flower and the inflated silique. 

Dudley Bluffs bladderpod with a fine crop of fruit - the whole plant is about 2 inches across.  Hard to believe something this small can make so many fruits!
Not all mustard-family species have yellow flowers - we just didn't have many good pictures of species with other colors, which include white, purple or pink flowers.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

2011 Wetland Condition Assessments – Successfully Profiling a Broad Range of Wetland Conditions

by Laurie Gilligan

During the 2011 field season, crews from CNHP Ecology Team successfully conducted 82 wetland condition assessment surveys in three project areas for three different objectives:
  1. 34 wetlands were assessed in the northern Front Range to inform wetland mitigation decisions along the Front Range corridor,
  2. 17 wetlands were assessed in western Routt National Forest for targeted monitoring and resampling of riparian wetlands, and
  3. 31 wetlands were assessed throughout Colorado and Wyoming as part of the first National Wetland Condition Assessment.
These assessments included detailed vegetation surveys to calculate a floristic quality index and an assessment of each site’s landscape context, physiochemistry, and hydrologic integrity. The 2011 surveys spanned a wide range of wetland types and condition. The results will be compiled into reports to inform land managers and other stakeholders about the condition of their valued aquatic resources, leading to more effective conservation and management.
A typical site in the Front Range was located adjacent to urban influences, such as oil and gas well platforms, center-pivot irrigation crop fields, or along reservoir shores within suburban housing developments. Nearly one-half (15 of 34) of the wetlands surveyed using a randomized study design were dominated by cattail species (Typha latifolia and/or T. angustifolia). Noxious species were recorded in all but two of the wetlands surveyed. Dominance of cattail is indicative of high nutrient conditions, but wetlands are valued for their ability to filter and reduce nutrient loads before polluted runoff waters from urban areas return to Colorado’s rivers. These wetlands were hard-working!

A marsh wetland in Weld County, Colorado.
In contrast, a number of the wetlands surveyed in the Routt National Forest and National Wetland Condition Assessment projects were riparian shrublands supporting plants indicative of higher ecological integrity. As a wetland contains higher species diversity, greater vertical structure, and more native plant species, the wetlands themselves can support more diverse wildlife habitat. As an example, the Grizzly Creek Park site (shown below) was a mosaic of Wolf's willow (Salix wolfii) interspersed with hillside seeps (the brightest green areas) dominated by mixed sedge (Carex) species. These wetlands were prioritized for survey in part to record baseline data near beetle-killed forests that may be logged in the future.
A riparian shrubland wetland site from Grizzly Creek Park in Routt National Forest.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Botany A to Z: Astragalus

By Karin Decker
is for Astragalus
I have no idea why this is, but there are more rare plant species names in the first third of the alphabet than in the remaining two thirds. The letters A through G account for half of all plant species tracked by CNHP.  By far the most frequent genus name on the tracking list is Astragalus, the milkvetches, which are members of the pea family.

Astragalus rules! (thanks to
Dr. Rupert Barneby provided a wealth of information on this genus in his 1964 two-volume Atlas of North American Astragalus.  Duane Isely and Stanley Welsh have also published more recent comprehensive work on the genus. The origin of the generic name Astragalus is thought to be the Greek word astragalos, meaning ankle-bone.  These bones were apparently once used as a form of dice, and the rattle of dry seeds in the pod of Astragalus mimicked the sound of dice in the cup.
Worldwide, there are perhaps up to 2000 species of Astragalus, and they are especially common in southwestern Asia. Western North America, including Colorado, is also a center of diversity for this genus.  Our state is home to more than 150 different species of milkvetch; CNHP tracks 45 of these species (see map below).
Most of our species are found on the west slope; species on the eastern plains are common in states further east, but are at the edge of their distribution in Colorado. Ten Astragalus species are endemic to Colorado – found nowhere else in the world.
Documented locations of rare Astragalus species in Colorado. Endemic species are colored and labeled, non-endemic are gray.

