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!