Thursday, November 19, 2015

Last fall, CNHP’s Rob Schorr and Bernadette Kuhn, and WCNR’s Human Dimension in Natural Resources specialist Shawn Davis, began a collaborative project with bat biologists, rock climbers, and natural resource managers. The project, called Climbers for Bat Conservation (CBC) successfully pulled all parties together to discuss the use of climbers as an information resource for where bats might be roosting in rock crevices. The CBC project recently had a warm reception at the North American Society for Bat Research 45th Annual Symposium hosted in Monterey, California. Rob Schorr was able to present a poster discussing the development of the collaboration, the challenges and opportunities the collaboration presented, and the hope for future progress. Many bat biologists appreciated the citizen science focus and liked the diligence taken to make sure this was a climber-supported endeavor. 
Rob Schorr presents his poster on the Climbers for Bat Project.
The Climbers for Bat Conservation poster at the 45th Symposium of the North American Society for Bat Research.

Friday, November 6, 2015

CNHP Releases STReaMS, An Endangered Fish Database

CNHP has completed the first release of STReaMS, an online database for managing endangered fish PIT tag tracking and location data in the Upper Colorado River Basin. STReaMS, which stands for Species Tagging, Research and Monitoring Systems, is a database that currently includes over 1 million sightings of 900,000 individual fish from more than 150 studies completed by the Upper Colorado and San Juan River Endangered Fish recovery programs.
Roundtail chub, pictured above, were once common throughout the entire Colorado River Basin. Today, they occupy only 55% of their historic range. The STReaMS database contains data on capture locations and movement patterns that help inform management of this species, now proposed as Threatened by the Endangered Species Act in the Lower Colorado River Basin.
The recovery programs are a consortium of partners from agencies, industry, and non-profits, all dedicated to restoring natural and self-sustaining populations of Endangered fishes while balancing the water needs of growing western communities. With almost 30 years of data and active partners in five states, the programs recognized the need to efficiently manage copious amounts of data. Thus the idea for a centralized, online database was born. With CNHP's October 2015 release of the database, recovery program personnel will be able to access:
  • Capture, stocking, and remote detection data collected from both programs since 1981
  • Filters that allow researchers to browse and download data by a variety of criteria
  • Cross-basin and cross-study downloads for examining fish movement between basins
  • Forms for editing existing data, and adding new data one record at a time
  • Organization based security to prevent data corruption 
Public access to the website will be available in October 2017. In the meantime, learn more about the San Juan Basin recovery program, their mission, and the fish they are dedicated to protecting by clicking here. For more on the Upper Colorado River Basin program, click here.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Searching for Pocket Mice in the San Luis Valley

The Rio Grande National Forest is revising their 1996 Forest Management Plan. The Forest Management Plan is the guiding document for all management decisions and activities on the Rio Grand National Forest. As part of the update, Rio Grande NF staff are seeking more information on rare species. This summer, the Rio Grande hired CNHP zoologist Rob Schorr to survey for several lesser-known and rare small mammals. Two of the primary targets were the silky pocket mouse (Perognathus flavus sanluisi) and the plains pocket mouse (Perognathus flavescens relictus), both of which are unique to the valley. These pocket mice prefer the sandy soils of the San Luis Valley. Schorr and his daughter spent time trapping for the pocket mice on US Forest Service lands north of Great Sand Dunes National Park. They trapped in eight different areas, catching one silky pocket mouse and two plains pocket mice in sandy, sparse grasslands below pinyon and juniper forests.
The plains pocket mouse capture site with sandy soils, tall grasses, and rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus spp.).
A close-up of a plains pocket mouse.
One of the two plains pocket mice captured on Rio Grande National Forest lands in 2015. 
The silky pocket mouse capture site on the Rio Grand National Forest. The site has sandy soils and large patches of blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis).

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Catching Colorado River Cutthroat Trout Near Trapper's Lake

This summer CNHP zoologist John Sovell conducted surveys for wildlife species across Garfield County, Colorado. In July, Sovell's surveys included fishing for Colorado River cutthroat trout. His field work is part of a larger effort led by Delia Malone (CNHP ecologist) to document locations of rare plant and animal species in the county, as well as noxious weed locations. Sovell and Malone will provide information from their county-wide biological surveys to Garfield County to aid in planning and natural resource management.

