Tuesday, May 31, 2011

CNHP featured in LightHawk's May newsletter

CNHP has used the very generous services of LightHawk a couple of times recently, once back in December to look at the Cache La Poudre and South Platte Rivers, and again in February to look at the  canyon country of the Purgatoire River and Chacuaco Canyon.

Both of these trips are featured in the May 2011 issue of LightHawk's online newsletter, WayPoints. Big thanks go out again to the wonderful volunteer pilots who made these flights and for LightHawk for making it all possible!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Piceance Basin Bioblitz

Last week, CNHP botanists Jill Handwerk, Bernadette Kuhn, Peggy Lyon, and Dee Malone participated in a search for new occurrences of two endemic plant species in Rio Blanco County. The Dudley Bluffs twinpod (Physaria obcordata) and the Dudley Bluffs bladderpod (Lesquerella congesta) are both listed as Threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. 

CNHP staff joined volunteers from the Colorado Native Plant Society, and staff of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, White River National Forest, and Colorado Natural Areas Program, at a campsite on the Ryan Creek Road. Botanists were able to sample 80 random points as a test of a new habitat model developed by CNHP. We hope that the data will allow us to further refine the model, and eventually lead to discoveries of additional occurrences of the two species.

Breakfast strategy meeting – assigning locations to field teams. 
Photo by Bernadette Kuhn.

The diminutive Lesquerella congesta in full bloom. 
Photo by Jill Handwerk.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Two new county survey reports

CNHP staff have completed their Survey of Critical Biological Resources of Teller County, Colorado, and the report is now on our Documents and Reports page.

Some highlights of the survey include:
  • New locations for one of the world's rarest plants, Pikes Peak spring parsley (Oreoxis humilus).
  • One of the best known occurrence of the montane population of the Gunnison prairie dog (Cynomys gunnisoni).
  • Re-discovery of a 1902 sighting of the spiny-spored quillwort (Isoetes setacea ssp. muricata).

For a concise and attractive summary of the report, see our Natural Treasures of Teller County brochure.

 We have also just finished our report on the Survey of Critical Wetlands of Gilpin County, Colorado, also available on our Documents and Reports page.

The wetland resources of Gilpin County are truly unique with an amazing richness of rare fauna and flora well worth preserving for future generations. The diversity of species and plant communities that range from montane riparian woodlands to alpine lakes substantiate the important contribution of wetlands in the County to the biodiversity of both Colorado and the nation. Overall, the concentration and quality of imperiled species and habitats attest to the fact that conservation efforts in Gilpin County will have both statewide and global significance.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Ecological Systems: Oak - Mixed Mountain Shrublands

Oak shrubland (foreground) in Archuleta County

These are montane shrublands generally occurring at elevations from approximately 6,500 to 9,500 feet, where they are often situated above pinyon-juniper woodlands. Gambel oak is typically dominant, but very often mixed with other montane shrubs such as serviceberry, mountain mahogany, antelope bitterbrush, big sagebrush, chokecherry, and snowberry. This ecological system intergrades with the foothills shrubland system and shares many of the same site characteristics. In Colorado, oak and mixed mountain shrublands are most common on the west slope, where they form extensive bands on the lower mountain slopes, plateaus, and dry foothills. In eastern Colorado these shrublands are also found at the mountain front as far north as the Palmer Divide. These shrublands may form dense thickets, or occur as open shrublands with an herbaceous understory. Although this is a shrub-dominated system, some trees may be present. Fire typically plays an important role in this system, causing shrub die-back in some areas, promoting stump sprouting of the shrubs in other areas, and controlling the invasion of trees into the shrubland system.

 Oak shrubland (not leafed out yet) in Douglas County

As with foothills shrublands, there are few common or rare species exclusively associated with oak-mixed mountain shrublands. A variety of small mammals, including squirrels and woodrats, and birds such as rufous-sided towhee, green-tailed towhee, and Virginia’s warbler use these habitats. Larger mammals such as mule deer, black bear, and mountain lion may take advantage of the cover and food sources offered by thick shrublands.

