Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Odell Brewing Company’s generous donation to study the Hops Blue butterfly

On a snowy evening in early December 2013, the Colorado Natural Heritage Program enjoyed beer with Odell Brewing Company (OBC) to celebrate the fruition of the Celastrina Saison collaboration. In May 2013, OBC generously agreed to brew a beer in recognition of a rare Colorado butterfly, the Hops Blue (Celastrina humulus).  This butterfly is only found along the Front Range of Colorado and its host plant is wild hops.  After enjoying beer and snacks, OBC’s Outreach Coordinator Karla Baise surprised everyone by presenting a check for $12,000 to CNHP.  This amount represents $1 for every bottle of Celastrina Saison sold, which is a testament to the popularity of this excellent beer and the incredible support throughout the beer-drinking and conservation community.  CNHP has begun recruiting honors undergraduate researchers to aid in conservation research on the Hops Blue.

: Rob Schorr, Karla Baise, and Dave Anderson with the generous donation from 
Odell Brewing Company.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Celebrating Celastrina Saison at the Butterfly Pavilion

Kellan Barr of The Butterfly Pavilion and Rob Schorr
at The Butterfly Pavilion’s Living Lights Celebration.

The Butterfly Pavilion is hosting their annual Living Lights holiday celebration that allows access to the many invertebrate displays at night while the grounds are lit in fantastical lighting. The event highlights those creatures that produce light for communication, defense, or navigation. Rob Schorr of CNHP was there to celebrate with The Butterfly Pavilion, and brought an Odell Brewing Company beer that recognizes a rare Colorado invertebrate, the Hops Blue butterfly. This small blue butterfly is only found from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs in areas where wild hops are abundant. The Butterfly Pavilion asked Schorr and Odell Brewing Company to participate in the Living Lights celebration to highlight the unique collaboration between CNHP and Odell that spawned Celastrina Saison, a lightly-hoppy farmhouse ale with hints of clove. In 2012, Schorr proposed the idea of a beer to honor this butterfly, and Odell Brewing Company eagerly developed Celastrina Saison and donated $1 for every bottle sold to CNHP to conduct research on the butterfly.

The grounds at The Butterfly Pavilion during Living Lights Celebration.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Renee Rondeau’s visit to the Thatcher Ranch with Palmer Land Trust

by David Anderson, CNHP Director

As part of receiving the prestigious Stewardship Award from Palmer Land Trust, PLT made a wonderful film of Renee at the Thatcher Ranch in Southeastern Colorado.  In the film, Renee is talking about ranching and conservation in Southeast Colorado with the ranch owner, John Thatcher.  They did such a nice job of capturing the spirit of Renee and John’s friendship, and the subtle beauty of the Thatcher Ranch.  We want to send a special thank you to John Thatcher for his kind words and hospitality, and to PLT for creating this great film.

2013 is turning out to be the Year of the Video for CNHP!  I hope you enjoy watching this and the other content we’ve posted recently, and be on the look-out for more to come as the students in Amy Kousch’s Public Relations in Natural Resources complete their videos for CNHP.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

CNHP director featured in Larimer County video

CNHP director David Anderson makes an appearance in a video about how Great Outdoors Colorado support for our work and that of our partners has helped to transform the face of Colorado in wonderful ways. Watch “Leveraging Colorado Lottery Funds” here:

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Celastrina Saison video!

CNHP and Odell Brewing Company have entered a novel partnership to conserve the hops blue butterfly (Celastrina hummulus), which only lives along Colorado's Front Range, exclusively in populations of wild hops. Odell released Celastrina Saison in a Belgian farmhouse 750-ml bottle in late May 2013. The label boldly shows a male hops blue butterfly and along the edge of the label is a description of how $1 of each 750 ml bottle will go toward CNHP for hops blue butterfly research. This partnership between Odell Brewing Company and CNHP developed out of a shared interest in conserving species and landscapes that are uniquely Colorado.


Urban Wetland Surprises: Denver’s Parkfield Park

By Bernadette Kuhn, CNHP Botanist

We recently visited Parkfield Park as part of our EPA-funded wetland assessment project in Denver County. Much to our delight it was teeming with dragonflies, aquatic insects, and waving bulrushes. Our crew of botanists jumped up and down when we discovered floating mats of the world’s smallest flowering plant. The mats were made up of thousands of Wolffia columbiana that creating swirly lime-green patterns on the water. Ralph Brooks collected the only known Colorado specimen of W. columbiana from Yuma County in 1980. We collected voucher specimens to distribute to regional herbaria.

