Over the past 15 to 20 years, biologists with Wetland Dynamics have been involved in a variety of wetland, waterbird, vegetation, and conservation related projects throughout the SLV, Colorado, and United States. Projects related to the development of management, monitoring, outreach, and wildlife procedures within wetland, riparian, and upland ecosystems.
- SLV Watershed and Wildlife Conservation Assessment: This needs assessment fills current information gaps regarding the water resources available to provide habitat for 35 identified priority wildlife species. This effort involved local, regional, and state staff and support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Natural Resource Conservation Service, U.S. Forest Service, Ducks Unlimited, Inc., Intermountain West Joint Venture (IWJV), National Park Service, and numerous other individuals and organizations. New GIS technologies coupled with identification of limiting habitat resources for priority species will help promote cooperative efforts among agencies and organizations to manage habitats and water more effectively and efficiently. Ultimately this assessment will provide goals for future conservation, recommendations for future wetland/riparian restoration and enhancement projects, and cooperative efforts among stakeholders. The Rio Grande Basin Roundtable and the SLV Conservation and Connection Initiative awarded grant funding (fiscal agent – SLV chapter of Trout Unlimited, Inc.) to develop the assessment.
- Acoustic Monitoring on Private Lands – Conservation Innovation Grant: This project is an exploration of the use of a passive acoustic monitoring technology to improve detection and monitoring of endangered, threatened, and species of concern in the San Luis Valley of Colorado. Three species will be monitored including the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher (SWFL), Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo (YBCU), and the Northern Leopard Frog (NLFR). Territory locations are known on public lands for SWFL and NLFR, with little very limited habitat use information existing for YBCU, and little to know information on private lands. This project will occur on several Wetland Reserve Program Conservation Easements that they WDDLLC previously worked on to complete baseline reports and management plans for the NRCS.This project will link habitat condition and management actions with presence/absence of these species.This acoustic monitoring technique involves setting up recording equipment in appropriate habitat to record the vocalizations of these species.The equipment can be deployed for several weeks then the data can be scanned, with a computer program that looks for specific vocalizations based on duration and frequency. The computer program requires a “recognizer” to scan the recordings; development of the recognizer is the challenging part of this process and requires a great deal of field recordings and a lot of trial and error.This monitoring method has several advantages: utilizing acoustic monitoring for a species has limited disturbance as the unit can setup for days or weeks with brief visits to the site to set up and retrieve the recordings; the data are collected at all sites in the same way removing all observer bias or influences of inclement weather; the potential bias associated with data analysis is eliminated because recordings are scanned on a computer with the same recognizer; and sites may be monitored over a very long period of time with less time and effort rather than utilizing normal monitoring methods that requires trained observers that monitor a site perhaps once or twice for ten minutes over several months. This technology is very promising for future monitoring of secretive species in areas where little is known about their use of habitat.
- USFWS Hydrogeomorphic Reports: Since 2011 Cary has participated in the development of Hydrogeomorphic reports for United States Fish and Wildlife Service National Wildlife Refuges located in Colorado, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Michigan, and Pennsylvania through Greenbrier Wetland Services.The goal is to restore wetland function through an analysis of historic and current conditions, management, anthropomorphic modifications, and overall objectives for the site.She visits the refuges, coordinates with the local and regional staff to assimilate background information pertaining to geology, soils, hydrology, vegetation, historical archives, aerial photography, GIS layers, cultural resources, and infrastructure for the refuge and region.Data is analyzed and a final draft is provided to the staff outlining how the conditions in and around the refuge have changed over time in relation to abiotic and biotic conditions, management strategies, climate, processes, etc. to provide management recommendations which promote an approach that mimics processes and restores habitats to a more natural condition.The overall analysis identifies how system modifications have changed habitats and wildlife distribution, increased cover and density of invasive weeds, and altered major system driving factors — for example, fluvial dynamics. Consequently, prescribed management recommendations provide an outline of how to restore or mimic natural processes primarily in wetlands and riparian areas that no longer occur in order to restore natural hydrologic conditions to promote native vegetation communities for a variety of wildlife species.