Although most species of Astragalus have fairly showy flowers with the wings and keel that are typical of pea flowers, it is by their fruits that you will know them. Barneby noted that “Perhaps the most remarkable single characteristic of the genus Astragalus as a whole, and it is especially marked in North America, is that there are hardly two species, even very closely related, which do not differ one from another in form or structure of the fruit”.  This characteristic allows for easy description of individual species. Botanists scheduling their field trips are torn between the prospect of getting a pretty photo of a flowering Astragalus, and the need for mature fruits to make sure they’ve got the correct species. Sometimes you luck out and get both.
Astragalus debequaeus

Astragalus debequaeus, closeup of flowers.

Astragalus debequaeus, closeup of fruits.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Potential ACEC designation for three endangered plant species

By Bernadette Kuhn

The Kremmling BLM office has released a Draft Resource Management Plan that includes proposed ACEC (Area of Critical Environmental Concern) designations for three federally endangered plant species: Astragalus osterhoutii, Penstemon penlandii, and Phacelia formosula. An ACEC is a designation that highlights areas where special management attention is needed to protect and prevent irreparable damage to important resources, including rare species.

The total number of proposed acres for ACEC designation ranges from 516 to 9,250 acres, under four different alternatives. Comments are due by January 16, 2012. 

Astragalus osterhoutii (Osterhout milkvetch) is a beautiful, robust milkvetch. This narrow endemic is federally endangered. Its global distribution is limited to an estimated 800 acres in north central Colorado.

Phacelia formosula (North Park phacelia), a showy, purple-flowered member of Hydrophyllaceae, occurs on sandy bluffs in Jackson County. 

Penstemon penlandii (Penland's beardtongue) is known from two occurrences outside of Kremmling, Colorado.  This species is highly restricted to shales derived from the Troublesome Formation.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ecological Systems: Sagebrush Shrublands

There are two major types of sagebrush ecological systems in Colorado: big sagebrush shrublands and montane sagebrush steppe. These shrublands occur throughout much of the western United States. Although they can be found on Colorado’s east slope, the largest occurrences are on the western slope. North Park, Middle Park, and the upper Gunnison Basin have extensive stands of sagebrush shrublands.

     Big sagebrush shrublands in western Colorado.

Big sagebrush shrublands are typically found in broad basins between mountain ranges, on plains and foothills. Big sagebrush shrublands are characterized by a dense stands of taller sagebrush species with a significant herbaceous understory, and are generally found at elevations from 5,000 to 7,500 feet. Taller shrubs distinguish the big sagebrush shrubland ecological system from the montane sagebrush steppe shrublands, which are dominated by shorter sagebrush species.

Montane sagebrush, Gunnison County, Colorado.

Montane sagebrush steppe primarily occurs on ridges, near flat ridgetops, and mountain slopes. Montane sagebrush stands are usually found at elevations from 7,000 to 10,000 feet, often adjacent to the lower elevation big sagebrush shrublands.

Sagebrush shrublands provide food and shelter for many small mammal and bird species. The most significant at-risk animal species in Colorado’s sagebrush ecosystem is the Gunnison Sage Grouse, ranked “critically imperiled” (G1S1) by the Colorado Natural Heritage Program, and listed as a Tier 1 Species of Greatest Conservation need by the Colorado Division of Wildlife. Other Tier 1 Species of Greatest Conservation Need that are found exclusively (or almost exclusively) in sagebrush habitats are Greater Sage Grouse, Brewer’s Sparrow and Sage Sparrow. In addition, several of Colorado’s rarest plants are found primarily in sagebrush habitats. These include the federally listed (Endangered) Osterhout’s milkvetch, as well as several other globally rare members of the milkvetch family (Gunnison milkvetch, violet milkvetch, and skiff milkvetch). Other rare Colorado plants that are most commonly found in sagebrush habitats are the globally rare narrow-leaf evening primrose, Bessey locoweed, Fremont’s beardtongue, and Harrington’s beardtongue.