Colorado River cutthroat trout are one of dozens of rare species that occur in Garfield County, including Colorado hookless cactus and Debeque phacelia. Both of these rare plants are listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

A downed log rests in a pool occupied by Colorado River cutthroat trout on the North Fork of the White River near Trapper's Lake. Colorado River cutthroat trout rely on large woody debris like this tree to help form pools, store spawning gravels, and provide refuge from predators. 
Sovell updated information on Colorado River cutthroat trout at four locations in Garfield County, including the North Fork of the White River where it empties into Trapper's Lake. These brilliantly colored fish are one of three extant subspecies of trout native to Colorado. Recent genetic and morphological studies suggest that there are two extant lineages of cutthroat trout on Colorado's Western Slope. Cutthroat trout in the White River Basin are part of what is known as the Blue Lineage. For more information on Colorado River cutthroat trout, check out the newly updated State Wildlife Action Plan.

John Sovell, CNHP zoologist, catches a Colorado River cutthroat trout as part of  the 2015 Garfield County Survey of Critical Biological Resources. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

CNHP Leads Wetland Assessment Training in Colorado Springs

On September 9-10, CNHP Wetland Ecologists Joanna Lemly and Cat Wiechmann led a two-day training on the Ecological Integrity Assessment (EIA) methodology in Colorado Springs. A diverse group of twenty natural resource professionals attended the training, including representatives from six different federal, state, and local government agencies, four different consulting firms, and several conservation groups. The training included a full day of classroom instruction and a day in the field at Bear Creek Regional Park practicing the wetland assessment technique. Reviews from the class were all very positive, with many participants stating that they look forward to applying what they learned in their work. 
CNHP Wetland Ecologist Cat Wiechmann (red shirt) teaches training participants how to assess wetland condition using the Environmental Integrity Assessment protocol.
The training was funded by a grant from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 8 and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and was offered at no cost to participants.

Cover page of the new Ecological Integrity Assessment Manual available on the CNHP website.
More information on the EIA methodology, including links to download the field manual (pictured above), datasheets, and presentations about applying the EIA method, can be found here.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Rare Orchid Surveys Yield Low Numbers in West Denver

In late August, our botany team explored areas of West Denver hoping to relocate populations of the rare Ute ladies' tresses orchid (Spiranthes diluvialis). The orchid, which is listed as Threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has highly fluctuating population numbers from year to year. Last year in August 2014, no orchids were found at the West Denver occurrence. This summer, Pam Smith and Bernadette Kuhn were only able to locate six orchids at a location where hundreds have previously been documented. The orchids contain an array of flowers that curve along the top of the plant, like a white spiral staircase. Once the orchid's white flowers turn brown and the fruits mature, the plants are nearly impossible to spot in the tall grasses, rushes, and coyote willows that are typically found in suitable Ute ladies' tresses habitat. Only one of the orchids this year was in bloom (see photo below). While surveying, we were excited to spot a monarch butterfly resting in a plains cottonwood (see second photo below).

The lovely, rare and Threatened Ute ladies' tresses orchid (Spiranthes diluvialis) in bloom.
A monarch butterfly rests in a plains cottonwood tree in West Denver.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Let's Hear it For the Interns, Student Employees, and Volunteers!

CNHP gives a shout out to all of the students, volunteers, and interns that helped us make our 2015 field season a success! Thanks so much to the following individuals who supported our projects with their energy, enthusiasm, and hard work: Devanshi Kukadia, Abigail Bradley, Joe Tort, Caleb Freeman, Alison Hall, James Hunt, Dominik McLaren, and Maddie Micallef. Good luck on your future endeavors!

CNHP interns (from left) Caleb Freeman and Joe Tort, along with Alison Hall (student employee at Resources for Disabled Students) and David Anderson (CNHP director).

Thursday, August 20, 2015

CNHP Map Will Support Governor's Colorado Beautiful Initiative

Colorado Natural Heritage Program director David Anderson, along with staff members Amy Greenwell and Michael Menefee, were thrilled to participate in The Outdoors Summit in downtown Denver this summer. The Summit convened to help launch new initiatives to protect, preserve and enhance the state’s great outdoors and natural areas. Conservation leaders from around the state attended the event. Speakers included Governor John Hickenlooper and former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar among many other notable participants.