- Wetland Reserve Program Monitoring and Management: Wetland Dynamics biologists have worked with the local Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) San Luis Valley wildlife biologist to help monitor and develop management plans on Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) conservation easements.Funds have been allocated to complete baseline inventories on 16 WRPs and to develop management plans on these properties. Many partners have been involved in completing this project including the SLV Habitat Protection Program, Intermountain West Joint Venture, SLV Weed Management Association, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife along with each of the private landowners.Over time,management, proliferation of invasive weeds, and anthropomorphic alterations have changed the hydrology, soils, and topography of many of these lands. Through this project, management plans will be developed cooperatively with the landowner and wildlife biologist to provide future strategies that improve habitat conditions for wildlife ‘while increasing the forage capacity on some WRPs for haying and grazing and reducing invasive weeds.
- Bill Zeedyk Road and Stream Restoration Workshop – SLV Conservation and Connection Initiative Grant: The workshop was free for 40 participants from federal and state employees, organizations, and private contractors that work to restore roads and streams. A majority of the restoration methods were built by workshop participants in order to provide hands on experience. The U.S. Forest Service road maintenance crew participating in the workshop used heavy equipment for portions of the roadwork. Results from this workshop immediately improved public access to a popular fishing destination (Regan Lake), improved watershed health, improved the health of House Canyon Creek which was put back into its historic channel, and improved wildlife habitat.
- Gunnison Sage-grouse Working Group Coordination and Monitoring Project: In the San Luis Valley (SLV) a small population of Gunnison Sage-grouse (GUSG) is present at Poncha Pass in Saguache County.This population has been the subject of conservation efforts since the formation of the Poncha Pass Gunnison Sage-grouse Working Group (Working Group) in 1998. As of November 2014 the GUSG has been listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.Working collaboratively with state, federal, non-profit agencies, and private landowners Jenny Nehring has been an integral part of this Working Group and all conservation efforts for this species at Poncha Pass. Jenny contributed to and edited the Poncha Pass Conservation Plan (2000), she worked for both the BLM and the CPW as a field technician for Gunnison Sage-grouse studies and monitoring at Poncha Pass from 1999-2001.Field work involved trapping and tracking radio-marked birds, conducting pellet surveys to determine extent of habitat use, establish vegetation surveys to assess habitat quality and writing monthly and annual reports.In spring 2000 and 2001 Jenny coordinated a project to transplant GUSG from the Gunnison Basin to Poncha Pass. In 2003 she was a member of the Gunnison Sage-grouse Steering Committee and served as the writer/editor for the GUSG Range-wide Conservation Plan (RCP). The RCP is the definitive reference on GUSG biology and conservation. The RCP was developed by leading experts in the field of grouse biology as well as agency leads with the BLM, NPS, USFS, USFWS, NRCS, CPW, and Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.Beginning in 2010, Jenny was hired to act as the Poncha Pass GUSG Working Group Coordinator. The Coordinator position directs the overall planning and leading of meetings, attendance at Gunnison Basin Sage-grouse Strategic Committee meetings, giving presentations at range-wide GUSG conferences, writing comment letters on projects and issues that involve the Poncha Pass population, coordinating lek counts and other monitoring efforts.During the 2012 lek season Jenny initiated an acoustic monitoring project on the lek at Poncha Pass to explore the use of remote, passive, acoustic recordings to monitor leks instead of relying solely on visual lek counts (counting the number of males displaying on a strutting ground). The accuracy of visual lek counts is dependent upon, among other things, the ability of the observer, weather conditions, the topography of the lek, and access to the lek. Acoustic monitoring has the potential to be a more consistent monitoring method for determining the activity level of grouse on a lek. In the coming months habitat enhancement projects in riparian areas are planned for the Poncha Pass population in addition to continued investigations into acoustic monitoring of leks.