Many of Colorado’s sagebrush shrublands are vulnerable to changes induced by domestic livestock grazing. Over the past century the condition of much of Colorado’s sagebrush shrubland has been degraded due to fire suppression and heavy livestock grazing. Although many livestock operations are now more sensitive in their treatment of sagebrush habitats than they once were, recovery in these systems is slow. Furthermore, many remaining sagebrush patches are now being fragmented by fast-paced and widespread energy development.

Overall biodiversity, threat, and protection status scores for sagebrush shrubland in Colorado.

 A "windrose" graph depicting sagebrush status for individual scoring factors.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Cool Climate Collaboration

For those who are interested in climate data, the Center for Snow & Avalanche Studies has a nice website with data from their study area in the San Juan Mountains.  Their “near-real time mountain system monitoring data” provides a continuous picture of conditions at the alpine plots in the Senator Beck Basin area. Check out the graphs presenting seven years worth of climate data! CNHP’s Peggy Lyon worked with CSAS and Julie Crawford to produce a baseline study of the plant communities in the area that is available on the site. CSAS is also engaged in fascinating research on the effects of dust-on-snow on Colorado’s mountain snowpack.
Vegetation transect in Senator Beck Basin.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Interesting International Interdisciplinary Internship

For the last three years, CSU's Human Dimensions of Natural Resources Department (HDNR) has been developing and implementing a program of collaborative capacity building efforts with the Wildlife Institute of India (WII). A formal partnership was established between CSU and WII through the signing of an International Memorandum of Understanding in 2008 to carry out research and training initiatives focused on enhancing protected area management, mitigation of human-wildlife conflicts, and the incorporation of social sciences in conservation planning and decision making.

An internship opportunity was developed this past summer for Vinamra Mathur, a student from India who is currently an honors undergraduate in the Environmental Science Program at University of Manchester, UK. The goal of the internship was to provide opportunities for Vinamra to develop skills and experience in several aspects of environmental science as a volunteer intern working on projects for both HDNR and CNHP during the summer of 2011.

Vinamra with his improvised raingear and ready for anything. Photo by David G. Anderson.

Vinamra spent several weeks assisting CNHP Ecologist Joe Stevens and Botanist Bernadette Kuhn and their field crews with vegetation sampling and mapping in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and Yellowstone National Park and Bighorn Canyon Recreation Area in Wyoming as a part of our GLORIA project. He then spent some time at the US Air Force Academy with CNHP Director Dave Anderson, where he saw some of the rarest plants in the area. Another day was spent with CNHP Botanist Pam Smith on surveys of rare plants and plant communities within Jefferson County.

Vinamra then spent a week with CNHP's wetland field sampling crew, led by Laurie Gilligan and Erick Carlson, sampling wetlands all across the state. On this trip Vinamra learned wetland sampling methods that are being used by CNHP as partners in EPA's National Wetland Condition Assessment. Another three days were spent in the field with John Sovell, CNHP Zoologist monitoring the Pawnee Montane Skipper. The Pawnee Montane Skipper is a federally threatened species of butterfly that occurs only in the South Platte River drainage of Colorado. In partnership with the USDA Forest Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, CNHP has been monitoring this species since 2004.

Measuring weeds at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Photo by David G. Anderson.

After nearly 2 months in the field with CNHP, Vinamra spent some time in and around Fort Collins working with HDNR faculty and staff, learning about basic concepts and methodologies for examining the social aspects of natural resource management.

For all the details of Vinamra's summer internship at CSU, check out the full article in the Warner College of Natural Resources fall newsletter.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Artistic Aquatic Entomologists - Assemble!

(Forgive the alliteration, end-of-year deadlines will do that to a person.)

For a bit of local news, the City of Fort Collins is holding an Art in Public Places design contest to help raise public awareness to the relationship between storm drains and environmental health. The stormwater drainage network within Fort Collins drains directly into the Cache La Poudre River, so that what gets dumped into a street gutter or storm drain has a direct impact on water quality and the health of aquatic systems.