David Leatherman holds a green dragonfly with Billy Bunch (EPA), while
 Laura Cascardi and Bernadette Kuhn get distracted by plants.
Photo by Pam Smith.
Tiny, almost granular Wolffia columbiana plants (indicated by white arrows)
are dwarfed by duckweed, Lemna minor. Photo by B. Kuhn.

A Woodhouse’s toadlet at Parkfield Park. Photo by Pam Smith.
Blog readers stay tuned! We will be posting more photos of our Denver urban wetland work throughout the winter. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Dr. Healy Hamilton Visits CSU and Fort Collins Museum of Discovery

On September 26th and 27th, Dr. Healy Hamilton came to Fort Collins to give presentations on her cutting-edge work in communicating about biodiversity, climate change, and land management.  Dr. Hamilton has a long list of accomplishments and has held many leadership roles including Director of the Center for Applied Biodiversity Informatics at the California Academy of Sciences, and co-founder of the Worldviews Network   In November she is going to become the Chief Scientist for NatureServe, and she is currently moving from her home in California to Washington DC.  So we were especially excited that she was able to visit us at CNHP and talk about our visions for the NatureServe Network of Heritage Programs and how we can work with her to achieve them.  We worked with our colleague Dr. Dana Winkelman to host her as the seminar speaker for the Fishand Wildlife Conservation Biology Department, where she talked about the fascinating work she is doing with the Worldviews Network.  

Left to right: Dr. Dana Winkelman, Unit Leader of the USGS 
Colorado Coop Unit, Dr. Healy Hamilton, 
and David G. Anderson, CNHP Director
At the FortCollins Museum of Discovery she gave a presentation for NPS staff and their partners on the planetarium dome, taking advantage of its immersive environment to “place Earth within its cosmic context and connect audiences with ecological and biodiversity issues in their backyards.”  Welcome to the NatureServe Network of Heritage Programs, Healy, and we are so excited to work with you!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Natural Resource Management Decision-Making under Climate Uncertainty: Building Social-Ecological Resilience in Southwestern Colorado

In joint collaboration with several other institutes, the Colorado Natural Heritage Program was awarded a multi-year project from the North Central Climate Science Center (part of U.S. Geological Survey): “Natural Resource Management Decision-Making under Climate Uncertainty: Building Social-Ecological Resilience in Southwestern Colorado.”  Renée Rondeau, Ecologist and Conservation Planner with the Colorado Natural Heritage Program is the CSU Principal Investigator and will be working closely with Jeffrey Morrisette and Dennis Ojima (North Central Climate Science Center), as well as University of Montana, The Nature Conservancy, Mountain Studies Institute and USGS-Fort Collins over the next few years to facilitate climate change adaptation that contributes to social-ecological resilience, ecosystem/species conservation, and sustainable human communities in Southwestern Colorado while focusing on the Gunnison Basin and the San Juan Mountains.  

Gunnison Basin landscape with East Beckwith Mountain in the background.
The group will develop a set of actionable and prioritized social/ecological adaptation strategies for vulnerable ecosystems and species based on best available science.  These adaptation strategies will incorporate the latest in climate science and must be useful and meaningful to natural resource managers and other stakeholders.  The Gunnison and San Juan Basins ownership and economies revolve around ranches and private industry that relies on natural resources, US Forest Service, US National Parks, Bureau of Land Management, and Tribal Lands, and will be integral in the success of this project.  The frameworks that are developed for this project should be applicable to other western landscapes and will help guide communities in adapting to changes associated with a changing climate.  

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Lower South Platte River Basin Wetland & Riparian Condition Assessment Field Season in Full Swing!

by Dave Wesolowski, CNHP Wetland Field Ecology Technician

The field season for wetland and riparian condition assessment has been rocking and rolling since the beginning of June, and we’re learning so much about the Lower South Platte Basin!  Joanna Lemly and Laurie Gilligan lead a field crew consisting of Leah Fugere, Laura Cascardi, Cole Reagan, and Dave Wesolowski.  An intensive week of training has led to a thorough investigation out on the plains and foothills of northeastern Colorado.

Laura Cascardi investigates a soil pit.

Laurie Gilligan (far right) leading an exercise during training week.  

Most folks don’t associate the South Platte River or the plains of north eastern Colorado with wetlands, but they are out there and all over the place.  Diverse, complex, and fascinating warm water sloughs, emergent marshes, wet meadows, playas, and many other systems are found throughout the study area.  Our crew camps and surveys in and around many unique areas, including Chatfield and Jackson Lake State Parks and the wonderful towns of Strasburg, Sterling and Sedgwick.  Below we see Cole surveying a pond, which at first may not seem like a wetland but is, providing excellent habitat for wildlife such as: migrating birds, fish, macroinvertebrates, and a host of other organisms.

