Monday, May 22, 2017

CNHP Peep Show!

Last month, CNHP hosted its first annual Peep Diorama Contest, and there were far more wonderful entries than we could have possibly hoped for! From The Bunny Band and Chickweed to a Peep Bodies Exhibit and Peeptart, the competition was fierce. Thanks to everyone who participated and voted. You made it an incredibly successful event, and hopefully the first of many!
Jeepers Peepers by Pam
Here are this year's winners:
1st Place: Game of Peeps
2nd Place: Happy Earth Day
3rd Place: Peter Cottontail's Meats
Honorable Peep-mentions: Peeps of the Caribbean & Peep Gothic

Congrats everyone!

Game of Peeps by Alyssa & Sierra

Happy Earth Day by Kristin

Peter Cottontail's Meats by Dave

Peeps of the Caribbean by Denise & Jill

Peep Gothic by Tom

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Congrats to CNHP Graduates Alyssa and Savanna!

Esteemed CNHP work studies Alyssa Meier and Savanna Smith graduated this spring from CSU, both with honors. (Whoo!)

Alyssa worked with CNHP for nearly all four years of college, completing jobs varying from rare plant data entry to field work that included some nasty allergies (and the occasional ant bite). She was one of the Siegele interns last summer and an invaluable contributor to the nerd word of the day. She received her Bachelor's in Fish Wildlife and Conservation Biology with a minor in Creative Writing. Now she is off to collar elk calves in southern Colorado for the CPW and will return to do field work for CNHP at the Air Force Academy later this summer.

Savanna was with CNHP for the past year where she helped enter data from the endless pile of element occurrence records. For her honors thesis project, she studied the effects of noise and other factors on Colorado bat occupancy with the help of zoologist Jeremy Siemers (a fantastic poster of her findings is on the hallway wall next to the kitchen). She received her Bachelor's in Wildlife Biology with a minor in Ecological Restoration. Soon she will be headed north to work for Idaho's Bureau of Land Management.

These two will be sorely missed (and bribery attempts to get them to return to CNHP are undoubtedly in the foreseeable future). Congratulations to both of you! Have fun (and good luck) "adulting" in the real world!

Savanna on the steps of the CSU Administration Building.

(Typical) Alyssa giving one last huzzah as a CSU Ram.

Monday, May 15, 2017

RARE II, Imperiled Plants of Colorado: Exhibit at the Ft. Collins Museum of Discovery

The Fort Collins Museum of Discovery (Mason and Cherry streets) is hosting the amazing art exhibit, RARE II, Imperiled Plants of Colorado, May 6 - August 6, 2017. The exhibit was organized by our important partners from the Rocky Mountain Society of Botanical Artists.

The illustrations are beautiful, highly accurate, and significant because they call attention to these little-known rare and imperiled plant species found in Colorado, and, in many cases, are not known from anywhere else in the world. The Colorado Rare Plant Conservation Initiative identifies lack of awareness as one of the most noteworthy threats to these species' long-term viability. For additional information about these and other Colorado rare plants, please visit the Colorado Rare Plant Guide, hosted on the Colorado Natural Heritage Program website.

Big thanks to the Rocky Mountain Society of Botanical Artists and the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Human Disturbance in Colorado’s Potential Conservation Areas

by the ESS 440 Anthropogenic Disturbance Team

Throughout the spring 2017 semester at Colorado State, seniors in the ecosystem science program have been working through their senior project with the help of a local Colorado agency or organization. This blogpost is an overview of one of the team's collaboration with the Colorado Natural Heritage Program. For more information on the team and an overview of this project, please see our previous blog post, found here.

The Colorado Natural Heritage Program (CNHP) has worked in Colorado since 1979, cataloguing information about the rare and endangered species that exist within the state.  One aspect of their work has been the creation of potential conservation areas (PCAs) in Colorado. A PCA is an area created to denote some level of biodiversity significance. CNHP has identified these areas in the hopes of protecting the plants and animals that reside within it. The main objective of the following project is to build upon CNHP's work in order to better understand the level at which potential conservation areas (PCAs) in Colorado have been disturbed by human activities.

