Tuesday, January 31, 2012

2012 Adopt-a-Rare-Plant Program

Join the adopt-a-rare-plant program and help conserve some of our rarest species!

Have you ever wanted to hit the open road armed with only your map, a GPS, and a good description of a rare plant species? By joining the Adopt-a-Rare-Plant program in 2012, you will get your chance to help track down some of Colorado‘s rarest plants to aid in their conservation.

The Colorado Native Plant Society, Denver Botanic Gardens and the Colorado Natural Heritage Program have teamed up for the Adopt-a-Rare-Plant program. The Colorado Natural Heritage Program tracks more than 500 plant species in Colorado. By doing so, we maintain information on the number of populations, number of individuals, threats to populations and other information on rare species.

Through the Rare Plant Conservation Initiative, professional conservation biologists have been updating records on our rarest species. However, additional data is needed on hundreds of other species to update their conservation status. Records for some species have become “Historic” which means no one has seen that population in more than 20 years! This is your opportunity to participate in conservation by helping to determine if these populations still exist. Your travels will help ensure that all agencies/organizations have up-to-date data on some of our rarest species.

Once you choose a species, you will be provided with all necessary data. You will be given information for both a reference site as well as sites not visited in years. This way, you will be able to visit a known population of representative habitat so that you can become comfortable with both identifying the target species and the habitat before you head out to look for the unseen populations. Some of the historic sites will be easy to find and will simply involve the updating of numbers. Some of them however, will be more like a treasure hunt where finding the rare plant at the end of the road will be even more rewarding.

The data collected through this program will prove invaluable for updating records on some of our rarest species.

Adopt-a-Rare Plant Program Training will be held at the Denver Botanic Gardens, 1007 York Street, Denver, CO 80206. On Thursday, February 23, 2012 from 6:00 -9:00pm.

There will be a second training in Steamboat in either late April or early May. Call in for details.

Register on the DBG web site at http://catalog.botanicgardens.org/or call (720) 865-3580.

You may be interested in taking some other related courses offered at the Gardens this winter/spring.

Feb 16: Finding and Documenting rare plants
Feb 28: Art and science of plant collections
April 12: Introduction to GPS mapping

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Botanists on the prairie

Some days the shortgrass prairie doesn’t seem to hold much of interest to botanists. It’s hot, windy, dry, and grazed as far as the eye can see. CNHP Botanist Pam Smith sent these photos of a 2011 prairie bioblitz.

How hot was it? Check out the temperature on the speedometer!

In situations like this one last summer, it isn't too surprising that the searchers were drawn to a couple of the prairie’s biggest plants - not that much shade was available.

 CSU herbarium manager Jennifer Ackerfield and CNHP's Renée Rondeau
with Asclepias latifolia, the broadleaf milkweed.

Ipomoea leptophylla, the bush morning-glory.

Pam, Jennifer, and Renée managed to add 33 new plants to the list of documented species at Brett Gray Ranch. Thanks for the report, Pam!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

And the Wetland Mapping Continues...

by Erick Carlson

The Colorado Natural Heritage Program has been active in generating wetlands maps for the state of Colorado for several years. The wetland ecologists and GIS mapping technicians team up to produce the best quality maps, for the largest area possible, as fast as we can. Colorado lags behind other western states in the amount of the state with wetland maps available in a digital (GIS) environment. The entire state of Colorado was initially mapped in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s when the National Wetlands Inventory program was initiated by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. The original effort produced paper maps with wetland boundaries and information about the type of wetland. Unfortunately, this is about as far as they got for several decades. As computerized mapping software became a daily tool used by natural resource planning professionals, it became necessary to take those paper maps and make them digital. As we began the process of converting the maps to digital files, it became apparent that much of the landscape had changed in the previous 30+ years. While a straight conversion from paper to digital is cheap and fast, working on updating the wetlands boundaries takes much longer.

The cost and time associated with creating new wetland maps requires a more focused approach on a project by project basis, as the need and funds arise. Our most recent effort focused on Park County, Colorado. The South Platte River headwaters are located here as well as some unique saline flats and large high elevation fen complexes. Above is a map showing the extent of the project area and the extent of wetlands on the landscape.

To create a new wetland map, the mapping technicians look at several pieces of information to decide where a wetland exists and what type it is. The characteristics considered include the cover type (forest, herbs, sand, open water), the frequency of flooding (temporarily, permanently, seasonally) and if there are any modifications made by humans (canals, dams). For the Park County project area aerial photographs from the summer of 2009 and 2005 were viewed:

Summer 2005 on the left and summer 2009 on the right.

Possible fen identified on topographic map.

We also use the original effort from the NWI as the information can still be relevant. This can be especially helpful when deciding how often a wetland is likely to be flooded. 

Original NWI mapping example.

Project numbers so far:
The total number of individual wetland polygons created – 23,788
The total acres of wetlands delineated – 69,914.7
The number of USGS 1:24,000 quadrangles mapped - 37

And now some pictures from field visits to sites to verify that what we were seeing on the aerial photographs matched what was on the ground. There were some tricky photo signatures that needed to be checked.

First a saline wetland, very interesting, with limited plant species diversity as there was a ¼ to 1” layer of salt on the soil surface - tough conditions.