Cole Reagan field-tests his waders for a site photo.
While the plains wetlands are beautiful and provide crucial habitat for a variety of wildlife, we tend to also find a fair amount of non-native species such as cheat grass (Anisantha tectorum).

Invasive cheat grass!
Overall, it’s been a fun and exciting field season so far.  Our field season surveying the lower South Platte River basin lasts through the end of August.  At that point, we begin analyzing data and preparing for the next basin to survey.  The Lower South Platte has proven to be an intriguing basin full of unique plants and ecological systems.  We look forward to seeing what else northeastern Colorado has to offer!  Stay tuned!

Cole Reagan, Dave Wesolowski and Leah Fugere reviewing the results of today's field survey.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Renée Rondeau wins the 2013 Stewardship Award from the Palmer Land Trust!

by David Anderson, CNHP Director

The Palmer Land Trust has announced its 2013 winners of the Southern Colorado Conservation Awards, and Renée Rondeau has won the 2013 Stewardship Award!  Every year Palmer Land Trust honors individuals and organizations that have made a profound impact on conservation in Southern Colorado.  In their newsletter, they describe these awards thus: “Colorado faces some of the greatest conservation challenges in the nation.  And it responds with some of the greatest conservation successes—championed by people for whom protecting important places, leading by example, teaching our children about the natural world, and setting new benchmarks for a sustainable future are a part of their daily lives.  Each year Palmer Land Trust honors four of these champions at the Southern Colorado Conservation Awards (SCCA).”

Renee Rondeau at the JE Canyon Ranch in 2012,
telling us about what makes this place so special
I have heard land owners in Southeast Colorado talk about the “renaissance” that has occurred there since we started the GOCO- funded inventory in 2007, and credit for this success goes to all of the landowners who worked with us, to our partners who helped us all along the way, and to CNHP staff who led surveys and visited over 50 ranches over the course of three years.   Renée played a key role in that project and has gone on to help landowners turn the knowledge of their biological wealth into actions that will benefit the land and people for generations to come.  Renée is being recognized for her leadership and cultivation of partnerships, her ability to communicate about conservation, and the transformations that have followed from her connections and inspiration in Southeast Colorado.  She has become a trusted advisor, supporter, and friend to so many members of communities throughout the region, and we are grateful for Palmer Land Trust’s recognition of her contributions!

Stakeholder engagement!
These awards will be given to their recipients on October 9th in Colorado Springs.  Congratulations, Renée!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Colorado Natural Heritage Program and Colorado Parks and Wildlife Partnership for Wetland Assessment and Strategic Conservation

by Joanna Lemly, CNHP Wetland Ecologist

CNHP serves as a collaborative research partner to CPW’s Wetlands Wildlife Conservation Program, providing essential information and tools to help CPW target wetland conservation where it is needed most. This partnership is funded primarily by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but would not be possible without CPW’s matching contributions. There are four focal areas to the CPW-CNHP partnership:

  • Digital Wetland Mapping. CNHP and CPW have worked closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wetland Inventory and many funding partners to complete digital wetland mapping for Colorado. Prior to this collaboration, Colorado had little digital wetland mapping and it was impossible to calculate wetlands acres. Now these data can be used to quantify wetland acres in public and private ownership, locate important wetland complexes, and identify wetlands threatened by development. By the end of 2013, the CNHP-CPW will have increased the total coverage of digital wetland mapping mapping data to 90%!
Map of Colorado's Digital Wetland Mapping Status, 2013
  • Wetland Assessment Protocols. In collaboration with CPW, CNHP has developed a suite of field and GIS-based wetland tools to assess the overall condition of wetlands and the quality of habitat available for CPW’s priority wetland-dependent wildlife species. These tools can be used to evaluate habitat need in a given watershed or management unit and to evaluate the success of restoration projects.
Modeled Priority Duck Habitat on the Lower South Platte River Basin

  •  Basinwide Wetland Condition Assessments. CNHP and CPW have carried out three river basin-scale wetland condition assessment studies. Randomly selected wetlands are visited in each basin to estimate the overall range in wetland condition. To date, over 300 wetlands have been surveyed. These studies provide a baseline understanding of wetlands, the threats they face, and the availability and/or need for habitat in each basin, helping CPW target restoration projects.