Governor John Hickenlooper presents his Colorado Beautiful plan at the Outdoors Summit in Denver, Colorado.
During the Summit, Governor Hickenlooper rolled out his Colorado Beautiful plan, an exciting conservation initiative that ultimately aims to enable every Coloradan to live within a 10-minute walk of an open space natural area. Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) has awarded $15.6 million in grants to support the Colorado Beautiful plan. A hallmark of the plan will be the creation of an interactive trail and recreational lands map. The map will use CNHP's existing map of Colorado's protected areas, called The Colorado Ownership, Management, and Protection (COMaP). COMaP is a dataset maintained by CNHP and the CSU Geospatial Centroid.

The complete Colorado Beautiful map is scheduled for completion in 2016. The map will also help guide plans to preserve and strategically protect Colorado’s most threatened landscapes, waterways and urban open spaces. It will also be used to identify 16 high-priority trail projects to help connect people to more recreational opportunities. The map will include all the state's trails, open spaces, parks and protected lands in a single site. “Colorado Beautiful, we believe, is not only about connecting our parks, trails and scenic lands, but about connecting people to the outdoor delights that set Colorado apart as a special place,” Hickenlooper said. “It’s important to bring our newest generations outside, away from electronic distractions and into the splendor of our waterways, forests, wildlife, grasslands, mountains and canyons.”

An image of the Colorado Ownership, Management, and Protection map (COMaP) that will be integrated into the Colorado Beautiful map proposed by Governor Hickenlooper.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Local Film Explores Ecological Challenges On Colorado's Front Range

We are excited to share a short film created by Ryan McDonald. Ryan is a Fort Collins native and incoming freshman at Colorado Mountain College majoring in new media and film. Ryan thoughtfully explores the ecological challenges and opportunities associated with rapid population growth and development on Colorado's Front Range in his film short. CNHP wetland ecologist Jeremy Sueltenfuss is interviewed throughout the film, as well as a frequent CNHP collaborator Crystal Strouse from the City of Fort Collins Natural Areas. Ryan created the film for a senior project at Polaris High School. Click here to check it out.

The Keyhole at Devil's Backbone Open Space in Larimer County, Colorado.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Job Announcement: Wetland Ecology Research Associate

The Colorado Natural Heritage Program (CNHP) at Colorado State University (CSU) seeks one experienced Wetland Ecology Research Associate to work closely with CNHP’s Wetland Team on all aspects of wetland condition assessment projects in Colorado. Pre-field season activities includes logistics and planning, securing permission to access sites on public and private land, preparing field maps in ArcGIS, and preparing field supplies. During summer field seasons, the position acts as Field Crew Lead, coordinating the work of other field team members and communicating with the Wetland Team Leader, as well as actively collecting field data on wetland condition. Post-field season activities include quality control of field data, identifying collected plant specimens, entering field data or working with interns and work studies to enter data, and collaborating with the Wetland Team Leader on data analysis and report writing.

To apply and view a complete position description, please visit:   

Applications deadline is August 24, 2015. 

Reflecting departmental and institutional values, candidates are expected to have the ability to advance the Department's commitment to diversity and inclusion.

CSU is an EO/EA/AA employer and conducts background checks on all final candidates.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Free Wetland Training in Colorado Springs, Sept 9-10, 2015

CNHP is excited to offer a free training on the Ecological Integrity Assessment (EIA) method for assessing wetland condition. The training will be limited to 20 participants. The course will be taught by CNHP wetland ecologists Joanna Lemly and Laurie Gilligan. The training will be help Sept 9-10, 2015 at Colorado Parks and Wildlife Regional Office in Colorado Springs. Training sessions will be held from 9am-4pm on both days. Day 1 will be in the classroom, Day 2 will be held at a nearby wetland. Please RSVP to Joanna Lemly or 970-491-2127) to reserve your spot. 

The EIA method for wetlands has been developed and refined over 10 years by NatureServe and Natural Heritage Programs across the county and adapted for use in Colorado by CNHP. In partnership with CPW, CNHP has used the method to assess the condition of over 500 wetlands and riparian area across Colorado. The EIA method places an emphasis on biotic integrity and combines quantitative vegetation metrics will qualitative metrics that evaluation landscape context, buffer, hydrology, soils, and water quality. For more information and background on the EIA method, please visit the EIA section of NatureServe’s website.

This free training has been funded by a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 8, Wetland Program Development Grant and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

CNHP Staff Member Captures Images of the Rare Hops Blue Butterfly

CNHP Environmental Review Coordinator and photographer Michael Menefee recently captured photos of the rare hops blue butterfly (Celastrina humulus). Menefee took the photos for the Celastrina Project, a research effort led by CNHP zoologist Rob Schorr. The project funds CSU honor's students to conduct research on rare species like the hops blue.

