Tuesday, December 25, 2012

CNHP’s 2012 Annual Recognition Event

By CNHP Director, Dave Anderson

I regret to report that unlike two blogs in the past month, this one does not involve beer, but it does involve margaritas!  We held our annual recognition event at The Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant last Friday.  With some of our partners and colleagues, we honored CNHP’s volunteers, students, and staff over a delicious buffet lunch in the Agave Room at the downtown Fort Collins restaurant. 

Revelers in the Agave Room - what a nice venue!
 We could not do what we do without our volunteers and students, and they bring enthusiasm and fresh ideas to CNHP every day!  Our three 2012 CNHP Outstanding Volunteer Awards went to Stacey Anderson, Julie White, and Rebecca Hopson this year.  We are so grateful to them for their commitment to CNHP and wonderful work.  We also gave recognition to the long list of other volunteers who have worked with us in 2012!  Tanya Stevens, our newest volunteer, joined us as well.

Katie Schneburg and Michelle Kamandy - two of CNHP’s amazing work study students

Julie White, winner of a CNHP Outstanding Volunteer Award,
and her fiancé

Rebecca Hopson, winner of a CNHP Outstanding Volunteer Award,
with Jill Handwerk, Botany Team Leader
We gave certificates to our current student staff members- Michelle Kamandy, Nathan Jensen, Jacqui Marquez, Gabe Scott, Katie Schneberg, and Sally Ebeling. 

And our three grand prize winners of the CNHP Photo Contest were Michael Menefee (landscape), Jeremy Siemers (species), and Pam Smith (people at work).

Michael Menefee's winning landscape photo of the High Park fire
 We recognized Michelle Fink, Karin Decker, and Gabrielle Smith for coordinating the wildly successful CNHP Blog.

And last but not least, our kitchen cleaning team, led by Pam Smith, received the prestigious Green Sponge Award, for improving our standard of living tremendously here at the CNHP office. 

Winners of the prestigious Green Sponge Award, led by Pam Smith
(with the big green sponge and “scepter”)
Our distinguished guests included Chris Pague and Rick Knight, both of whom were instrumental in bringing CNHP to CSU!  Heather Knight, one of CNHP’s first employees and current partner at TNC, came as well.  Ken Wilson, Department Head of FWCB, came along with Val Romero and Mary Olivas-Lee from our Budget Office.  Brad Johnson and Jen Ackerfield, our colleagues at CSU came also.  Brian Sullivan and Eric Odell, two of our wonderful partners at Colorado Parks and Wildlife joined us along with our friends at CEMML, Lee Barber and Dave Jones.  We even got to catch up with a couple former employees, Jodie Bell and Jared Papert-Stockton. 

Rick Knight, CSU Professor,
 Chris Pague, TNC Senior Scientist and former CNHP Director, and
Heather Knight, TNC Laramie Foothills Project Director.
It was a wonderful afternoon, and thank you to all who could come and be a part of it. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

New Report: Assessment of Wetland Condition on the Rio Grande National Forest

CNHP Wetland Ecologist Joanna Lemly recently completed work on a project to characterize and assess the condition of wetlands on the RioGrande National Forest (RGNF) in south central Colorado. The project was carried out in conjunction with CNHP’s first river basin scale wetland assessment in the Rio Grande Headwaters River Basin.

Headwater wetlands in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of the RGNF.
Between 2008 and 2011, CNHP partnered with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) on a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funded effort to map and assess the condition of wetlands throughout the Rio Grande Headwaters River Basin, which includes the RGNF. Existing paper maps of wetlands created by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)’s National WetlandInventory (NWI) program were converted to digital data by GIS Analysts at CPW. In addition to the mapping, 137 wetlands were surveyed across the Rio Grande Headwaters basin using condition assessment methods developed at CNHP over the past decade. Of the wetlands surveyed, 52 were located on the RGNF in 10 different watersheds. To supplement the EPA-funded study, the U.S. ForestService (USFS) provided funding through a Challenge Cost Share Agreement for additional wetland sampling on the RGNF to develop more comprehensive information about the types, abundances, distribution, and condition of the Forest’s wetlands. Through the agreement, 25 additional wetlands on the RGNF were surveyed and all data from the RGNF were summarized.