Map of Basinwide Wetland Condition Assessments
  • Education and Outreach Tools. With essential CPW matching funds, CNHP has developed several important education and outreach tools. Early in 2013, CNHP released the Field Guide to Colorado’s Wetland Plants, an information and photo rich publication that describes over 600 wetland plant species and emphasizes each species beneficial use by wildlife. This publication was distributed to each CPW Wildlife Technician. A series of shorter Pocket Guides to Wetland Plants are in the works for each major region in the state. Along with the field guides, CNHP and CPW have developed online resources about wetlands, including an online wetlands mapper.
Cover of the Field Guide to Colorado's Wetland Plants

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Gunnison Basin Bioblitz!

by Hannah Bower, CNHP intern

Only those dedicated to the conservation of the rare skiff milkvetch (Astragalus microcymbus) would spend many warm windy hours hunkering over the prickly cacti and sagebrush of the Gunnison Basin to find just one individual.

Astragulus microcymbus (skiff milkvetch)

From June 4th through June 6th, ten to twelve eager explorers set out on a time-intensive BioBlitz (led by Bernadette Kuhn, botanist at CNHP) in hopes to track down more of this rare species of milkvetch. Since many of the plants were only a few centimeters tall, the search was a difficult task and some botanists came out unlucky. However, no search is for naught, and by the end of the excursion, around 115 Astragalus microcymbus individuals were identified and many new areas were explored for this field season’s search on the skiff milkvetch.

Searching, searching, searching!
Russ Japuntich (BLM), Gay Austin (BLM) and Hannah Bower  (CNHP intern)

Skiff milkvetch is a Candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act. It is threatened by habitat fragmentation and degradation. The monitoring and surveys performed by the Bioblitz team will help us better understand the geographic extent, population numbers, and population trends of skiff milkvetch.

Just another day on the job...

Astragulus microcymbus thanks you all for your support in its species’ protection!

A big thanks to the BioBlitz trip members:
Bernadette Kuhn (CNHP Botanist)
Peggy Lyon (CNHP Botanist)
Hunter Gleason(CNHP and Mountain Studies Institute Intern)
Gay Austin (BLM Natural Resources Specialist)
Russ Japuntich (BLM Wildlife Biologist)
Gina Glenne (USFWS Botanist)
Alicia Langton (USFWS Term Botanist)
Mary Price (RMBL)
Larry Allison (volunteer)
Lynn Lewis (volunteer)
Michelle DePrenger-Levin (DBG Research Associate)
Emily Wilson (DBG intern)
Nick Waser (RMBL)

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

CNHP visits Odell Brewery for a behind-the-scenes look at Celastrina Saison

by Rob Schorr, CNHP Zoologist

Karla Baise of Odell Brewing (left) with the CNHP group as we all toast
our Celastrina Saison samples to the rare hops blue butterfly

As Celastrina Saison gets closer to its release date (May 18th Tapping Party at Odell Brewery), CNHP and Odell have made more opportunities to interact.  Namely, Odell Brewery gave CNHP the opportunity to come backstage at the brewery for a tour of the facilities and to witness the brewing process.  We eagerly took the invitation as a dozen of CNHP and Warner College of Natural Resource personnel met Karla Baise, Odell Brewery’s Community Outreach Coordinator in Odell’s Tasting Room.  Karla led us through the Odell facility, showing off a beautiful assembly of brewing tanks and Odell’s new 12-pack bottling system.  As we stood admiring the large brewing tanks, one of the brewers tapped the tank holding Celastrina Saison and gave us our first taste; as tasty as the bottle is beautiful.  Around one turn I stopped in my tracks as I saw the image of the hops blue butterfly on stacks of boxes just waiting to be filled with Celastrina Saison, destined for the 10 states that carry Odell brews.

Rob Schorr with the boxes waiting to be filled with Celastrina Saison

What became apparent during the tour is that Odell loves this partnership as much as we at CNHP do.  During the tour, Karla brought out a small bar-style poster of Celastrina Saison, which will be framed in the halls here at CNHP.  Right on the label it tells the world about the butterfly, this collaboration, and CNHP.  Thank you, Odell Brewing Company.

Celastrina Saison poster

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

New Field Guide to Colorado’s Wetland Plants

The Colorado Natural Heritage Program (CNHP), a research unit in Colorado State University’s Warner College of Natural Resources, has just released the Field Guide to Colorado’s Wetland Plants: Identification, Ecology and Conservation. Although only about two percent of Colorado is made up of wetlands, they support almost 90 percent of Colorado’s ecosystems and wildlife, making wetlands an overlooked but valuable natural resource.