Hops blue butterflies occur in a very narrow global range, found only in Colorado and Montana. Colorado's population are scattered along the Front Range from Larimer County south to El Paso County. This delicate butterfly relies on wild hops (Humulus lupulus var. neomexicana) to complete its life cycle. Along the Front Range, wild hops grow in cool, moist canyons.

A hops blue butterfly rests on poison ivy at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Photo by Michael Menefee.
The stunning image below, captured by Menefee, shows a female hops blue butterfly ovipositing her eggs into a small male wild hops flower.
A female hops blue butterfly ovipositing her eggs into a wild hops flower. Photo by Michael Menefee.
Menefee took the photos at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, while accompanying two CSU honor’s students: Alyssa Meier and Rachel Maison. The students have been conducting research this summer at the Air Force Academy on the resident population of hops blue butterflies.
A resting hops blue butterfly on a wild hop leaf. Photo by Michael Menefee.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Provide Your Comments for the Newly Updated Colorado Rare Plant Guide

By Susan Panjabi

The Colorado Rare Plant Guide now contains updated species profiles for rare plants listed as Candidate, Threatened, or Endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. CNHP botanist Susan Panjabi is accepting comment on these species profiles through July 31, 2015. The profiles contain new, beautiful artwork by the Rocky Mountain Society of Botanical Artists, as well as photographs by local botanists. Mancos milkvetch (Astragalus humillimus) is an excellent example of an updated profile, with new photos from botanist Steve O'Kane, and artwork by Vanessa Martin (see drawing below). Mancos milkvetch is a federally listed Endangered plant known from a small area in southwestern Colorado and northwestern New Mexico. Please contact Susan with edits, as well as any additional information, photographs or artwork related to these rare plant species.

A drawing of Mancos milkvetch (Astragalus humillimus) by Vanessa Martin. Martin is a member of the Rocky Mountain Society of Botanical Artists.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Report on Denver's Urban Wetlands Now Available

We are pleased to announce that our report on the condition of urban wetlands in Denver County is now available on the CNHP website. As part of this two year EPA-funded study, we assessed the condition of 46 urban wetlands in the Denver area, updated National Wetland Inventory maps for Denver County, and created a brochure highlighting high quality urban wetlands in Denver County. Special thanks to our partners Kelly Uhing and Alan Polonsky from the City and County of Denver for collaborating with us on the project!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Climate Trajectories for Colorado's Terrestrial Ecosystems

By Karin Decker, CNHP Ecologist

Recently we blogged about CNHP’s Conservation Planning Team evaluating the potential effects of future climate conditions on Colorado’s species and ecosystems. An important part of this work is to look at projected future conditions in comparison with recent climate patterns. The graph below shows the projected direction of change in the current location of Colorado’s major terrestrial ecosystems as described by average annual temperature and precipitation.

Projected seasonal average precipitation and mean temperature trajectories for current upland ecosystem ranges in Colorado summer by mid-century under a high radiative forcing scenario (RCP8.5).
A comparison of recent average values of climate variables with projected values for the current locations of these ecosystems in Colorado show shows seasonal differences both in the direction and amount of projected changes in temperature and precipitation. For instance, ecosystems of higher elevations (e.g., alpine tundra and spruce-fir forest) are projected to experience a greater increase in winter precipitation than those of lower elevations (e.g. sandsage and shortgrass prairie), although the amount of warming is similar for all elevations. Projected changes in summer precipitation are generally less than for winter, with some ecosystems seeing a slight increase and others a slight decrease.

Of course average temperature and precipitation patterns are not the whole story. The interaction of climatic conditions with other abiotic factors (e.g. soils, disturbance), life-history traits of the component species (e.g. growth form, dispersal mechanisms), and past history shapes the observed distribution of ecosystems. Because many of the characteristic species of these ecosystems are long-lived, the time lag between the onset of new climate conditions and the response of the species to those conditions, adds another level of uncertainty to projections of future distribution. Climate changes over the past few decades are probably already facilitating a gradual modification of ecosystem extent and species composition that will become more apparent by mid-century.