Map of Potential Conservation Areas
Location and rank of Colorado's potential conservation areas (PCAs)

The map above gives the location and rank of each PCA that has been identified by CNHP in Colorado. An area shown in pink, given the rank of B1, surrounds species that are deemed to have outstanding levels of biodiversity significance. These are highly important areas for conservation and contain Colorado's rarest or most imperiled species. Orange sites given a rank of B5 on the other hand, hold species of more general biodiversity significance, likely containing communities that are healthy and relatively abundant in the state.

This map helps focus conservation efforts by ranking areas of biodiversity significance that may be currently unprotected. Areas given a higher ranking such as B1 or B2, are higher priority for conservation. However, to add another layer of information to this idea, our team wanted to find how much anthropogenic, or human, disturbance has taken place in each of these areas.

The first thing the team did was use the location and rank information from each of Colorado's PCAs and combine it with a landscape disturbance index (LDI) dataset. The LDI dataset contains information about a type of disturbance that has been created and that disturbance type's severity level.
distance decay curves used in the LDI model.
Distance decay curves used to determine the disturbance range of each anthropogenic activity
(reproduced from Rondeau et al. 2011)

Above, you can see the distance decay curves that were used as part of the LDI dataset. Each curve is associated with one of the nine types of mappable anthropogenic disturbance. The curve assigns an impact weight, the amount of disturbance created, over a distance to each type of disturbance activity. Some activities have a further reaching effects than others. For example, low intensity urban development has an initial impact weight of 300, however it still creates some level of disturbance up to 2000 meters away. Agriculture on the other hand, also carries an initial impact weight of 300, but its furthest reaching effects end at 500 meters.
Anthropogenic disturbance in Colorado displayed on a color scale ranging from green to red (CNHP 2016). Green denotes undisturbed areas. Red denotes highly disturbed areas. The PCAs that were the focus of this study are highlighted in various colors.

In general, areas along the Front Range and the eastern plains of Colorado have experienced the greatest amounts of anthropogenic disturbance. This is due to the high population density along the Front Range and eastern Colorado's agricultural activity. From the Rocky Mountains westward, there are much lower level of disturbance in the state. A major factor of this is the ruggedness of the terrain. Mountain areas are less accessible to people and have lower population density. Many mountain areas may also currently have some level of protection surrounding them, such as a state or national forest.

Having this new information about the level of disturbance an area experiences, allows conservation efforts to be balanced. While a B1 area may have greater biodiversity significance than a B2 area, it is possible that the B2 area is experiencing a greater amount of anthropogenic disturbance and therefore may be considered a higher priority for conservation.

Through our analysis, we identified the most and least disturbed B1 PCAs in the state. In the above map, you can see an area in western Colorado highlighted in blue. This area is the Colorado River PCA. It is a B1 PCA and home to the endangered Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, and razorback sucker. It is the most disturbed B1 PCA in Colorado primarily due to its proximity to the I-70 urban corridor. Not addressed in the LDI are additional significant impacts, such as the large amount of agricultural water diversion used for irrigation. Water diversions use dams and canals to draw water out of the river.

In contrast, Colorado's Hankins Gulch, located in central Colorado and shown in pink, is the least disturbed B1 PCA in the state. The area has a minimum elevation of 8,305 ft., meaning the mountainous terrain puts this area out of reach for many activities and land uses. Additionally, motorized vehicle usage is also prohibited within the area, further reducing accessibility to the area for most people. Hankins Gulch receives its B1 PCA status because it is home to the critically imperiled budding monkeyflower (Mimulus gemmiparus).

While this was just one example of the scope at which human disturbance can affect a PCA, identifying areas in Colorado that are heavily disturbed by humans is an important step in prioritizing conservation efforts in order to most effectively protect Colorado's biodiversity. For more information, please follow this link to an interactive Story Map created about the project.

Special thanks to Michelle Fink and David Anderson of CNHP for their contributions and guidance with this project.
CNHP. 2016. Landscape Disturbance Index Layer for Colorado. Edition 12_2016. Raster digital data. Colorado Natural Heritage Program, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO.