Field crew members sampling a fen wetlands on the RGNF.
  Based on digitized NWI mapping, we now know the following facts about wetlands on the RGNF:
·        There are 42,862 acres of wetlands and water bodies within the RGNF.
·        Lakes and rivers comprise 4,687 acres or 11%.
·        Wetlands and water bodies represents approximately 2% of the total land area in the RGNF.
·        Slightly over half (55%) of NWI mapped acres are freshwater herbaceous wetlands.
·        Shrub wetlands make up another 30%.
·        When broken down by hydrologic regime, saturated wetlands are the most common, comprising 73% of NWI acres.
·        Within the RGNF, 82% of all lakes are mapped with a dammed/impounded modifier, indicating that most lakes are reservoirs of one kind or another.
·        Beavers influence only 4% of all wetland acres, but 23% of ponds are mapped as beaver ponds and 6% of shrub wetlands are mapped with beaver influence.
·        65% of all NWI acres occur in the subalpine ecoregions, which make up roughly the same proportion of the Forest’s land area.
·        Another 29% of NWI acres occur in the alpine zone. Lower elevation zones contain very few wetland acres.

Down cutting of a small stream observed near a wetland in the Rio de los Pinos watershed of the RGNF.

Field surveys resulted in additional information about RGNF wetlands.
·        In total, 77 wetland sites were surveyed across the RGNF, including 30 riparian shrublands, 27 wet meadows, 17 fens, two riparian woodlands, and one marsh.
·        Nearly 500 plant taxa were encountered during the surveys, including 445 identified to the species level.
·        Of the 445 identified to species level, 420 (94%) were native species and 25 were non-native species.
·        Noxious weeds, an aggressive subset of non-natives, were present in only four plots.
·        Wetland condition measures indicate that wetlands on the RGNF are in excellent to good condition.
·        Floristic quality assessment indices were high for most wetlands, though did vary by both elevation and wetland type.
·        Multi-metric Ecological Integrity Assessment (EIA) scores rated most wetlands with an A- or B-rank, indicating that wetlands were either in reference condition or deviated only slightly from reference condition.
·        A handful of wetlands received C-ranks, due to stressors including grazing, hydrologic modifications, and surrounding land use.

 In conclusion, the RGNF contains thousands of acres of high quality wetlands that provide essential services to the Forest and lands downstream. This study, in conjunction with others carried out by CNHP over the past two decades, provides the RGNF with detailed information on specific wetlands throughout the RGNF along with generalize conclusion on the extent, distribution, and condition of wetlands. This information can be used for a variety of management purposes. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Wanted: Vegetation Mapping Field Technicians for Summer 2013 work!

The Colorado Natural Heritage Program at Colorado State University seeks experienced ecology and botany field technicians for summer field work on several vegetation inventory projects. The projects are located at the Niobrara National Scenic River and MissouriNational Recreation River in north central Nebraska, and The Bighorn CanyonNational Recreation Area in south central Montana and north central Wyoming. The work entails vegetation sampling and all positions require field botany or field ecology skills. Knowledge of plant taxonomy and species identification required. Experience identifying flora of the area is preferred. A crew lead position is available to suitably qualified candidates. 

CNHP field technicians hard at work!

Successful applicants will work in groups of two to sample vegetation communities in support of these vegetation inventory and map accuracy assessment projects. Field technicians will be based in housing near the project site and work will entail a combination of daytrips and multi-day backpack, canoe, or car camping trips. Crews will navigate daily to randomly selected sites to establish plot locations and document plant community characteristics. Many sample locations will be in remote areas of the park.

First consideration of applicants will begin January 1, 2013. 
Applications will be accepted for consideration through June 30, 2013. 

To apply, submit resume, cover letter, and 3 References (with phone #’s), online at the following address:

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Andy Kratz Retirement Celebration!

US Forest Service Region 2 Botanist, and all-around awesome guy Andy Kratz is packing up his flora and retiring. We thank Andy for his excellent service to the Forest Service, and for his leadership in rare plant conservation. A retirement party is scheduled for Andy on Dec. 14th. Congratulations Andy, and we wish you many happy days botanizing to your heart’s content in the Colorado alpine. 

 Best wishes from everyone at CNHP!

Andy Kratz (far left) enjoying a day in the field with Alicia Langton (USFWS),
Rick McNeil and Steve Olson (both from USFS).

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The connection between butterflies, plants and beer

This November CNHP Zoologist Rob Schorr had the opportunity to meet with Odell Brewing Company personnel to discuss a poorly-understood butterfly that has interesting ties to the beer brewing process. 

Odell Brewing Company's bike rack of hops

During a biological inventory of the U.S. Air Force Academy in 2011, CNHP Zoologists Jeremy Siemers and Rob Schorr stumbled upon several populations of the hops blue butterfly (Celastrina humulus).  