Monday, June 22, 2015

CNHP Pilots Water Chemistry Measurements in Wetland Condition Assessments

By Laurie Gilligan, CNHP Wetland Ecologist

The wetlands team kicked off their water chemistry data collection pilot project in the Lower Arkansas Basin under perfect weather conditions: rain, lightning, mud, and more rain! All of the spring rain has filled playas that have not been saturated in years, and is greening up the Arkansas River floodplain and its marshes. These conditions will give our crew the opportunity to test how well our data collection methods work in waters with high variability in sediment and water levels. However, accessing sites safely has meant dodging the notoriously fierce thunderstorms that roll over the open southeastern plains.

Joanna Lemly, CNHP wetland ecologist, collects water samples
in a playa on the southeastern plains of Colorado.
Pools within a small stream outside Florence, Colorado provide
good habitat for native plains fish species.
CNHP is excited to add water chemistry measurements to this year’s wetland assessments. While water chemistry measurements are frequently taken in lakes and rivers, more research is needed on nutrient levels, metal loads, and other water chemistry measurements in shallow vegetated wetlands. By adding water chemistry measurements to our wetland condition assessments, we can begin to observe the relationships between the wetland’s water chemistry and its overall condition. The first step with this pilot year of water quality sampling is to refine protocols and analysis, and to get a glimpse of the range of variation in water chemistry parameters that we may see in the plains.

Playa on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in Huerfano County, Colorado. With extra spring moisture in 2015, many playas in the Lower Arkansas Basin showed concentric rings of vegetation-in this case, an inner ring of spreading yellowcress (Rorripa sinuata).

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

New Graham's Beardtongue Population Found

During a recent rare plant survey funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, CNHP botanist/ecologist Delia Malone discovered a new population of Graham's beardtongue (Penstemon grahamii) south of Rangely, Colorado. This rare plant is known from only six other occurrences in the state of Colorado. Graham's beardtongue is found on raw shale slopes and knolls of the Green River Formation in Rio Blanco County, Colorado, as well as three counties in eastern Utah: Carbon, Duchesne, and Uintah.

The bright white and caramel-colored shales of the Green River Formation, which often look like pieces of broken plates, give rise to highly basic soils. These soils support a very unique plant community dominated by dwarf shrubs like spiny greasebush (Glossopetalon spinescens) and shadcale saltbush (Atriplex confertifolia). Forbs species such as dragon milkvetch (Astragalus lutosus) and ephedra buckwheat (Eriogonum ephedroides) are also commonly found growing on Green River shales in occupied Graham's beardtongue habitat. This species is considered Sensitive by the BLM.  

Lured in by the bright yellow, protruding staminode called a beardtongue, a Pseudomasaris wasp lands inside the corolla of a rare Graham's beardtongue outside of Rangely, Colorado.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Climate Space: Looking Towards the Future

By Karin Decker

The Conservation Planning Team at CNHP works on a number of projects that evaluate the potential effects of future climate conditions on Colorado’s species and ecosystems. As part of this work, we need to know what current climate conditions are. Here’s a look at the current “bioclimatic envelope” for Colorado’s major terrestrial ecosystems as described by average annual temperature and precipitation.
Bioclimatic envelope as represented by annual precipitation and mean temperature for ecosystems in Colorado. Error bars represent the 10-90% range around the mean.
Desert shrubland occupies the driest bioclimatic envelope, while sandsage and shortgrass prairie are the warmest. Statewide, ponderosa pine forest, oak-shrubland and sagebrush shrubland are closely related in bioclimatic space, and show substantial overlap with the warmer and drier pinyon-juniper woodlands and semi-desert grassland. Above these warm and dry types, mixed conifer, aspen, and lodgepole forest share a mid-elevation envelope with montane grasslands. The coldest, wettest environments are occupied by alpine types, with spruce-fir forest nearby in bioclimatic space.

Although a warmer future appears certain, everything else is much more complicated!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Finding Bird's Foot Violets at Pineries Open Space

CNHP staff botanists Pam Smith and Bernadette Kuhn recently conducted rare plant surveys at Pineries Open Space outside of Colorado Springs. Judy von Ahlefeldt, a Black Forest local, organized the survey in an effort to document populations of the rare bird’s foot violet (Viola pedatifida). The property is owned by El Paso County, and County officials plan to remove hazard trees that were burned during the 2013 Black Forest Fire. The goal of this project is to help El Paso County staff identify the locations of rare plants so they can be avoided during the tree removal process. After a day of surveying, our group of eight volunteers and botanists discovered 52 bird’s foot violets.

