My fifth month at the Colorado State BLM Office has come and gone, and I am now entering into my sixth. Luckily, I have been extended for another five months here in wonderful Colorado, which will bring me into the new year.
The last two months have been packed with a variety of species and a variety of work. Early in July we traveled down to Monte Vista in the San Luis Valley in southern central Colorado to meet with Joel Humphries and his AIM crew. It was very interesting to see his crew working through the AIM protocol in the field. I don’t have experience with AIM, so I was glad to gain a better understanding of its protocol. It was also helpful to talk with people who have been doing AIM for a season or more and get their opinions on the protocol as a whole. It seems like a good way to standardize data collection across the BLM landscape in order to get a complete picture of its health.
A little later in July we went up to Meeker, CO in Rio Blanco County to monitor Physaria congesta and P. obcordata. They’re two rare mustard species that grow in shale barrens, primarily on hill slopes. We monitored two P. congesta sites and two P. obcordata sites. Luckily we were able to install a new P. obcordata monitoring plot this year, since we previously had only one. We have not seen a significant change in population numbers at either P. congesta locations, but have seen a significant increase in population number at our one P. obcordata site this year, as compared to 2011 when the study started.
The last week in July was full of Eutrema penlandii. I had been working on putting together a picture guide for the alpine species in the Mosquito Range (where this species exists) up until this trip. Phil, a previous intern here, started the guide and I finished adding the photos and brief descriptions. I was surprised and happy to learn that several of the other people on this trip found the guide extremely helpful, and I’ve recently finished adding the new plants we found this year to the guide.
E. penlandii is such a fun plant to monitor. E. penlandii is a rare alpine mustard that grows in micro-habitats that stay consistently wet at 11,800’ – 13,280’. This species is extremely inconspicuous, growing 3-8cm high, among graminoid wetland vegetation on Colorado’s Mosquito Range. We currently have five E. penlandii monitoring sites, in some of the most beautiful alpine habitat, and two modified-whittaker plots. Our modified-whittaker plots are long term vegetation studies that measure biodiversity in the face of climate change. This was the second year for both of these plots, and we are starting to get a clear picture of exactly what species exist there. It will be interesting to see how these alpine habitats change over the years as the global climate changes.
This is one of the best species to monitor if for no other reason than its habitat. The alpine ecosystem, and the views that come along with it, are some of the most beautiful and fascinating. And on top of the plethora of views and plant species unique to this ecosystem, the trek up to our sites are fun. We don’t have many monitoring sites that require much of a hike, for a variety of reasons, however most of our E. penlandii sites require it. I found it refreshing to hike 20-30 minutes to a site, to get our heart rates up as we marched up the mountains, and take in the mountain air. We were also very lucky this year to have good weather; it can be quite windy, rainy, and cold above the tree line. We encountered strong chilly winds only one day, and a slight drizzle as we wound up our monitoring on another.
View from parking spot up to Horseshoe Cirque
On the way up to Mosquito Pass
Hiking to Cameron Amphitheater plot
Working in Cameron Amphitheater
Plants in Cameron Amphitheater
Working on Hoosier Ridge
Last week we worked on Phacelia formosula, a short-lived or biennial species in the Hydrophyllaceae that only occurs in the North Park region of Colorado. We spent a few days monitoring the three sites already established and setting up and reading two new ones. This is the first short-lived species I have monitored here in CO, which changes the sampling design of our plots. So it was great to see how and why we monitor this species differently than our other longer-lived perennial species.
We most often use long term permanent transects within a macroplot where we measure plant density in order to understand population trends. However, since this species is short lived there is not a strong relationship between plant location in one year to plant location in the next, making permanent transects less effective at measuring population trend. So, for our plots we use permanent transects within the macroplot, and temporary quadrats within each transect. Also, instead of measuring density, we measure the frequency of P. formosula, because frequency is more sensitive to changes in spatial arrangement. For example, one of our macroplots is 20m by 60m with 12 permanent 1m by 20m transects at every 5m, staring at 4m, along the baseline. Then within each transect we randomly place ten 1m² quadrats every year where we measure frequency (is the plant present or absent). For this plot there are a total of 1200 possible quadrat locations, and we measure 120 each year.
Only one of our three sites, California Gulch, has shown a significant decrease in plant frequency this year compared to 2013. This was an interesting year for a few of our sites. California Gulch was interesting because it had so few plants, and another of our sites had few, if any, rosettes. Nearly all the plants at that location were reproductive, despite size. Next year it will be interesting to see how/if this changes.
And today I leave to do Scelrocactus glaucus surveying on the Gunnison River. I have yet to do a river trip, so I am really looking forward to this week. Floating down the river will be beautiful, and S. glaucus is a beautiful cactus as well.
On a less professional note, the last few months of my life have also been very interesting. I recently went rafting for the first time. I was afforded the amazing opportunity to raft down the Arkansas River through the Royal Gorge with some fantastic friends. It was an amazing experience, and one I’ve wanted to do for a while now. When in Rome, right? It was breathtaking to see the gorge from the bottom. This was my first time visiting, and I was in awe. Most people get to see the 1000ft drop into the gorge from the infamous bridge, so it was interesting to see the 1000ft rise to the bridge from the water. Obviously the actual rafting was a thrill as well. We went through some class 3 and a class 4 rapid, which was perfect for my first time rafting. We got turned around at one point, and thrashed around a fair amount, but no one fell out. The whole trip was a huge success.
Earlier this month I also flew home to IL to stand up in two of my very close friends’ wedding. It was the first time I’ve stood up in a wedding, and my first wedding since I was 14, so it was quite the experience. It was a huge honor and the wedding day was a lot of fun. I can’t believe we’re at the age where people are getting married! Last month I also went to Portland to visit my boyfriend, where we hiked the most beautiful trail in the Columbia River Gorge. It’s such a lush environment with the amount of rain they receive; such a beautiful contrast to the drier parts here in CO. I’ve also been exploring CO on my weekends. Most recently I went up to Mohawk Lake near Breckenridge. It’s quite the incline, with a bit of bush whacking near the end after Lower Mohawk Lake, but that’s because we lost the trail. This time to the alpine I knew most of the plant species and had a blast pointing them out to my boyfriend. My parents and brother are also planning a visit in early September for a week, so I’m very much looking forward to that, and my sister and close friend will visit mid-September. I think my family gets just as much enjoyment out of my moving around as I do.
Most of the wedding party
Mohawk Lake, CO
Trail up to Mohawk Lake
Tunnels Falls, Oregon
Until next time,
CO State BLM Office