The field guide contains detailed descriptions, photos, and professional illustrations for more than 600 wetland plants as well as information regarding the wildlife species that are dependent on them. In addition to providing identification information, this guide provides information on wetland indicator status, classification, conservation status, rarity, and ecology, for a comprehensive field guide perfect for wetland ecologists, amateur botanists, or anyone who enjoys learning about Colorado’s plants and ecosystems.

 The Field Guide to Colorado’s Wetland Plants: Identification, Ecology and Conservation is available now for online purchase on the CNHP website for $39.95 plus tax and shipping.

A sample page with key - click on the photo to see a larger version.
“The book was developed to provide both professionals and amateur botanists with all of the currently available information on Colorado wetlands, compiled into one, easy-to-use field guide,” says co-author Denise Culver. “We hope it will be a very useful and informative guide for anyone recreating or working in wetland areas, and also hope it will help educate others about the importance of conserving Colorado wetlands.”

Book author Denise Culver hard at work identifying a plant.
The culmination of 20 years of wetland research, the field guide is co-authored by Culver and Joanna M. Lemly who are wetland ecologists with the CNHP. The book development was funded by an Environmental Protection Agency Wetland Grant, and is the first complete wetland field guide of its kind for Colorado.
Culver has spent the majority of her career studying wetland ecology and wetland plant adaptation in Colorado, and says that “Wetlands are often overlooked in a state that gets less than 12 inches of rain a year, but it is all the more reason why it is so important to understand more about these powerful keys to ecosystem health.”  

Book author Joanna Lemly out in the field collecting plant specimens.
CNHP is also working on developing additional wetland tools including a pocket guide to wetland plants and a Colorado Wetland Field Guide Mobile App. The Colorado Natural Heritage Program is part of CSU’s Warner College of Natural Resources. Established in 1979, the CNHP is a non-profit scientific organization that tracks and ranks rare species and threatened plant communities in Colorado with the goal of ensuring that Colorado’s biodiversity resources are preserved.  For more information on the CNHP visit the website.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Expanded National Natural Landmark

Earlier this month, then Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar approved the expansion of the Garden Park Fossil Area National Natural Landmark on BLM land near Cañon City. CNHP provided the National Park Service with the evaluation of this site for the expansion. Read the BLM press release here.

Looking across Fourmile Creek to the Marsh quarry site.

The Garden Park Fossil Area is located in Fremont County, Colorado, along the Fourmile Creek drainage approximately 8 miles north of Cañon City. The site was originally designated in 1973 in recognition of the historical and paleontological significance of the Jurassic age dinosaur discoveries excavated from outcrops of the Morrison Formation in the area. The original designation included the Colorado Historical Society monument located on the roadside below the Marsh Quarry, but did not cover the important fossil quarries.

Quarries in the Garden Park area played an important role in the “Bone Wars” of the early period of American paleontology, and activities at this site were responsible for generating wide-spread interest in dinosaurs beginning in the late 1870s. Important discoveries include the three most complete Stegosaurus skeletons ever found, as well as the first known remains of dinosaurs like Camarasaurus, Ceratosaurus, and Diplodocus. In addition to dinosaurs, Garden Park has also produced fossils of Late Jurassic mammals, trees, and turtles, among other things, and finds include 23 type specimens.

Brandegee's buckwheat (photo by Susan Spackman-Panjabi).

The site also supports populations of three of Colorado's rare plants: Eriogonum brandegeei (Brandegee’s buckwheat) Mentzelia chrysantha (golden blazing star), and Asclepias uncialis (dwarf milkweed).

Monday, April 15, 2013

Creative Collaborations: How CNHP and Odell Brewing Company are working together to save the hops blue butterfly

by Rob Schorr, CNHP Zoologist

While conducting a biological inventory at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Jeremy Siemers and I were lucky enough to stumble upon a few hops blue butterfly (Celastrina humulus; a G2/G3 invertebrate) populations.  This butterfly is found in a handful of counties in Colorado and gets its name from its host plant, wild hops (Humulus lupulus).  We started a lively discussion about how best to monitor such a butterfly, or even how to assess the prevalence of the butterfly on its host plant.  We tossed ideas around, beat up some study designs, and finally came up with a research plan we thought was feasible.  Unfortunately, it was unfunded.  These discussions led to hops-and-barley fueled brainstorming on how to fund such a study…the natural connection was right in our hands.

