Friday, July 29, 2011

GLORIA Project: Yellowstone National Park

For the third time in the past year, volunteer pilots from Lighthawk lent a hand (and wings) to CNHP project work. The Lighthawk organization provides donated flights to conservation groups.  This July, Lighthawk volunteer pilots flew CNHP staff over alpine ridges and rugged peaks in Yellowstone National Park.  The goal of the flight was to find peaks suitable for establishing a GLORIA site within the Park.  GLORIA sites, located throughout the world, are used to monitor the effects of climate change on alpine vegetation. CNHP has partnered with the National Park Service to establish sites in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park.  

(Left to right) Lighthawk volunteers Richard Spencer (pilot), Polly Spencer (co-pilot) with Bernadette Kuhn (CNHP botanist) and Joe Stevens (CNHP ecologist).

Richard Spencer, Lighthawk volunteer pilot, flew CNHP staff members up the Sunlight Creek drainage, and over peaks in the Absaroka Range on the eastern boundary of the Park.  We were able to identify potential peaks for GLORIA, as well as assess snowpack along our proposed route. 

 The Absaroka Range along the eastern boundary of Yellowstone National Park.

Over the last six months, we have been preparing to establish a GLORIA site in Yellowstone National Park.  Record snowpack, dangerous stream crossings, wildlife closures, and even a landslide have made access to our study area a bit challenging.  

 Uncertainty in grizzly bear country. 

 Joe Stevens assesses a deep hole carved out in the middle of the Sunlight Creek channel.

Thanks to Lighthawk and Richard and Polly Spencer, we were able to reach to this remote area and evaluate conditions in a few short but very scenic hours. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Extreme Botany

CNHP botanist Bernadette Kuhn recently reported on her summer field work. If you think botany is boring, think again!


The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is home to the cliff-dwelling Black Canyon gilia (Gilia penstemenoides). Working with the National Park Service, we recently conducted surveys for Black Canyon gilia in the Park and the Curecanti National Recreation Area. In order to reach the plants, we roped up and rapped down onto the cliffs that tower nearly 2,000 feet above the Gunnison River.

 Mike Schneiter rappels off of the South Rim of the Black Canyon in search of Gilia penstemenoides. Twenty plants were found on the cliff faces directly below him.

 Bernadette Kuhn scanning the small crevices for the elusive Black Canyon Gilia.

Black Canyon gilia is a Colorado endemic that grows in small cracks on vertical rock faces.  A spotting scope and climbing gear proved necessary for spotting Black Canyon gilia.  We documented new occurrences on the North Rim, and relocated many old occurrences of this cliff-dwelling plant.  

Cheatgrass towering over a tiny gilia  
We were excited to locate so many individuals, even though the plants were not yet flowering.

 The Gunnison River, at peak flow for 2011, snaking through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

After a week of field surveys, we concluded that Black Canyon gilia has a broader range in the Black Canyon than previously documented. However, most of the cliff faces we accessed with climbing gear contained fewer than 30 individuals.  More surveys are needed to fully document the extent of the plant in the canyon.  Furthermore, there have been no life history, demography, or longevity studies conducted for Black canyon gilia, so much work remains to be done before we will know the full story of this little plant. 

Special thanks to NPS ecologist Danguole Bockus for partnering with CNHP on this project.