Tuesday, June 26, 2012

We're in a drought, but not all wetlands are dry.

By Erick Carlson, CNHP Wetland Ecologist

The beginning of the field season has been very successful with cooperative weather, limited bug activity and some surprisingly interesting wetlands! The project that gets fellow wetland ecologist Laurie Gilligan and myself out of the office this summer is a basin-wide survey of the wetlands in north-central and northeast Colorado. This year we are tackling the very large South Platte River basin. Because it is so large we are working on just the "lower" portion, east of the mountain front. So our study area extends in a giant triangle from Castle Rock, north to the Wyoming border and then all the way east to where the South Platte River exits the state. As you can imagine this is a HUGE area, with widely varying environments from the lush canyons pouring snowmelt out of the foothills, to dusty dry depressional wetlands (playas) on the plains.

South Platte River
The South Platte River basin in Colorado. Basemap courtesy of National Geographic and ESRI.

Laurie has spent and continues to spend too many hours inside finding us sites to survey, gaining permission and generally getting everything lined up so our days in the field are simple, focused and fun. With such a large area and such a diverse range of wetlands this summer we are focused on surveying reference wetlands; so we are working in the "best of the best" in the largely urban Front Range corridor and the largely agricultural Eastern Plains. Honestly, we expected some less than pretty wetlands but have been pleasantly surprised with species lists exceeding 55 per site, limited noxious weeds, and few people. All these characteristics do not occur at every site, but so far the wetlands have been very exciting to work in.

A nice riparian wetland on the Little Thompson River.

Where to walk? Turns out it didn't matter, it was all poison ivy anyway.

Dropping in the auger to confirm that we are standing on a fen with more than 40 cm of organic matter.

To date we've stuck our botany noses in 12 sites across the study area including sandy washes, foothills canyons, plains playas, and a surprising fen. And yes, playas are supposed to be dry. They are naturally dry for periods of the year, or for multiple years until a large rain event fills them up. Then they become a menagerie of shore birds, annual plants and an important source of water for ungulates (antelope, bison, cows).

And maybe camels. This guy was kind enough to guard our car while we sampled wetlands.
We've seen a number of reptiles and amphibians this year. This is the elusive and State Species of Special Concern northern leopard frog (Rana pipiens).

We are excited to head out and finish the playa sampling and head even further east and work in the dynamic South Platte River floodplain, looking at backwater channels, sandbars, and cottonwood gallery forests. It has been hot (104° F), windy, but surprisingly calm with the lightning, and so altogether quite pleasant. I still think that field work is the best way to see random places in the state you would normally never spend time in. So enjoy the pictures, they don't do the wetlands justice (except for the playas).

Looks like a wetland, huh? This playa often has water several feet deep, but not after this dry winter and spring.
I'd say that's a high water table...
Some interesting gley soils. They really are blue and grey-green!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

New Report: Survey of Critical Biological Resources Jefferson County

In 2010, Jefferson County contracted with CNHP to re-survey for critical biological resources in the county. We had performed an initial biological inventory for Jefferson County in 1993. Changing landscapes, continued urban population growth, and the fact that no one survey can be fully comprehensive prompted our return in 2010-2011.

The purpose of the project was to provide scientific data on biological resources for land managers, planners, and the citizens of Jefferson County for conducting proactive landscape planning.

The final report, which is now on our reports page, is intended to be a tool for managing lands that support rare, imperiled and/or sensitive plants, animals, and significant plant habitats, particularly wetlands. The information in this report can be utilized for assessing candidate conservation areas, their acquisition values, and to assist with meeting the goals identified in the update to Jefferson County's 2008 Open Space Master Plan. This project provides data that will allow staff to make informed determinations regarding land management to ensure Jefferson County resource values are protected and sustained.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

New Report: Year 7 Weed Monitoring at the Air Force Academy

CNHP GIS Program Manager Amy Lavender walks a Canada thistle monitoring transect at the Farish Memorial Recreation Area.

CNHP staff Renée Rondeau and Amy Lavender completed their seventh year of noxious weed monitoring, analysis, and reporting for the U.S. Air Force Academy (AFA) and Farish Memorial Recreation Area (FMRA) near Colorado Springs.

The latest report includes a summary of the results of the past seven years of population monitoring of targeted noxious weeds, emphasizing changes that were observed between 2010 and 2011.

This report and all previous years' reports are available on the CNHP reports page.

Highlights of 2011 monitoring include:
  • Russian knapweed: aggressive spraying has extirpated the few known populations. Continued monitoring is necessary to assure that this species is permanently eliminated from the AFA.
  • Musk thistle: Number of plants increased over at the AFA despite treatments, but the species appears to be declining at FMRA.
  • Canada thistle: cover increased in untreated areas at AFA, but the species appears to be declining at FMRA.
  • Leafy spurge: At this time, herbicide treatment appears more effective than biocontrol, and should be continued.
  • Myrtle spurge: Aggressive treatment is having a positive impact, but the species is not yet eradicated.
  • St. Johnswort: Overall, the 2011 occupied area and number of individuals remained similar to 2010. Careful and coordinated treatment should continue.
  • Scotch thistle: occupied acres remain the same, but density of individuals is decreasing. Ongoing weed management is critical for this species.
  • Spotted knapweed: this species has reached high numbers. We intend to conduct an herbicide vs. biocontrol study in 2012, utilizing the predicted models developed in 2009 to develop the study in collaboration with Texas A&M.
  • Tamarisk: continued management and monitoring is necessary, but treatments appear to be keeping this species under control.
  • Houndstongue and Dalmatian toadflax: these two species are relatively new to the area. Aggressive treatment in resulted in the eradication of Dalmatian toadflax, but houndstongue is still present.
  • Yellow bedstraw: This weed was discovered at one area in 2010. Rapid response has been very effective.
  • Yellow toadflax: Mixed results at FMRA suggest this species was eliminated from one area but continuing to increase in others.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

High Park Fire

(click for larger image)

CNHP staff are getting a close-up view of the High Park fire, which is burning on mostly private land west of town.

The High Park burn area, like much of the Front Range foothills, is covered by extensive tracts of the ponderosa pine ecological system. Although we know that fire is a natural and expected ecological process in this ecosystem, the effects of wildland fires this close to the urban interface can be severe, with serious threats to life and property. Thank you firefighters for your tremendous efforts to control this blaze! Good luck and here's hoping for better weather to come.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Botany A to Z: Gutierrezia

G is for Gutierrezia

This genera in the Asteraceae or sunflower family is one of the more difficult to pronounce. The name is based on the ancient and honorable appellation of Gutierrez (a Spanish botanist, in this instance), but you would never know that by hearing it bandied about by botanists. You might think it should be Goo-tyAIR-ess-eea, following the principle of simply tacking an “ia” onto a proper name. However, most botanists in our area say “Goot-ur-EEZ-eea,” or “Goot-ur-EET-zia.” Ranchers pronounce it “snakeweed.”

Gutierrezia sarothrae in full bloom. We have found they don't come when you call, regardless of how you pronounce the name.

It turns out to be difficult to preserve the regular pronunciation of a proper name in day-to-day use of botanical Latin. A generally accepted rule of thumb is: pronounce it the way you learned it from someone else, but with confidence.
A group of pronghorn hanging out with the snakeweed.
To be fair, the pronghorn don't come when you call, either.
CNHP tracks one species in this genera: Gutierrezia elegans, the Lone Mesa snakeweed, discovered by CNHP botanist Peggy Lyon.