Bird's foot violet (Viola pedatifida) is a tallgrass prairie plant. Colorado populations represent the far western edge of the species' range. The destruction of native tallgrass prairie and woodlands is a major threat to this species. 
Our group takes a lunch break among burned ponderosa pine trees at Pineries Open Space. The area was burned in the 2013 Black Forest Fire.
We surveyed for bird’s foot violets along two ephemeral streams that are tributaries of Black Squirrel Creek. The streams were swollen with recent rainfall, and we spotted a large Woodhouse’s toad and heard chorus frogs calling loudly all morning. More rare plant surveys are scheduled at Pineries Open Space this summer. If you are interested in volunteering at Pineries Open Space, feel free to contact CNHP.

We spotted this adult Woodhouse's toad hopping along the forest floor. Woodhouse's toads are common in Eastern Colorado in non-forested areas, and are less frequently seen in ponderosa pine habitats.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

CNHP Travels to Traverse City, Michigan for Biodiversity Without Boundaries Conference

CNHP Botanist Pam Smith, along with CNHP Director David Anderson attended the Biodiversity Without Boundaries Conference this year. The conference was from April 25-30, in Traverse City, Michigan. Pam and Dave went on a field trip to see vernal pools. The trip was led by Yu Man Lee and Peter Badra from the Michigan Natural Features Inventory. We visited two vernal pools, from which Yu Man and Peter netted some amazing creatures, including fairy shrimp. We were just in time to see the fairy shrimp, as adults can only be seen in the vernal pools for three weeks of the year. They emerge early to avoid predation, and lay eggs which can persist through complete drying of the pool until the following spring. The presence of fairy shrimp can be an indicator of a healthy vernal pool ecosystem.

Fairy shrimp from a vernal pool in Michigan.

A vernal pool in Michigan in early spring that contains dense leaf litter. The litter provides important habitat for fairy shrimp, as well as salamander and frog egg masses.
CNHP’s former Director, Chris Pague, won the NatureServe Network Alumni of the year award this year! We are so happy for Chris, who is one of the most enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and effective advocates for biodiversity.

Our good friends at the Nevada Natural Heritage Program won this year’s Collaboration and Mentoring Award, and it was fun to celebrate their achievement and contributions to the NatureServe Network.

Kristin Szabo (Director, middle of photo) and former director Jennifer Newmark (far right) from the Nevada Natural Heritage Program accept the Collaboration and Mentoring Award from NatureServe director Mary Klein (far left).

Friday, May 8, 2015

Graduating CSU Seniors Reflect on Their Work Experiences at CNHP

Lindsey Power and Claire Tortorelli, two CSU seniors and CNHP student employees, are graduating this month. They both took a little time to write a post that captures their experiences working at CNHP. We consider ourselves lucky to have been able to work with these two talented students. Good luck out there Lindsey and Claire! You will be missed.

Reflections By Lindsey Power

Working with the Colorado Natural Heritage Program during my senior year at CSU proved to be a unique and rewarding experience, both personally and professionally as I move forward to the next steps in my career. When I heard Dave Anderson, the director for CNHP speak at one of the Society for Conservation Biology meetings, the program instantly caught my attention. I was a junior at the time, and beginning to think about topics to write my senior honors thesis on. What caught my attention when I first heard about the CNHP was their commitment to learning as much as possible about rare species and applying this science to concrete management goals and actions.

Lindsey Power, pictured here, recently completed an honor's thesis on Sandhill Crane wetland habitat quality in Colorado.
As a wildlife biology student, most of my classes at CSU have been centered on research. Even my previous work-study at the US Forest Service was centered on a long-term research project. While I absolutely love learning as much as possible about the natural world around us, I have come to realize that without reaching out to people, interacting, and actively getting involved in the fight for conservation, not much change can happen. I wanted to do more for my thesis than a literature review, and I wanted it to make at least a little difference. This was the opportunity that CNHP gave me, both as a work-study student, and as an honors student writing a thesis. Being involved with CNHP gave me the opportunity to see the inside-workings of collaboration as well as personal achievement through being part of discussions, working with data analysis and input, and formulating my own ways to complete projects.

When I started working with CNHP at the beginning of the academic year, I was not entirely sure what to expect or where it would take me. In fact, there were many instances during my two last semesters when I had no idea what I was doing. I think this added, rather than detracted from my experience, and taught me that it is OK to not always know what to do. It was through my confusion that I have met so many wonderful people along the CNHP hallway in the General services building with passions and goals similar to my own; always willing to help, always interested in current tasks, and always building community with one another.