A stonefly nymph from our neck of the woods (Larimer County, CO). Photo by Georgia Doyle.

If you are artistic and like aquatic insects, here's your chance to make a difference! The contest runs through January 3, 2012, with the theme of aquatic insects in our watershed and how they help determine water quality. The winner receives an honorarium, and then more than 75 manhole covers and 3,000 storm drain markers will be replaced over the next 5 years by new sustainable die-cast markers featuring the winning artwork.

For more information, see the full announcement from the City.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Nine new Rare Plant Conservation Initiative reports available

Ipomopsis polyantha. Photo by David G. Anderson.

Phew! In a flurry of activity, CNHP and TNC Botanists and Conservation Planners have finalized a whopping 9 new reports for both statewide and local Conservation Action Plans as a part of the collaborative Colorado Rare Plant Conservation Initiative.

The reports are:
  • Arkansas Valley Action Plan 2011 Update
  • Big Gypsum Valley and Dry Creek Basin Preliminary Action Plan
  • Colorado Wildlife Action Plan: proposed rare plant addendum
  • Gateway Preliminary Action Plan
  • Middle Park Action Plan 2011 Update
  • North Park Action Plan 2011 Update
  • Pagosa Springs Action Plan 2011 Update
  • Piceance Basin Action Plan 2011 Update
  • Plateau Creek and Miramonte Reservoir West Preliminary Action Plan
Each report is available in PDF form from our Documents and Reports page, as well as from our Botany Team page.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

New Wetland journal article

Dr. David Cooper and Joanna taking data in a large basin site south of Yellowstone Lake.

CNHP Wetland Ecologist Joanna Lemly has had her graduate thesis work on fens in Yellowstone National Park published in the journal Botany.

The paper:
Lemly, J.M. and D.J. Cooper. 2011. Multiscale factors control community and species distribution in mountain peatlands. Botany 89: 689-713.

Joanna assembling an 8 foot peat probe, though she often found that the peat went deeper than the probe!

Fens are peat-forming wetlands that are fairly rare in the western U.S., but contribute significantly to regional biodiversity, supporting a number of rare plant and animal species. Joanna's study characterized the vegetation composition of fens in Yellowstone and analyzed the various environmental factors that influence them.

Congratulations Joanna!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Wilderness Society looks at Colorado's rare plants

Barbara Hawke, the Dolores River Basin Wildlands Coordinator for The Wilderness Society wrote a great blog post about a recent field trip she lead in the Adobe Badlands, where she focuses on the rare and imperiled salt shrubland plant species that CNHP botanists work to conserve as a part of the collaborative Colorado Rare Plant Conservation Initiative.

Take a moment to read what Barbara has to say about A Subtle Kind of Wilderness.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ecological Systems: Mixed Conifer Forest

These are mixed-conifer forests occurring on all aspects at elevations ranging from 4,000 to 10,800 feet. Douglas-fir and white fir are the most common dominant trees, but as many as seven different conifer species may be present. In many areas of the state these forests form a matrix with large stands of other forest types such as ponderosa pine or aspen. Natural fire processes in mixed conifer stands are probably highly variable in both return interval and severity. Douglas-fir stands are characteristic of drier sites, often mixed with ponderosa pine. More mesic stands are found in cool ravines and on north-facing slopes, and are likely to be dominated by white fir with blue spruce or quaking aspen stands. Fire in these cool, moist stands is infrequent, and the understory may be quite diverse.

A number of common and rarer bird species may be found in these forests, including the white-crowned sparrow, mountain bluebird, Clark’s nutcracker, Williamson’s sapsucker, and red-naped sapsucker.

Mixed conifer forests cover more than 850,000 acres in Colorado. Nearly 70% of this area is federal lands, primarily those managed by the US Forest Service, but lacking wilderness designation. A substantial portion (15%) is on private land. Consequently, these habitats are generally in good condition, with minimal threats, and reasonable protection. Occurrences in the Front Range are vulnerable to the impacts of housing development, while those in western Colorado are often adjacent to active oil and gas development.