Female hops blue butterfly on wild hops
After some courting and scheduling, I was able to visit Fort Collins' own Odell Brewing Company and talk with them about CNHP, the hops blue butterfly, and a creative collaboration of beer and butterfly conservation.  The talk was warmly received and Odell eagerly agreed to develop a beer to commemorate this minute Colorado endemic.  This novel partnership has led to the recent announcement that Odell Brewing Company will be releasing Celastrina Saison in a Belgian farmhouse 750-ml bottle in late May 2013.  The label boldly shows a male hops blue butterfly and along the edge of the label is a description of how $1 of each 750 ml bottle will go toward CNHP for hops blue butterfly research. This partnership between Odell Brewing Company and CNHP developed out of a shared interest in conserving species and landscapes that are uniquely Colorado.

Rob holding a Celastrina Saison
Please look for Celastrina Saison on the shelves of your favorite liquor store, at your favorite pub, or at the Odell Brewing Company tap room…and raise a pint for butterfly conservation!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Fen mapping at the Pike and San Isabel National Forests

Fens are a special type of wetland - they are fed by groundwater, support vegetation that is very different from the plants on the surrounding uplands and some contain water that is alkaline (high pH values) or mineral rich. Fens are often dominated by rushes and sedges and they can support mosses, willows and even some trees.   

During the warm seasons between 2004 and 2009, fen expert David Bathke surveyed wetlands that could potentially contain fens on the Pike and San Isabel National Forests.  He visited places that been identified as emergent and shrub wetlands in the National Wetland Inventory to see if any of these wetlands contained fens. The resulting surveys contained a wealth of information: fen determinations and boundaries, lists of plant species, soil measurements, and observations on hydrologic processes at each site.  CNHP recently got involved when the US Forest Service requested that we use our photo-interpretation and GIS expertise to convert these data (that only existed on paper) into digital geospatial data (GIS data).  This data will help the US Forest Service better understand and protect the fens on their land.

A fen complex in Pike/San Isabel National Forest.
The fens are outlined in yellow, the  NWI wetland is outlined in purple.
The fen complex pictured above contained a diverse array of plant species including water sedge (Carex aquatilis), peat moss (Sphagnum angustifolia), white water-crowfoot (Ranunculus aquatilis), diamondleaf willow (Salix planifolia), and resin birch (Betula glandulosa).

Iron fens at Geneva Creek, note the terracing of the unvegetated surface.

Iron fens are a special type of fen that occur on iron-rich substrates, and are unique to Colorado.  The water that flows the iron-rich substrate is acidic and mineral rich, and forms limonite (iron saturated peat) which forms terraces and ledges. Note the small forested fen in the bottom left corner of the above photo: this forested iron fen is dominated by dwarfed Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmanni).

Monday, April 1, 2013

CNHP to study wetlands on Mars!

By Jeremy Sueltenfuss, CNHP Wetland Mapping Specialist

Where there is water, there are wetlands.  We all know (and if you don’t please become comfortable with) the fact that wetlands not only provide invaluable functions and services to ecosystems and humanity, but are also completely awesome! Wetlands filter water, provide habitat, and cycle nutrients in ways other ecosystems can’t.  It is for this reason wetlands are acknowledged to be important features across the nation, and the world.  While the Colorado Natural Heritage Program has historically focused its efforts on the wetlands within Colorado, we are looking to push the boundaries of wetland ecology to places where no ecologist has gone before.

Recent findings by NASA’s Opportunity Rover on Mars have triggered the scientific curiosity of the CNHP Wetland Ecology Team.  Because of the images sent back by Opportunity, showing imprints of water loving microbes on Martian rocks, it has become clear that Mars used to be quite the place to be!  Forget the search for general life on Mars, CNHP is now studying the wetlands that obviously used to exist on Mars!

“Make it so,” replied Joanna Lemly, the lead Wetland Ecologist replied when presented with the research idea.  CNHP's Wetland Mapppers, Gabrielle and Jeremy, are hard at work trying to get some halfway decent aerial imagery for the Martian surface. “I’m not quite sure what is so hard about obtaining these images, it’s not like we’re asking for photos of the bottom of the ocean!” lamented Jeremy, CNHP’s wetland mapping specialist.

Field work on Mars! (Background image of Mars ©NASA)

Though field excursions can often be difficult, Laurie Gilligan, CNHP’s wetland field ecologist is up to the challenge.  When asked whether she thought she could handle interplanetary travel in the pursuit of wetland science she replied, “Beam me up Scotty!”

