Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Gunnison Bioblitz!


We need your scouting skills to find more populations of skiff milkvetch (Astragalus microcymbus)! This slender-stemmed member of the pea family has a global distribution of only 5 populations near the town of Gunnison. Monitoring data and surveys suggest that skiff milkvetch numbers are declining. Please help us find more locations of one of the rarest plants in Colorado!

Join us on June 4th, 2011 for a Skiff Milkvetch Bioblitz. The blitz will be an all day event, Saturday June 4th, 2011. Dinner and camping will be provided on Friday night, June 3rd. The event is a collaborative effort by the Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Natural Areas Program, Colorado Native Plant Society, Colorado Natural Heritage Program, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. To sign up, or for more details, contact Bernadette Kuhn at Bernadette.kuhn@colostate.edu.

The elusive skiff milkvetch.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Welcome new wetland team members!

As we gear up for the 2011 field season, new employees are appearing at CNHP. The wetland ecology team already has a few new faces:

Gabrielle Smith is our newest wetland mapper. Gabrielle is originally from Florida, where she earned a BS in Wildlife Ecology and a MA in Urban Planning (GIS concentration), both from the University of Florida. Before coming to Fort Collins, she worked at the conservation organization Ducks Unlimited in Ann Arbor, Michigan – doing wetland mapping, similar to the wetland mapping work she is now doing here at CNHP.

Joelle Laing also joined the team this month to participate in the National Wetland Condition Assessment, a research initiative from the EPA to assess the condition of wetlands across the lower 48 states. She recently graduated with an M.S. in Restoration Ecology from North Carolina State University, where she researched Atlantic White Cedar restoration in the (perilous) Great Dismal Swamp after hurricane damage. Over the last eight years, she has had a grab bag of experiences across the US in restoration, fire ecology, plant identification, and soil science at Rocky Mountain Research Station, The Nature Conservancy, and a consulting firm. She’s excited to explore Colorado and Wyoming this season and do some intensive wetland botanizing.

 Joelle honing her plant ID skills.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Southeast Colorado Canyon Country Views

On February 28th, CNHP Director Dave Anderson, Ecologist/ Conservation Planner Renée Rondeau, and FWCB Department Head Ken Wilson flew with Steve Paul, a volunteer pilot with Lighthawk, a non-profit group that volunteers their flight services to conservation groups throughout the U.S.

Steve, Dave, and Ken getting ready to fly.

CNHP has been working in Southeast Colorado since 2007 when we conducted a biological inventory of the area. The results of that inventory have kept CNHP involved with the ranching community as they develop management and conservation plans to maintain biological integrity while making a viable living from ranching. Southeast Colorado provides a dramatic contrast to most of the rest of Colorado’s eastern plains, which are dominated by tilled agricultural fields. The majority of the landscape is privately owned, with with little to no formal protection, and it supports a rich and diverse flora and fauna that merits conservation. The core of the area that we flew over was the canyon country of the Purgatoire River and Chacuaco Canyon, where perennial streams support native fishes and do not have any exotic species.

We first flew south along the mountain front from Broomfield – getting great views of the interface between the prairie and the high peaks.

Pikes Peak overlooks the eastern plains.

Prairie fragmentation close to the Front Range was obvious from our 9,000 foot elevation, but as we moved out into the plains we flew over large unfragmented grassland landscapes with the occasional small river breaking up the scenery Although the grass is still dormant at this time of year, the large landscape really caught our attention.

 View of the Huerferno River

After about an hour we started seeing small white hills with juniper trees dotting the prairie. These shale barren hills are important Colorado rare plant habitat, where Oenothera harringtonii, Oonopsis foliosa var. monocephala, Lesquerella parviflora, Asclepias macrotis, and occasionally, Oxybaphus rotundifolius are found.

Shale barren habitat.

Soon the Purgatoire Canyon Country came into view. Even our pilot was surprised to find the “boring” prairie dissected by these red rock canyons. I knew we had found something exciting when Steve Paul took out his camera and started flying hands-free while taking pictures! Comments about the astounding scenery, the quality of the lands, the beauty of the rocks, and the abundant mesas were common throughout this part of the flight. This rapid view of such an expansive and little known landscape gave all of us an appreciation of the uniqueness of this area. Surrounded by shortgrass prairie, these canyonlands are like an oasis for many large mammal species that we seldom associate with grasslands, such as black bear, big horn sheep, and elk.

Canyon views.