These shrublands account for about 2.7 million acres in Colorado, more than 50% of it on privately owned land. Other substantial tracts are on state and federally owned lands, especially those managed by the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, and occasionally within non-wilderness protected areas. These shrublands are weakly protected in Colorado, but are generally in good condition. Impacts include housing development and oil and gas development.

Overall biodiversity, threat, and protection status scores for oak shrublands in Colorado.

A "windrose" graph depicting oak shrubland status for individual scoring factors.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

New Report - Year 6 Weed Monitoring at the Air Force Academy

CNHP Ecologist Renée Rondeau, Chief Scientist Dave Anderson, and GIS Manager Amy Lavender have completed their sixth year of noxious weed monitoring, analysis, and reporting for the U.S. Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs.

In 2009 the sampling methodology of this project was adjusted based on analyses of data from the past four years, and the fieldwork was streamlined to focus resources on the most urgent weed management challenges. Increased emphasis has been given to invasive weeds for which relatively inexpensive management efforts have a high probability of success.

The latest report includes a summary of the results of the past six years of population monitoring of targeted noxious weeds, emphasizing changes that were observed between 2009 and 2010. For the Year 5 report we developed a suitable habitat model and predicted the pace of spread for spotted knapweed. During the 2010 field season we field verified these models.

See the full report on our new and improved reports webpage.

Cirsium arvense
A 4 meter sampling plot showing infestation with Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense).

Monday, May 9, 2011

Red Top Ranch monitoring

By Katie Dykgreve

Located just outside of the city of Pueblo, this beautiful shortgrass prairie ranch quickly became a research haven for ecologist Renée Rondeau, conservation planner Lee Grunau, and me, work-study Katie Dykgreve. This is the seventh year of monitoring on a 20,000 acre conservation easement set aside for mountain plovers, black tailed prairie dogs, Cassin's sparrows, horned lizards, loggerhead shrikes, and many other grassland species.

Quiet, serene mornings and stormy afternoons welcomed us as we loaded into our field vehicle and visited upwards of 25 monitoring sites a day. Observations centered around suitable habitat for mountain plovers. Fritz Knopf, retired USGS researcher and mountain plover expert joined us in the field for a day. His vast knowledge about mountain plovers was frantically absorbed by the three of us due the mystery of some ideal habitat but a curious lack of the bird. Despite the fact that there were no eye-witness accounts of this elusive avian, plenty of other flora and fauna made appearances. Out on the prairie, coyotes, prairie dogs, and burrowing owls frolicked among blue grama, three-awned grass, and galleta grass.

Lee and Katie measure vegetation density at a monitoring plot.

Although I've had my encounters with prickly pear cactus on the prairies of Montana, I hastily developed respect for cholla. After getting severely poked a few times, I quickly drew the conclusion to avoid this prickly plant by all means necessary! Thick with three inch spines, cholla easily wards off herbivores, as well as freshman work-studies.

Tarantulas and lesser earless lizards also showed themselves periodically across the ranch. The high population of lesser earless lizards deemed 2011 the year of the lizard.

Holbrookia maculata
A perspective-bending snap of a lesser earless lizard (Holbrookia maculata) at Red Top.

After a long day out in the field, it was always a pleasure to mingle with the cowboys, including ranch manager Davy and brother Johnny. The ranch dogs also won Lee and my hearts as we played with puppies and older dogs alike.

From left to right: Davy, Fritz, Renée, and Johnny. Katie is behind Fritz, playing with the dogs.

Also, site-seeing became a highlight of the trip after going through a couple canyons and witnessing elk and mule deer.

Overall, Red Top Ranch is the perfect place to start of a field season: comfortable, warm beds and a full refrigerator included! The chance to go learn at the feet of the masters, Lee and Renée, will never be forgotten. I look forward to many more adventures to come.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Check out our improved Reports page

Big thanks go out to CNHP Web Intern Ryan Nelson, IT Tech Garrett Pichler, and members of our Ecology Team for improving the functionality of our Documents and Reports Page. You can now filter all of our online reports by title, author, or year. Just click on the Filter Reports button on the web page to get the filter form:

We hope to soon add additional filters, such as by county and discipline, so stayed tuned for further improvements, and let us know what you think.