- Southwestern willow flycatcher (SWFL) monitoring: WDLLC holds an endangered species permit to survey SWFL in the SLV. Cary Aloia with WDLLC participated in endangered southwestern willow flycatcher (SWFL) monitoring in 2007 and 2010. Since 2002 biologists have conducted surveys for various agencies on BLM and CPW lands. A Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) for SWFL was initiated in 2004 and completed in 2013 for the SLV. Cary contributed to the development of HCP habitat monitoring protocols as part of a contract in 2007. Survey protocols were adapted from Sogge et al 1997 and included establishment of transects and points based on vegetation mapping on the SWAs.Habitat information was collected to further inform managers and colleagues relating bird presence to specific types of conditions such as presence of standing water, willow/cottonwood stand structure, composition, and configuration. Jenny, in conjunction with SWFL surveys is one of only a few who have documented the yellow-billed cuckoo in the SLV. Additionally, Jenny is currently exploring the use of some remote, passive, acoustic monitoring equipment for SWFL surveys that would detect the presence of SWFL without the use of call playback surveys. This acoustic survey method, if accepted, will reduce the time and labor of surveys. This is an exciting technology that not only may increase the number of SWFLs that are detected in historical and new sites, but will also avoid the potential harassment of SWFL that typical playback surveys may cause.
- Intermountain West Joint Venture (IWJV) Priority Wetland Landscape Descriptions: Cary developed descriptions for the IWJVs 20 priority wetland landscapes, including the San Luis Valley, which were incorporated into their 2012 Implementation Plan. Development of these descriptions was essential to the completion of the plan as they will provide partners, cooperators, landowners, and agencies with information about the most important conservation values that exist in each of the landscapes. Overall the plan will guide the direction of conservation throughout the IWJV with the descriptions helping to inform interested individuals about landscapes that will provide the most conservation value in relation to habitats and wildlife.
- Vegetation Mapping: Cary Aloia with WDLLC helped complete vegetation mapping projects on the Russell Lakes, Rio Grande, and Higel State Wildlife Areas (SWA) and the Blanca Wetland Management Area, operated by the BLM.This mapping effort was done in conjunction with mapping on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) refuges in the San Luis Valley. The USFWS Region 2 Habitat and Population Evaluation Team, located in Albuquerque, NM, analyzed and segmented aerial photos taken with infra-red remote sensing equipment based on differences in vegetation reflectivity. Polygons indicating changes in vegetation type were created within the boundary of each area.The information was uploaded to a Trimble GeoXT unit (handheld Global Positioning System hardware) with ArcPad (mobile data collection and field mapping software). Each polygon was visited with specific, alliance level National Vegetation Classification System (NVCS) classifications noted along with any invasive weeds. Management of the SWAs utilized this information as a baseline to monitor changes in vegetation communities resulting from specific management strategies.
- Shorebird Monitoring Project: Jenny Nehring has worked with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to establish baseline shorebird and waterfowl monitoring protocols at the BLM’s Blanca Wetlands site. Initial surveys showed that for some species such as Wilson’s phalarope and Baird’s sandpiper the San Luis Valley is second only to the Great Salt Lake for fall migratory flock densities for these species.Jenny also conducted Valley-wide Snowy plover and Mountain plover surveys documenting the importance of the SLV as breeding grounds for these imperiled species. Results of these monitoring efforts have been presented by Jenny at Wetland Reviews.
- Colorado Wetland Program Projects: Biologists with WDLLC have administered and provided oversight for several different projects funded through the Colorado Wetlands Program (CWP) on state and federal areas. Responsibilities included oversight of the grant and construction of the projects utilizing sub-contractors that surveyed sites, fabricated water control structures, constructed levees, and installed water control structures. Most recently, the Hot Pond project was completed on the Rio Grande SWA which allowed for irrigation of a floodplain wet meadow and slough.
- Conservation Easement Baseline Inventory Reports: Cary Aloia has assisted and completed conservation easement Baseline Inventory Reports (BIR) in the San Luis Valley for Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) and Ducks Unlimited, Inc (DU). The BIR is a biological site assessment which summarizes abiotic and biotic conditions of property, management and infrastructure changes, current conditions, and the perceived conservation values of the property. Cary has assisted in completing 7 and has recently completed 2 BIRs in the San Luis Valley for Rio RiGHT and DU.Site visits are conducted to document current conditions and establish fixed photo points utilizing Global Positioning System locations. All water delivery infrastructure, fences, boundaries, and property infrastructure are documented. Vegetation communities, including invasive weeds, are mapped and classified using the National Vegetation Classification System (NVCS).Landowner interviews are conducted to determine historic conditions, management strategies, and document wildlife observations. A report is provided to the land trust and landowner outlining the known historic conditions of the property in addition to all current conditions including water delivery infrastructure, property infrastructure, vegetation, soils, water rights, etc. Baseline reports provide the land trust with information to base future monitoring efforts such that changes can be documented over time.