Overall biodiversity, threat, and protection status scores for mixed conifer forests in Colorado.

 A "windrose" graph depicting mixed conifer status for individual scoring factors.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

CNHP takes over maintenance of COMaP

The Colorado Ownership, Management, and Protection (COMaP) project was initiated by Dr. David Theobald, Associate Professor in the College of Natural Resources at Colorado State University (CSU). The goal of COMaP was to build a statewide protected areas map for Colorado from all of the disparate sources of land ownership and management data throughout the state. The first version of COMaP was released on May 28, 2004 as COMaP v1.

Annual updates and improvements to COMaP through version 8 have been funded by the Colorado Division of Wildlife and Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO). In 2010, funding was provided via a USGS GAP Stewardship proposal to allow COMaP to become integrated with their national Protected Areas Database (PAD-US). At that time, responsibility for maintaining, updating, and distributing COMaP became a collaborative effort between CNHP and the CSU Geospatial Centroid.

Maintaining COMaP is a natural fit within CNHP's mission and, indeed, many other Natural Heritage Programs and Conservation Data Centers across the nation (all part of the Natural Heritage Network) are the state stewards for protected areas data.

With the funding from the PAD-US project, CNHP was able to update COMaP again, and version 9 is now available for download from CSU's Geospatial Centroid. This round of updates focused on state, regional, and local government lands in addition to GOCO funded conservation easements.

We would like to thank all of the agencies and organizations that submitted updates and corrections, your contributions have been essential to the success of this project!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

New Zoology journal article

CNHP Zoologists Rob Schorr and Brad Lambert, in collaboration with Eric Freels of the Dolores Public Lands Office, have published a paper in the journal Herpetological Conservation and Biology.

The paper is:
Schorr, R.A., B.A. Lambert, and E. Freels. 2011. Habitat use and home range of long-nosed leopard lizards (Gambelia wislizenii) in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, Colorado. Herpetological Conservation and Biology 6(2):312-323.

Eric Freels, Wildlife Biologist for the Dolores Public Lands Office records habitat characteristics at a sample plot. Photo by Rob Schorr.

The paper reports on Rob and Brad's past fieldwork radio-tracking lizards and provides valuable information about this poorly studied and rare species.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

CNHP Botanist wins award from Michigan Botanical Club

CNHP Botanist Pam Smith has been awarded the Isobel Dickinson Memorial Award for the best student paper published in The Michigan Botanist in 2007. (2007? Yes, well, these things take time...)

The paper that won the award is: Smith, P.F. and D.W. Woodland. 2007. Forest Composition Study of the Great Lakes Coastal Forest at Warren Dunes State Park, Berrien County, MI. The Michigan Botanist: 46(2), pp 33-62.

The topic of this paper was part of a larger study conducted by Pam for her Master's thesis:
Smith, P.F., and D.W. Woodland. 2006. Vascular Plants Study of Warren Dunes State Park, Berrien County, Michigan. The Michigan Botanist: v45(1), pp 1-58.

The Michigan Botanist is a peer-reviewed journal about plant life in the Great Lakes Region, and is published quarterly by the Michigan Botanical Club, the native plant society for the state of Michigan. The club will announce the award at its 2011 fall meeting.

Congratulations Pam!

Friday, September 30, 2011

CNHP work in Teller County in the news

CNHP Wetland Ecologist Denise Culver is quoted in a recent article in the Pikes Peak Courier View regarding our recently completed Teller County survey of critical biological resources and how it has benefited local landowners. The article also notes how the survey was a great learning experience for several students from Colorado College in Colorado Springs, who participated in the fieldwork.

Denise gave a presentation on the project and its findings to the Teller County Planning Commission this past Tuesday.