A female hops blue butterfly (Celastrina humulus) 

The hops blue butterfly is a about the size of a silver dollar when in flight, showing purple-blue wings, but when the wings are closed it is an inconspicuous white dot on a field of green hops.  This unique butterfly is only found in a few Front Range counties of Colorado, and it gets its name from its primary host plant, wild hops (Humulus lupulus). Rob presented the current state of knowledge on the natural history and population ecology of the hops blue, then there was a fun discussion about the happenstance that put this rare butterfly in a region of the country with such strong affiliation to brewing and brewing culture. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Rare Plant Conservation Initiative Event at Pateros Creek Brewery

by CNHP Director, Dave Anderson

The Rare Plant Conservation Initiative event this past Friday at Pateros Creek Brewery was a huge success!

The event at Pateros Creek Brewery had a large turnout.

A pint for a plant! Who could resist?
Steve Jones, the owner/beermaker of Pateros Creek Brewing said this was one of the biggest private events the brewery had ever had. This is not a surprise, since what is not to love about drinking a few great beers to save biodiversity?  There are now many new fans and friends of the Rare Plant Conservation Initiative, and of Spiranthes Extra Pale Ale.  It is certainly my new favorite beer.

Steve Jones from Pateros Creek highlights the collaboration between the Colorado RPCI and Pateros Creek Brewing,
with CNHP botantist Susan Panjabi in the background.

CNHP Zoologist Jeremy Siemers (right) enjoys a pint with Matt Tansey from Colorado State Forest Service,
Jill Baron from USGS and Dennis Ojima from CSU/NREL.

Byrony Wardell from WCNR and her husband John Wardell, along with  John Giodanengo
from Wildland Restoration Volunteers didn't miss their chance to sample a great beer for a great cause. 

Thanks to Steve Jones and Brad Gilbert (taproom supervisor) for hosting this event. Thank you, Pateros Creek, for the wonderful hospitality, creativity, and generosity!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

This Weekend: Drink a beer, help a rare plant!

Even while Colorado's globally imperiled wildflowers are dormant, we continue to strategize for their long-term protection. Pateros Creek Brewing Company has graciously agreed to help us celebrate these remarkable plants by brewing a specially crafted Extra Pale Ale named for the listed Threatened Ute’s Ladies-tresses Orchid (Spiranthes diluvialis): Spiranthes EPA!

This Weekend (11/30 - 12/02) only!
$1 per pint of Spiranthes EPA sold through the weekend will benefit the Colorado Rare Plant Conservation Initiative!

Not to worry, there isn't actually any Spiranthes in the beer.

For some extra special fun, please join CNHP staff this Friday, 11/30, from 5-8 at Pateros Creek for a special release party for this excellent beer (we've sampled it and recommend it highly!). Pateros Creek Brewing Company is located northeast of College Ave and Pine St in Old Town, Fort Collins. They do not serve food, so we will provide appetizers. Live music by Shaefer Welch of Rosewood Divine.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Lake Mead vegetation mapping project begins!

Joe Stevens recently traveled to Boulder City, NV to attend the kick-off meeting for the Lake Mead National Recreation Area (LAKE) Vegetation Mapping Project. The LAKE Vegetation mapping project is funded by the National Park Service under their effort to complete vegetation inventories at nearly all of the National Park units. The project at LAKE began in 2010 with the collection and classification of field plot data by the California Native Plant Society. Analysts from the Bureau of Reclamation are currently performing Image interpretation and mapping.

The Semi-Desert Wash Woodland/Scrub Map Class dominated by Ericameria paniculata and Chilopsis linearis,
with Creosote bush and Semi-Desert Scrub map classes on the hillsides in the background.

The Yucca Shrub Map Class with Yucca schidigera, Ambrosia dumosa, Eriogonum fasciculatum,
Cylindropuntia echinocarpa, and Larrea tridentata.

Following release of the completed map in the fall of 2013, CNHP will conduct accuracy assessment (AA) field sampling to quantify the map accuracy. AA field sampling will entail collecting 1,000 or more field plots and will require several crews working for several months. Hiring for those positions will be in the fall of 2013.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Mesa Verde cactus 20-year demographic study published

Results of a 20-year study of the Federally Listed (Threatened) Mesa Verde cactus (Sclerocactus mesae-verdae) were recently published in the journal Western North American Naturalist. CNHP ecologist Karin Decker co-authored the paper, along with Janet Coles and Tamara Naumann, both of the National Park Service.

Mancos shale - favorite habitat of Mesa Verde cactus.

Funded by the US Fish and Wildlife Service through the Colorado Natural Areas Program, the study followed individually marked cactus plants over the period from 1986 to 2005. Each year, researchers measured every cactus stem in 3 different plots in southwestern Colorado, and recorded reproductive status and damage or mortality. A total of 1629 stems were measured. At least 30 cactus plants lived through the entire study period and were still going strong when last observed. Clearly, twenty years may not be long enough for the study of some long-lived species! Read the abstract here.