A shrubby riparian area, with lots of saturated spots was common in the higher elevations; and a close up of the mossy, sedgy, grassy under story.

The ever dynamic beaver created ponds were easy to spot from aerial photographs or when we were perched above them on roads.

Lots of water for irrigation this year for hay pastures.

Wetlands can be different sizes and shapes, just like horses. We saw these little (and big) fellas while cruising area looking for wetlands.

A big thanks to Gabrielle Smith for putting up with me in the car, forcing her to camp in the cold, rain and mosquito filled South Park area. She was silly enough to accompany me up there twice!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ecological Systems: Southern Rocky Mountain Pinyon-Juniper

The Southern Rocky Mountain Pinyon-Juniper ecological system is similar to the Colorado Plateau Pinyon-Juniper system, but with a more restricted distribution in south central Colorado. In Colorado, the southern Rocky Mountain pinyon-juniper woodlands are found in the south central part of the state, around the San Luis Valley, southern mountain front east to Mesa de Maya, and north to the Arkansas River Valley and Palmer divide. Elevations range from about 5,000 to 9,000 feet. Pinyon-juniper also occurs in a limited distribution on the eastern plains near the Purgatoire River. These are open woodlands of warm, dry sites on mountain slopes, mesas, plateaus, and ridges. Pinyon pine and/or one-seed juniper dominate the tree layer, and Rocky Mountain juniper may be present at higher elevations. In the canyons and tablelands to the east, pinyon is absent, and this system is replaced by the Southern Rocky Mountain Juniper Woodland and Savanna system. Understory layers are variable and may be dominated by shrubs, grasses, sparse vegetation, or bare ground.

Southern Rocky Mountain pinyon-juniper covers some 1.25 million acres in Colorado. Ownership is divided about equally between private and public ownership, with the Bureau of Land Management responsible for the majority of federal holdings. Pinyon-juniper ecological systems have declined in both extent and quality compared to historic norms, although there are a number of very large patches remaining. Threats include urban development, recreation (especially motorized recreation), invasive species (most notably an increase in cheatgrass in the understory, which has led to increasing fire ignitions), and energy development.

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

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Botany A to Z: Cirsium

by Karin Decker

is for Cirsium

Cirsiums are thistles, and are members of the sunflower family (Asteraceae). Although the thistle is the national emblem of Scotland, most people probably regard them as unwelcome pest plants. You are probably familiar with troublesome weed species like Scotch thistle, Canada thistle, and musk thistle. These non-native thistles are often able to grow and spread into disturbed environments where their natural predators are absent, and may form large single-species stands that crowd out other plants.

Scotch thistle (Onopordum acanthium), a long way from Scotland.
“What are you looking at me for? I’m not even a Cirsium!”


Thick stand of Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense).
Who wants to go pick up the other end of the measuring tape?

Native thistle species do not typically pose problems because they are co-evolved members of naturally occuring plant communities, and are kept in check by natural processes. Colorado has several dozen native species of Cirsium, and most are fairly common. Unfortunately, all of our native thistles are potentially threatened by being mistaken for non-natives during weed control efforts.

Mountain thistle (Cirsium scopulorum), thriving amidst the talus and columbines.

Barnaby's thistle (Cirsium barnabyi)

CNHP keeps documented location records for three of Colorado’s rarest Cirsium species: Ownbey’s thistle (Cirsium ownbeyi), adobe thistle (Cirsium perplexans), and mountain-slope thistle (Cirsium scapanolepis).

Adobe thistle

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Ecological Systems: Lodgepole Pine

In Colorado, the lodgepole pine ecological system is widespread between 8,000-10,000 feet in elevation, on gentle to steep slopes of the Rocky Mountains in the northern part of the state.  Stands may be pure lodgepole pine, or mixed with other conifer species. Following stand-replacing fires, lodgepole pine rapidly colonizes and develops into dense, even-aged stands (sometimes referred to as “dog hair” stands).  Lodgepole pine forests typically have shrub, grass, or barren understories, sometimes intermingled with aspen.  Shrub and groundcover layers are often sparse in lodgepole pine forests. Diversity of plant species is also low, perhaps as a result of the uniform age and dense canopy of many stands.
Lodgepole forests cover more than two million acres in Colorado. Although these forests are common across Colorado, most are experiencing widespread damage from a severe outbreak of mountain pine beetle. The pine beetle is a native species, and periodic outbreaks of this insect are part of the natural cycle that maintains our mountain forests.  Climate change, however, may enhance the scope and severity of the outbreaks. 
Lodgepole pine stands hit by the mountain pine beetle.
Common mammal species in these forests include the pine squirrel (also called chickaree), porcupine, mule deer, and elk. Typical birds are the Mountain Chickadee, Pine Siskin, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and Yellow-rumped Warbler. Rarer species include the Three-toed Woodpecker and Williamson’s Sapsucker. These forests are used occasionally by lynx.
A porcupine contemplating the status of lodgepole forests.
Most of our lodgepole forests are on federally owned lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, or National Park Service. Most are not completely within wilderness areas, although they may be present along the boundaries of these areas. Lodgepole pine forests in Colorado generally have good conservation status. Natural processes such as fire and pine beetle infestation are the most obvious impacts to these forests. Fire suppression and logging have affected some areas.
Overall biodiversity, threat, and protection status scores for lodgepole pine in Colorado.

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