For more information about the project, see our past posts:

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

8th Annual Colorado Rare Plant Symposium this Friday

Update: The post originally said the RPTC meeting was Saturday. It is, in fact on Friday, the day before the CoNPS annual meeting. We apologize for the error.

The Colorado Native Plant Society's annual meeting is this weekend (September 31 - October 1) in Carbondale, Colorado. In conjunction with that meeting, the Colorado Rare Plant Technical Committee (RPTC) will hold its 8th Annual Colorado Rare Plant Symposium on Friday (Sept. 30th) from 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. at the Third Street Center on 520 S. Third St., Carbondale.

The RPTC is an ad-hoc group of agency, academic, and NGO botanists that has been working for years to advance rare plant conservation efforts in the state. This year, the RPTC will provide a photo review of the federally listed threatened and endangered plant species known from Colorado, including some recently listed species. Discussion of their relationship to Colorado’s important plant biodiversity areas, current conservation status, critical habitat designation and potential threats will be emphasized.

The symposium is open to any one with an interest in the rare plants of Colorado. Come prepared to exchange your knowledge of our rarest species with other amateur and professional botanists from throughout the state.

Contact Jill Handwerk for more information (970-491-5857). Registration is $10. To register visit the CoNPS website or register at the door.

Monday, September 26, 2011

CNHP White River NF fen work in the news

The Glenwood Springs Post Independent recently published an article about the biologically rich and unique fens in the White River National Forest that CNHP ecologists, botanists, and wetland mappers helped identify and catalogue over the last several years.

“The Colorado Natural Heritage Program's methodology and painstaking work made this project possible,” says John Proctor, White River National Forest Botanist. Thanks for the kind words and opportunity to work with you, John!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dinosaur National Monument field trip

This summer, CNHP botanists Jill Handwerk and Peggy Lyon traveled to Dinosaur National Monument to update some element occurrence records that had not been visited for many years. They searched for six of Colorado’s rare plant species:
  • park rockcress (Arabis fernaldiana)
  • Ownbey's thistle (Cirsium ownbeyi)
  • stream orchid (Epipactis gigantea)
  • Dieter's erigeron (Erigeron wilkenii)
  • alcove bog orchid  (Limnorchis zothecina)
  • sheathed deathcamas  (Zigadenus vaginatus)
 As an extra bonus – the scenery was fantastic!

 Rock formation known as Picasso's Portrait.

 Limnorchis zothecina

 Zigadenus vaginatus

 Pelleae atropurpurea hanging from crevices in an alcove.

 Pelleae atropurpurea close-up.
The Green River in Dinosaur NM.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

What I did on my Summer Field Season - Part 2

by Amber Provinzano
(read Part 1 of Amber’s report, in case you missed it)

CNHP Botany Team leader Jill Handwerk joined Pam and me in the field a for a few days to see the endangered Colorado butterfly plant (Gaura neomexicana ssp. coloradensis). We also hiked around a few parks and ranches, making counts of the roundtip twinpod (Physaria vitulifera), and wondering how rare plants can survive in habitat that has been so changed by human presence.

Gaura neomexicana ssp. coloradensis. Photo by Jill Handwerk

Physaria vitulifera, with a pen for scale. Photo by Pam Smith

Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) in flower, an indication of healthy grasslands. Photo by Pam Smith

Wetland Work

Later in the season, I participated in a field session of the National Wetland Condition Assessment that CNHP is working on for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Together with field botanists Lindsey Washkoviak and Adam Skadsen, and soil scientist Alan Walters, I collected vegetation data for randomly selected wetlands in Colorado. The areas near Leadville and Nathrop, Colorado were beautiful. Camping on Turquoise Lake was lovely, minus the nightly storms that raged across the Continental Divide. I visited my first fen, and realized that while assessing the nation’s waters is important, I’m not so sure trampling over delicate and precious ecosystems is good for them. Another first for me: seeing pikas (Ochotona princeps) at one of the sites we sampled. Though the squeaking makes them sound like dog toys, they are exceptionally cute.