This little plant is about 4 cm (1.6 inches)  in diameter, and probably at least 7 years old.

Mapped locations of rare and imperiled species and natural communities in CNHP’s database doubles in the past decade

CNHP strives to have the most comprehensive database of rare and imperiled plants, animals and unique natural communities (referred to as “elements of biodiversity” or “elements”) in Colorado. We compile data from our own field surveys and county inventories, and collect data from key partners and other professionals in the conservation community. It is nearly impossible to survey the entire state, but as a collective, we can build a comprehensive database that serves Colorado and ensures that the complex challenges of the 21st century are tackled thoughtfully and informatively.

See our latest tracking list here. If you have data for any species we track, please complete a CNHP field form and submit your data to our repository. You can download CNHP field forms or fill them out online at the CNHP data submission page.

Thanks to Colorado’s conservation community, our database has grown from 11,500 mapped locations of rare elements in 2000 to over 25,000 mapped locations in 2012. Help us double this again in the coming decade!

Graph of the number of rare and imperiled species and natural communities
that have been mapped by CNHP during the 2000 - 2012 period.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Pop Quiz! Can you identify these anthropogenic disturbances from aerial photos?

Identifying anthropogenic disturbances from aerial photos can be tricky, but it is a regular feature of some of our work at CNHP. See if you can identify the disturbances by taking the quiz below. Answers at the bottom of the post.

1. What caused the bald patches shown in these photos?

2. What are the white dots?

3. What is the dark smudge in the center of this photo? What about the black square and rectangles?

4. What causes the dense road patterns in both of these photos?

5. What are the diagonal lines shown here?

6. What are the rectangles in the middle of this photo? What about the circle and half-circle below?

Bonus Question: how big are the circles?
 7.  What is the black object? Close up below.

Close up
8. What causes the white and green diagonal stripe pattern? What are the white objects along the curvy roads?

Scroll down for the answers...

Quiz answers:
1. Both of the bald patches were caused by fires.  The top photo is the 1978 Ouzel fire in Rocky Mountain National Park and the bottom photo is the 1996 Buffalo Creek fire in Jefferson County.
2. Cemetery - the white dots are gravestones.
3. The dark smudge in the center of the photo is a heap of coal - this is a photo of the Hayden power plant in northwestern Colorado.  The black square and rectangles are ash ponds.
4. The dense road patterns are caused by oil and gas development.
5. Power lines.
6. A solar farm - the little rectangles are solar panels.  The circle and half-circle are crops irrigated by center pivot sprinklers. Bonus answer: each center-pivot system occupies a quarter of a section (a section is usually 1 square mile) so each circle has a diameter of about a half mile.
7. The black object is a uranium tailings "disposal cell" - the surface is covered with dark rocks.
8. In this farm field the green stripe is being farmed (dryland wheat) while the tan stripe lies fallow which allows the soil to regain nutrients.  The white objects along the curvy roads are wind turbines.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

National Park Service Projects 2012

By Peggy Lyon and Dee Malone, CNHP botanists

We were fortunate to have projects in three national parks on the west slope this year:  Dinosaur N.M., Black Canyon N. P. and Mesa Verde N.P.   In Dinosaur during our June trip we documented Erigeron wilkenii, E. nematophyllus, Oenothera acutissima, Oxytropis besseyi  ssp. obnapiformis and several Pellaea glabella occurrences.  In July, due to the low water in the Yampa River, we were able to wade (sometimes swim) across the river and access the north side, where we found some wonderful alcove seeps with Adiantum capillis-veneris, Anticlea vaginata, Limnorchis zothecina and Cirsium ownbeyi.

An alcove seep in Dinosaur National Monument.

It  was so hot that every time we came back to the river from a foray up a canyon, we jumped right in.

CNHP botanist Peggy Lyon coolin' off in the Yampa.

In Black Canyon N.P. we established permanent monitoring protocols for Sullivantia hapemannii and Gilia penstemonoides.  This year’s drought really affected two other targeted species, Astragalus anisus and Thelypodiopsis juniperorum.  For the latter we found more dead plants from 2011 than living ones.

CNHP botanist Dee Malone in Black Canyon National Park.

In Mesa Verde Peggy with Park Service botanist Merran Owen found large new populations of Hackelia gracilenta, Astragalus deterior and Lepidium crenatum.  