While research deadlines remain loose, everyone is excited about the potential of this new research endeavor.  “This gives us entirely new possibilities of assessing biodiversity on a whole new planet!  The conservation possibilities are literally endless!” exclaimed Dave Anderson, a very excited CNHP director.

April Fools!

Friday, March 22, 2013

CNHP helps out with Conservation Leadership Through Learning

by David Anderson, CNHP Director

On March 7th and 8th, Susan Spackman Panjabi, Pam Smith, Joanna Lemly, Rob Schorr, and David Anderson spent two days with the 20 wonderful Master’s Degree Students in the Conservation Leadership Through Learning (CLTL) Program at CSU.  The CLTL is an innovative graduate program in which students confront conservation challenges and sustainability from a variety of perspectives.   It is unique in that the students spend two semesters at CSU, followed by two semesters at ECOSUR in Chiapas, Mexico.  They will receive degrees from both universities when they complete the 17-month program.  As a part of the program they are working in groups to complete “synergistic projects” in communities that will connect them with ongoing conservation efforts.

Zoologist Rob Schorr in the classroom
On March 7th we spent the day in Drs. Mike Gavin and Jennifer Solomon’s class with the students talking about conservation and ecological research.  Susan gave them a wonderful overview of the work that the Colorado Natural Heritage Program and other programs like ours do worldwide, and how our biodiversity data translates into conservation action.  I talked about methods used in ecological research and decision making.  Then Rob introduced the students to some of the ways that animals are studied.  He helped us understand how to deal with the problems associated with the probability of detecting organisms in the environment that, whether we like it or not, cannot be avoided!   Then Joanna gave us an overview of the wetland assessment and mapping projects that she is leading, focusing on how we are working through partnerships to put science to work in conserving Colorado’s wetlands.  

Ecologist Joanna Lemly telling the class about her wetlands work
On March 8th, we spent a day in the field at Coyote Ridge Natural Area, in the expert care of Eduardo Boné Moron, who helped field trip logistics.  This site, on the southwest edge of Fort Collins, is part of the City of Fort Collins Natural Areas system and is important for the conservation of many rare species and communities.  One of these species, the Bell’s twinpod, is known only from Larimer and Boulder Counties, and Coyote Ridge is home to one of the two largest populations of this species on Earth.  We were joined there by Crystal Strouse, Botanist with the City of Fort Collins, who gave us a wonderful overview of the area. 

Crystal Strouse (at right) shared her wisdom with us 
when we arrived at Coyote Ridge on Friday.
At Coyote Ridge, the CLTL Students were divided into groups and had five tasks to complete while they were there.  They did a fantastic job of learning to sample vegetation, document natural history observations, use a GPS to mark locations, and collect quantitative and qualitative biodiversity information in the field.  For many of the students, this was their first chance to experience rare plants and wildlife, including the charming and eminently watchable prairie dogs that live in this natural area.

The students work on practicing quadrat sampling with Dave’s help at Coyote Ridge 
We all wish the very best to the students in the CLTL program, and it was truly wonderful to spend two days with you!  We hope that you’ll stay in touch with us.

Everyone still looks happy at the end of the field trip! 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Third Annual Adopt-A-Rare-Plant Field Season Underway

by Rebecca Hopson, CNHP volunteer

CNHP volunteer Virginia Meadows looking for
Townsendia rothrockii at Independence Pass
 February 26, 2013 marked the beginning of the third annual Adopt-A-Rare-Plant Program’s field season with a training presentation that took place at the Denver Botanic Gardens. The Adopt-A-Rare-Plant program is a volunteer based program that works to raise public awareness of the significance of rare plants as well as promote volunteer involvement in the sponsor organizations. It has been recently revived by a partnership between the Colorado Natural Heritage Program, the Denver Botanic Gardens and the Colorado Native Plant Society to raise public awareness of Colorado’s rare plants. At the training, community volunteers were shown how to identify a rare plant species of their choice and gather important ecological data about its location that will be used in updating information in the Colorado Natural Heritage Program database. Everyone left excited and ready to start looking for rare plants!

Townsendia rothrockii in its typical habitat

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

White River Plateau winter survey for bat hibernation

White River Plateau in the White River National Forest
 Jeremy Siemers of CNHP, along with personnel from the US Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, conducted a winter cave survey on the White River Plateau in the White River National Forest.  Very few surveys have been conducted during the winter season in this area due to the difficulty in access.