Rondeau, R., K. Decker, J. Handwerk, J. Siemers, L. Grunau, and C. Pague. 2011. The state of Colorado's biodiversity 2011. Prepared for The Nature Conservancy. Colorado Natural Heritage Program, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado.

Monday, May 8, 2017

CSU Students Create Project with CNHP on Priority Conservation Areas and Land Ownership Using COMaP Data

Group Members: Tatum VanDam, Madison Wood, Alexa Grafton, Dylan Heser, Anna Banwart, and Nicole Chirban

Through our senior level Ecosystem Science and Sustainability class, we were given the opportunity to connect with resources from around Fort Collins to create a research and development capstone project. Working alongside the Colorado Natural Heritage Program (CNHP), we were able to communicate and develop a research project that allowed us to apply the knowledge we have gained through our four years of education at Colorado State University.

Our team was lucky to be advised by David Anderson, the director and chief scientist at CNHP. David helped us navigate COMaP (Colorado Ownership, Management, and Protection) to determine the distribution of land management and ownership types within specific parcels of land. Each parcel of land that CNHP has deemed of significant ecological/ biological importance is known as a Potential Conservation Area (PCA).

We chose sites of interest for our project based on a biological significance scale from B1 – B5, B1 being of highest importance and B5 being of lower/lowest importance. Of those sites, we chose three B1/B2 PCAs to focus on, including one in Gunnison Basin, Horsetooth Reservoir Hogbacks, and Rabbit Mountain. B1 areas are described as having outstanding biodiversity significance, and B2 areas are described as having very high biodiversity significance. Each site has a unique characteristic that gives it the potential to be a conservation site. In the Gunnison Basin, the sage brush area is of high importance (B1) to conserve because of the habitat it provides to the native Sage Grouse. The Horsetooth Reservoir Hogbacks have a high importance rating (B2) because of the occurrence of vulnerable plant communities and butterfly species native to the area. Like the Horsetooth Reservoir Hogbacks and Gunnison Basin, Rabbit Mountain is also rated highly as a B1 because of the native shrub lands and habitat for Black-tailed Prairie Dogs.

Our group worked extremely hard to evaluate the data of land management and ownership types given to us by CNHP. Madison, a master creator in GIS, was an amazing leader for the analysis of COMaP data. She was able to take an enormous amount of land data and break it down to a manageable size. Madison created a Storymap visual presentation with the help of Anna, Alexa, Dylan, and Nicole. CNHP will use this presentation for public education on the management of local lands and the distribution of PCA’s, allowing for more public understanding and possibly better collaboration on private ownership lands.

Finishing up the semester, we presented our findings at the ESS symposium in April as well as in class for our stakeholders from CNHP. This project was a growing experience as well as an opportunity to build connections with CNHP. We would like to thank all who took the time to help us with this project and we hope CNHP finds much benefit in our final product.

CNHP group meeting with Dave 
Gunnison Basin: Sage Brush

Thursday, May 4, 2017

CSU ESS 440: Investigating Colorado's Ever-Changing Riparian Habitat

Students enrolled in WCNR’s Ecosystem Science & Sustainability 440 spring semester worked with CNHP staff on several learning projects. One of these projects was to re-evaluate Front Range riparian plots from the 1991-1999 State Riparian and Wetland classification project. The students were given four plots with data sheets and photos from the 1990s with the task of relocating each plot and noting changes in appearance and function. Additionally, the students developed a video documenting the process as well as the results. Denise Culver, a CNHP ecologist, was thrilled with the results, saying “Everyone quickly grasped the complexities of Colorado’s wetland and riparian ecosystems. The conclusions were thoughtful and insightful.”  You may view the video below.

The ESS 440 students are: Charlie Beasley, Katherine Feldman, Danielle Reimanis, Makenzie Ruppert, Savannah Telander, and Caitlin Tuminello. Denise was assisted by Neal Swayze, a WCNR student workstudy.