Botanist Peggy Lyon in front of ruins in the Mesa Verde National Park. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Repeat photography at Montgomery Pass: 40 years of change

As Colorado scientists concentrate more on the potential effects of climate change, CNHP ecologists are wondering if there is any evidence that treeline is moving up into the previously treeless alpine zone. One limiting factor for the upper elevation treeline is summer temperatures. As summer temperatures increase we can expect to see trees colonizing the alpine zone. Approximately 3% of Colorado is currently considered the alpine zone. Documenting changes to this ecosystem is an important part of understanding the impacts to the native fauna and flora under changing climate.

CNHP’s Renée Rondeau recently used repeat photography to document a change in tree density over the past 40 years, at Montgomery Pass (near Cameron Pass) in Larimer County. The 1972 photos were taken in the Montgomery Pass area by Gordon Rodda. In September 2012, Renée, with volunteers Jennifer Kathol, Maureen DeCoursey and Anne Taylor took new photos from the same location. (click to see larger versions).
Looking down from the alpine to treeline. The hills in the distance are the slopes of Sawmill - the dramatic increase in tree density in that area is probably due to regrowth after  logging in the early 1900s. The higher tree density in the mid-ground, where the circled area has filled in with trees, is not related to past logging.  Many of the mature trees in 2012 appear dead, probably from spruce-bud worm or mountain pine beetle kill.  
View of Clarks Peak. New trees have appeared at edge of treeline and subalpine tree density has increased.

Although the repeat photos do not indicate that that treeline has moved upslope in a systematic way, it appears that tree density in the subalpine and near treeline has increased. It is typical to see a few scattered trees growing some distance above the actual treeline. The increasing tree density at treeline may indicate an infill mechanism by which treeline moves upslope in incremental stages rather than as a solid advancing front. We don’t yet know if the observed changes are tied to warmer temperatures it is important to keep documenting these trends.

View of Nokhu. The bolting of wind stunted trees in the alpine (krummholz) could be another indicator of warming temperatures. In the righthand photo you can spot a couple of krummholz trees that have changed since 1972.

If you have any old (40 years or older) photographs of treeline areas in Colorado, and would be interested in sharing them with us, please contact Renée Rondeau.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Mapping Eutrema penlandii

by Bernadette Kuhn, CNHP Botanist

A few months ago, CNHP joined forces with botanists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Mosquito Range Natural Heritage Initiative to survey for rare plant in the Leadville area. The conditions were perfect. Despite a few threatening clouds, we had a bluebird survey day. After four hours of crawling through the alpine, we found what we were looking for. The tiny plant, Eutrema penlandii, is a member of the mustard family (Brassicaceae). Listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act, it is found primarily in wetlands and alpine fens above treeline.

Volunteer Merit Glenne at the new Eutrema penlandii site near Mt. Arkansas, outside Leadville, Colorado.

Very few populations of E. penlandii have been mapped on the west side of the Continental Divide. Our findings suggest more surveys on this side of the Divide may result in a range expansion for this narrowly distributed Colorado endemic.

Neil Peterson, Mosquito Range Natural Heritage Initiative, flags Eutrema penlandii individuals.

Eutrema penlandii in fruit.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

CNHP botanist honored

Long-time CNHP botanist Peggy Lyon was honored at the 9th annual Rare Plant Symposium in late September. Peggy, who will be retiring in 2013, received a framed print of Mimulus eastwoodiae in recognition of her many years of service to Colorado's rare plants.

Peggy (center) receiving her award.

The meeting was attended by over 50 professional and amateur botanists from around Colorado.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Population decline in the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse

Long-term population sampling for the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse (PMJM) has allowed Rob Schorr to estimate population change (λ) for the population along Monument Creek at the U.S. Air Force Academy (Academy).  Using mark-recapture techniques and a novel population model that allows estimation of survival and recruitment, Schorr estimated changes in PMJM λ from 2000-2006.  Although λ varied annually, the 7-year mean showed a declining population, and λ was less impacted by changes in PMJM survival than by changes in PMJM recruitment.
Zapus hudsonius preblei
A Preble's meadow jumping mouse (Zapus hudsonius preblei) keeps a sharp eye on the photographer.

Recruitment can be influenced by immigration or reproduction.  Given the loss of habitat along eastern tributaries of Monument Creek, there are limited opportunities for increasing immigration from these tributaries and this may be a driving force during this time.  However, Schorr warns that this may be a temporary decline that will be compensated by increased reproduction or immigration from western tributaries that are on the Academy.

Monument Creek, CO
PMJM habitat along Monument Creek.

This study will be published in the October 2012 Journal of Mammalogy.

Rob Schorr and mouse
Rob Schorr and friend. Photo by James Dwyer.