CNHP Zoologist Jeremy Siemers in a tight spot
The crew started the trek using snowmobiles and hiked to the caves on snowshoes.  The goal of the survey was to document bat hibernation in some of the caves near Deep Creek.  The survey team found two caves with hibernating Townsend’s Big-eared Bats (Corynorhinus townsendii).

Hibernating Townsend's Big-eared Bats (Corynorhinus townsendii)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Mapping warm water sloughs on the South Platte

by Jeremy Sueltenfuss, CNHP Wetland Ecologist

For many years, our partners in the wildlife community have talked at length about the importance of warm water sloughs for overwintering Colorado wildlife.  As they are continually recharged by emerging groundwater, which is not subjected to the freezing temperatures at the surface, these stream-like features are some of the only water bodies across the landscape that remain open throughout the winter, providing wildlife much needed access to water during the cold winter months.  Because of their importance, we set out to map all the sloughs we could find along the South Platte River.  While aerial imagery can be quite good at mapping water features, nothing beats a low altitude flight to get a sense of the landscape!

Though familiar with the more common method of flying (being inside the plane that is), Jacqui thought she would give this method a shot.  It did not last long.  An immense thanks to Colorado Parks and Wildlife for supplying us with their plane and the CPW pilot, Brian, for a very safe and rewarding experience.  
Taking off in a small four seat prop plane from the Fort Collins – Loveland airport (Fort Love as our pilot referred to it), Jacqui, a fearless CNHP work-study student and I put our faith in our pilot, Brian.  Brian has been flying for Colorado Parksand Wildlife (CPW) for years, and his knowledge of both the landscape and local wildlife was tremendously beneficial.  Beyond his ability to spot herds of deer, gaggles of geese, and flocks of turkey from amazing distances, his stories from his work for CPW were breathtaking.  While I love hiking to remote mountain lakes, I have never thought about what it takes to stock them with fish.  Brian’s stories of maneuvering his small plane through tight mountain corridors, dropping his air speed to levels I personally never wish to feel while in flight, and releasing hundreds of small fish at precisely the right moment for them to land in the lake, all while watching the rock face in front of you fill your vision, was enough to make me sweat.  Luckily for us, the only aerial acrobatics we performed were slow broad circles to get a closer look at a slough, or a better view of some wildlife. 

Continually being recharged by groundwater, warm water sloughs remain slightly warmer than other surface waters and remain open throughout the winter.  This provides much needed access to water for wildlife in the area.
Though “Colorful Colorado” is quite brown in the winter, flying at 150 feet over the South Platte was fascinating and beautiful.  As promised, sloughs seemed to be the only open water around, and the leafless trees afforded views of the many flocks of waterbirds, small herds of deer bounding away, and even a few scenes of male turkeys doing their best to impress a nearby female.  The seven bald eagles we saw perched in trees or soaring above the river provided a wonderful example of an Endangered Species Act success story and served as tribute to the tremendous effort of conservation groups over the past 50 years.  It was enough to almost forget what we were after!  Armed with maps of sloughs we had completed before the flight using imagery from the summer, we constantly compared what was in our maps to what we were seeing on the ground.  Both Jacqui and Brian seemed to do quite well looking down at maps and back out at the landscape for 4 straight hours.  While I did my best to appear absolutely normal, my stomach was reenacting what it must feel like to stock those high mountain lakes!  Queasiness aside, we accomplished our goal and came away with a highly accurate map of the warm water sloughs along the South Platte River between Greeley and the state line.  Though many other riparian landscapes across the state contain warm water sloughs that may one day be mapped, I have high hopes this data can be used for the restoration and the conservation of lands containing these important features.     

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Updated Specimen Information on Rocky Mountain Herbarium Website

The Rocky Mountain Herbarium online database has been updated to include specimens from floristics projects in the Medicine Bow National Forest (WY side), Vermejo Park Ranch (NM), Lewis and Clark National Forest (MT) and the Comanche and Cimarron National Grasslands (CO and KS). If you want to explore the specimens and their mapped locations on Google Earth, visit the Rocky Mountain Herbarium Specimen Database.

A tiny lace hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus reichenbachii)
growing on a shale outcrop above the Purgatoire River. 

The Comanche National Grassland of SE Colorado has a unique flora that includes elements of prairie species such as purple coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia), mixed with montane/foothill species like Gambel oak (Quercus gambelii).  If you are looking for new places to explore in Colorado, this area can be a warm and sunny haven in late April and May. Bring your flora, plenty of water, and maybe even your mountain bike.

The Purgatoire River Valley dotted with oneseed juniper (Juniperus monosperma)
and mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus montanus).