My senior honors thesis titled “Assessing wetland habitat quality for Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis) in Colorado” took up much of my time at CNHP. Joanna Lemly and Laurie Gilligan, wetland ecologists at the CNHP asked me if I would like to evaluate their process of assessing habitat quality for CPW’s priority species. Because of my interest in ecosystem dynamics, and in particular wetland dynamics, I happily accepted this challenge. Almost immediately, I dove into the data that the wetland team, very graciously, shared with me, and began to analyze the types of habitat variables necessary for one particular priority species (the Sandhill crane) to occur in Colorado. After reading many scientific journals, manuscripts, reports, and lists of facts about wetlands and the Sandhill crane, I began revising some of the data to try to determine the most important habitat variables and ways that managers could apply restoration and conservation actions. After making graphs and tables, and running a few statistical analyses on the summary data, I was able to pick out the aspects that seemed most important, as well as provide feedback on the entire evaluation process. My work on this thesis constitutes only a fraction of the analyses that the wetland team has done, but I hope that it can be used for future analyses of wetland habitat quality for other priority species. This project was challenging and very rewarding, and will be a great experience to bring into my future career.

Illustration of a Sandhill Crane, drawn by Lindsey Power.
During my CNHP work study position, not only did I learn so much more about Colorado’s wetlands and wetland conservation efforts than what any class could offer, but I also experienced what it is like to be totally integrated in research and conservation. I learned how to formulate questions, hypotheses, suggestions, and critiques independently, and then apply them to my work and research. Most importantly, I think, I scratched the surface on just how challenging a career in conservation will be. Yet far from being discouraged, working with the CNHP has empowered me to endeavor in a career in which promoting education about the beauty and importance of the natural world will be my primary goal. It will always be challenging, and there will be many cases where I won’t know what to do. But if there is a community anything like the one at the CNHP, I will be able to face any difficulty and walk away with new knowledge and experiences and a smile.

Reflections By Claire Tortorelli

As a young child, I was determined to be a Scientific Illustrator when I “grew up”.I knew, even then, in order to be happy I must spend my time working in close association with the natural world. Now, I have discovered far more possibilities than my six-year-old self could ever have dreamed of. As a Forestry student at Colorado State University, I am constantly exposed to new ways to become involved in conserving the environment.Although college graduation is just around the corner, and the “real world” is beckoning, I still find myself exploring on hands and knees with hand lens at the ready, wondering, just as I did when I was six.

Claire Tortorelli and Dusty Gannon geek out with their hand lenses.
I can vividly recall sitting in one of those large lecture halls on Colorado State University’s campus, listening, intently I’m sure, to Jennifer Ackerfield lecture on my favorite subject, Plant Identification.It was this one specific day that caught my attention.Dave Anderson was just about to present a guest lecture on rare plant classification and the Colorado Natural Heritage Program (CNHP).After handing out plant guide freebies and prompting many laughs from the class, he made an announcement encouraging students interested in plant identification to apply to intern for the Colorado Natural Heritage Program.The very next day I knocked on his office door. To my surprise and great gratification, he offered me a position as an intern, working under Laurie Gilligan in the Wetland Ecology office.I was ecstatic for the opportinutiy to apply my small set of skills acquired in Ackerfield’s class to “real world” scenarios.

Now, almost three years later, I can hardly believe the diversity of experiences I have gained and the wonderful people I have had the opportunity to meet.As an intern for the CNHP, I have been exposed to a wide range of valuable skills, each one applied to a multi-faceted project. Identifying hundreds of pressed plant specimens, using ArcGIS to create maps, prepping summer field gear, entering data, and editing field guides are just a handful of the tasks that have occupied my time at the CNHP. The skills that I have acquired and the tightly knit community that I have become involved with over the years have allowed me to pursue opportunities that I never would have believed possible. Last summer, I was fortunate enough to have been chosen for a botany field crew surveying the diverse plants of the remote Yukon Charley National Park and Preserve, Alaska.This incredible experience tested nearly every aspect of my physical and mental abilities. It was only because of my involvement with the CNHP that I was even considered for the position, and that I was able to keep my head afloat amidst the millions of mosquitos and hundreds of identified plants.