American Pika (Ochotona princeps) looking alarmed at having been called a 'dog toy.' Photo by Amber Provinzano

Columbines among the talus. Photo by Amber Provinzano

Lake Turquoise at sunrise – Colorado’s two highest peaks, Mt. Elbert (14,440 ft) on the left and Mt. Massive (14,428 ft) on the right. Photo by Amber Provinzano

This summer was incredible. I am very fortunate to have received these opportunities to travel this great state and see some awesome places, plants, and animals while learning and working with remarkable people. I would like to thank everyone at CNHP, especially those who I worked closely with in the field and at the office, for providing me with the experience, knowledge, and wisdom to do good in the world.

Happy Trails!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What I did on my Summer Field Season - Part 1

by Amber Provinzano

The summer is over and I am out of the field and back in the classroom for my final semester as an undergraduate student. I’m continuing to work for CNHP in the same data processor position I had last year. Though the time in the field is over, the experience, lessons and memories are far from forgotten. As I’ve said before and can say again after more experience, the field season is a great component of working in natural resources and I am happy with my decision to pursue a degree in wildlife biology.

My 2011 field season experience kicked off at Willhite Ranch in southeastern Colorado with Renée Rondeau, as previously reported.

Mesa Verde and Schmoll’s Milkvetch

In June, along with CNHP’s director, Dave Anderson, and CNHP field botanist Bernadette Kuhn, I ventured to Mesa Verde National Park for 10 days to assist with setting up and revisiting permanent plots used in monitoring the rare Schmoll’s Milkvetch (Astragalus schmolliae), recently made a Candidate Species for listing under the Endangered Species Act. The park’s Natural Resource staff was wonderful: they were eager to help us, providing a few supplies but more importantly extra people on the ground to get the work done.

Amber with a fruiting Astragalus schmolliae (Schmoll’s Milkvetch) and encroaching weeds in the background.

A most memorable experience was the hike to Park Mesa with veg crew member Kyle Doherty to reevaluate a demography plot for the Schmoll’s Milkvetch originally set up in 2001 by Dave Anderson. Kyle and I made our way down and back up the walls of Soda Canyon, catching glimpses of cliff dwellings, and across Park Mesa where the ancient pinyon-juniper forests meet the weed-infested fields now growing on the site of where large fires occurred in 2002.

Small dwelling, we guessed it was used to store food.

A large dwelling in the side of the canyon. Blends in, doesn't it?

The photo everyone takes of Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park.

Short-Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma douglassi)

Despite living in Colorado my entire life, I had yet to see as much of the state as I did on the 10 hour drive to Mesa Verde (we took the scenic route, at my request). And even with 9-12+ hour work days I was able to break away from work for an hour to take the Cliff Palace tour. I am very thankful to have been able to join Dave and Bernadette in this project.

Rare Plants in Jefferson County
CNHP field botanist Pam Smith recruited me to assist her in surveying Jefferson County wetlands for a few weeks in July and August. On my first day out I was lucky enough to see Colorado’s rarest orchid, Malaxis brachypoda (white adder’s-mouth). We also hiked up to see Telesonix jamesii (James’ telesonix), seeing other rare plants tracked by CNHP along the way. Pam also took me to several Jefferson County Open Space parks, and I will definitely be going back for fun. Colorado residents, especially those in and near Jefferson County, should take advantage of these gorgeous natural areas set aside by the county for our enjoyment.

Malaxis brachypoda. Photo by Scotty Smith.

 Telesonix jamesii. Photo by Pam Smith.

From the left, orchid expert and CNHP volunteer Denise Wilson, Amber Provinzano, and Pam Smith at a Telesonix jamesii occurrence. Photo by Scotty Smith.

 Rub-a-dub-dub, Pam in a tub. While it's a cute photo-op, who leaves a bathtub in the woods? Photo by Amber Provinzano.

 My new home! (Assuming the bears don't come back. Oh wait, maybe that was their bathtub.) Photo by Pam Smith.

 To be continued...