The return flight was quite an experience, given the turbulent air that is often associated with the Front Range. Can you say BUMPY? Dave and Renée were very grateful to get their feet back on stable ground but Steve Paul and Ken Wilson hardly took note of the rough flight. We are grateful to have had yet another marvelous opportunity to work with Lighthawk, whose generous assistance has provided CNHP and FWCB with a greater appreciation for the conservation value of southeast Colorado.

 Steve & Renée - back on the ground.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ecological Systems: Shrub-Steppe

The term steppe generally refers to a treeless, grassy plain. In Colorado, these semi-arid shrubby grasslands are found between 7,500 and 9,500 feet in elevation, on windswept mesas, valley floors, gentle slopes, or shoulders of ridges. Our shrub-steppes are grass dominated areas with an open shrub layer. Typical grass species include blue grama, needle-and-thread, galleta, saltgrass, Indian rice grass, and alkali sacaton. Historically, the shrub layer was dominated by winterfat, but this species has decreased under pressure from domestic livestock grazing in many areas, and been replaced by rabbitbrush species and other woody shrubs. In Colorado, this system is generally a large-patch type, except in the San Luis Valley, where it can be matrix forming. The general aspect of occurrences may be either open shrubland with patchy grasses or patchy open herbaceous layer. Pinyon-juniper woodlands and sagebrush shrublands commonly are adjacent to this system at the upper elevations.

 Winterfat fruits

These shrub-steppes provide habitat for many shrubland birds and small mammals. Typical species include the sage thrasher, vesper sparrow, Gunnison's prairie dog, Ord's kangaroo rat, and northern grasshopper mouse. In the San Luis Valley, rare local subspecies of the silky pocket mouse and northern pocket gopher, as well as the rare plant species Weber's cryptantha and James's cryptantha, are found in these habitats.

Shrub steppe currently covers more than 750,000 acres in Colorado. Historically it probably accounted for well over a million acres, but many of these areas have been converted to agricultural use. Remaining areas are generally in good condition, except for altered species composition. About half of our acreage is on privately owned lands, with the remainder primarily on federal land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, or US Fish and Wildlife Service. Few occurrances are within protected areas. Solar energy development, and continued alteration by domestic livestock grazing are the primary threats to this system.

Overall biodiversity, threat, and protection status scores for shrub-steppe in Colorado.
A "windrose" graph depicting shrub-steppe status for individual scoring factors.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Job Posting: Student IT Technician

If you are currently enrolled as a student at Colorado State University, and are either a Junior in Computer Science, Computer Information Systems, or Information Management OR have demonstrated comparable experience, CNHP is looking to hire a part-time Student IT Tech I to help us manage our computer network.

Closing date is March 27, 2011, or until the position is filled. Read the full announcement for more information and how to apply.  For information about being a student employee at CSU, see the Student Employment Services website.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Colorado Chapter of The Wildlife Society Annual Meeting

As part of his duties as Secretary for the Colorado Chapter of The Wildlife Society (CCTWS), CNHP Zoologist Rob Schorr spent the last full week of February at the CCTWS Annual Meeting. The theme of this year's meeting was "From the Cradle to the Grave: Recruiting and Retaining Natural Resource Recreationists."

The meeting was hosted with the Colorado/Wyoming American Fisheries Society and was attended by over 325 wildlife and fisheries biology professionals. The plenary session included speakers from the Colorado Division of Wildlife, Wyoming Game and Fish, The Humane Society, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but the most-anticipated speaker, Ted Nugent of rock-and-roll and television fame, presented a unique perspective on the value and importance of retaining hunters and anglers.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

CSU student involvement in CNHP

One of our work-study students, Katie Dykgreve, recently presented a poster at the 17th annual Front Range Student Ecology Symposium about our newly improved Online Rare Plant Field Guide.  Katie and our website development intern Ryan Nelson, worked with CNHP Systems Administrator Garrett Pichler, Botany Team Leader Jill Handwerk, and Director Dave Anderson on the overhaul of the guide.  Her poster included a mock-up of what the concept for a page in the new online guide will look like when implemented.

 Katie discusses her poster.

Katie reported:
“Observers and presenters crowded the North Ballroom of the Lory Student Center where I eagerly waited to tell all who would listen about the Colorado Rare Plant Guide. Most of the posters represented research conducted by graduate students at CSU as well as a presentation of sea turtles by a local elementary school. I enjoyed talking to a graduate student from Mongolia whose father is a botanist and conducts rare plant surveys in protected areas in her home country. Overall, FRSES is an amazing experience and I look forward to participating in it again next year not only to represent CNHP but also to show off the great projects we are working on here.”

Thanks for showing off the new guide Katie!