Claire Tortorelli samples a vegetation plot in Alaska. 
Not only has the Colorado Natural Heritage Program granted me a much improved skill set, a student job, summer employment, and a place in a delightfully welcoming community of nature-lovers, but my time at the CNHP has allowed me to grow as an individual.  Like many students entering University, I had a very vague and scattered idea of what I wanted to do with my life.  Although I am still unsure of exactly what I want to do or where I want to be, I now have a much more focused idea of the variety of work I would like to be involved with and the type of community I would like to be a member of.  The people here have taught me that I never have to let go of that sense of wonder and enthusiasm that I had as a child. I cannot thank the wonderful people of the Colorado Natural Heritage Program enough for all of their kind words and support in preparing me for life post-graduation.

In keeping with a long line of CNHP field botanists, Claire Tortorelli gets excited about a pinecone.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Black Bear Safety Tips

By Alyssa Meier, CSU Wildlife Biology Undergraduate and CNHP Student Intern

Spring is here, and with warming temperatures, black bears are emerging from winter hibernation. Black bears can spend up to twenty hours a day covering numerous miles of ground in searching for food, which can lead to some surprising encounters.
Young black bear snoozing in tree.
Here are some tips on what to do if you see a bear:
  • Stay calm. The bear is probably just as shocked as you are.
  • Stop and back away slowly. Sudden movements are often perceived as aggressive and can cause the bear to act defensively in response.
  • No eye contact. Directly looking at bears is seen as a challenge.
  • Speak quietly. Loud noises are perceived as aggressive.
  • Don’t run. Running triggers an automatic predator response in the bears and they will see you as some pretty slow prey.

Bears are very capable climbers and often seek refuge from threats in trees.
Bears are naturally inquisitive creatures. Some encounters occur because the bear is just curious about what’s going on in the area. The behavior of the bear is indicative of the bear’s intentions.

Here are some common bear behaviors:
  • If a bear is sitting or moving away this is often a neutral behavior. Just go about your business.
  • If a bear is standing motionless or ignoring you, it is indicating that they just want to be left alone. As long as you don’t start toward them, the bear will leave you be.
  • Bears climb trees to show submission or seek safety. Mothers will often send their cubs up trees and sit beneath them when they encounter dangers. You’ve probably passed under a few bears hidden up in trees already. Just keep away from the tree and give the bears space and they’ll leave you alone. 
  • When a bear is spotted popping its jaw or huffing, it is a sign nervousness or apprehension. It’s a warning for you to back away and leave them alone.

Curious bears often stand up in order to get a better look. This act in inherently non aggressive.
For more information on safely encountering bears, visit the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Botany Essentials for the 2015 Field Season

If you are out in the field already, or planning to go soon, make sure you have a copy of A Field Guide to Colorado’s Wetland Plants: Identification, Ecology, and Conservation.

If you are working in wetlands on Colorado's Eastern Slope, you can also order a copy of Common Wetland Plants of Colorado's Eastern Plains: A Field Guide. Check our website in September for the upcoming Wetland Field Guide App!

Jennifer Ackerfield, Collections Manager of the CSU Herbarium, has written a new flora for the state of Colorado. Pre-orders are now accepted at the JBRIT website.
Jennifer Ackerfield's new flora will help amateurs and professional botanists alike key out Colorado plant species like the Rocky Mountain blue columbine (Aquilegia saximontana). 

Friday, April 10, 2015

CNHP Staff Teach CSU Graduate Students Field Biology Skills

This week CNHP staff members, along with CSU professor Tara Teel, spent a day in the field with graduate students from the Conservation Leadership Through Learning Program. The CLTL is an innovative graduate program that teaches students how to confront conservation challenges and sustainability from a variety of perspectives. This year’s student cohorts are wrapping up their second semester at CSU, and will spend the last two semesters of their graduate work in either Belize or Africa.
Conservation Leadership Through Learning graduate students learn how to sample vegetation plots at Coyote Ridge Natural Area, Fort Collins.

Close-up of greater short-horned lizard at Coyote Ridge Natural Area.
CNHP staff members Pam Smith and Susan Panjabi, along with Director Dave Anderson and City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Department Botanist, taught CLTL students basic field biology skills at Pine Ridge and Coyote Ridge Natural Areas in Fort Collins. These included how to use a GPS to navigate to points, how to set up and survey different types of transects to study plants and animals. The students will use these field skills to design similar studies in Belize and Africa.
A CLTL graduate student holds a greater short-horned lizard.