- Workshop Administration and Participation: Cary Aloia has assisted and coordinated workshops in the San Luis Valley (SLV) for landowners, agencies, and organizations in order to further the adaptation of efficient and effective management strategies in wetlands, riparian areas, and associated uplands on public and private lands.Since 2000 she has participated in Wetland Reviews throughout the Middle-Upper Rio Grande region. The SLV is one of a few areas nationwide that have had consistent reviews on a variety of wetland areas with a wide range of ownership. Wetland Reviews have been conducted in the SLV in 2006, 2008, 2009, and 2011.In 2012, Cary helped administer a workshop for landowners with conservation easements in the SLV and presented information relating landforms, soils, hydrology, and vegetation.Field site visits and evaluation of historic and current conditions in relation to management strategies allow workshop participants to identify locations where, for example, insufficient water delivery infrastructure may prevent proper use of water resources and negatively impact habitat conditions. We look forward to continuing to provide administration of future Wetland Reviews as an avenue to collaborate and create cooperative efforts among agencies and landowners managing and monitoring wetlands and riparian areas in the SLV.
- Lonetree Riparian Restoration: Lonetree Creek is located at Poncha Pass in Saguache County on BLM and private lands. This ephemeral creek is important in the landscape for a wide variety of wildlife species including pronghorn, deer, elk, turkey, neotropical migrants and Gunnison Sage-grouse. Phase 1 of this project was completed in 2014 and included a survey of the creek from the US Forest Service boundary to its confluence with San Luis Creek on the floor of the SLV. The creek has several large headcuts, has been straightened, is impacted by cattle and elk graze and browse, as well as two-track road construction and erosion. This project will implement proven riparian restoration techniques provided by Bill Zeedyk (include web link) in sagebrush steppe ecosystem. Funding sources to complete the on-the-ground riparian structures is being pursued.
- Gunnison Sage-grouse Collaborative Action Plan:The CAP will provide a roadmap for voluntary conservation efforts across the range of the GUSG over the next 3 to 5 years that seeks to have positive impacts for GUSG habitat. These investment opportunities will consist of an appropriate set of recommendations for each county and population that may include actions such as conservation easements or habitat treatments to improve the quantity and quality of habitat in sagebrush landscapes within the species’ range.The first step will be to identify actions that would improve habitat for the GUSG and benefit other values in the sagebrush landscape including those related to local communities, life styles, and sagebrush-dependent species. This will be accompanied by expected outcomes or metrics that will allow the partners to assess progress made toward the Collaborative Action Plan’s goals during and after the implementation of the Plan. The plan will also align funding opportunities with specific actions to meet the identified habitat objectives for each population area.The CAP will recognize and be complementary to GUSG habitat conservation efforts completed to date. It will be informed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) planning process that is currently underway for BLM-administered public lands across the species’ range.An aggressive goal for completion of the Action Plan is targeted, commencing June 2017 with a draft plan by the end of 2017.
- Acoustic Monitoring on Public Lands: Acoustic monitoring in timber sales may be a cost effective survey method to expand bird surveys in timber sales before and after harvest of trees. Analysis is still on going to determine the most effective method based on the objectives of the monitoring and needs of the USFS.Summer 2017 acoustic monitoring projects for the SLV BLM Office were focused on detection of Southwestern Willow Flycatcher (SWFL) and Yellow-billed Cuckoo (YBCU). Limited budgets are a major factor in reducing time biologists can spend in the field to survey for these endangered species. This project will test how effective acoustic monitors are at detecting SWFL and YBCU over several week periods in locations that are not scheduled for intensive field surveys thus allowing for presence/absence information without the expense of typical field work. Analysis is still on going to determine the most effective method based on the objectives of the monitoring and needs of the BLM.
- Professional Management Services for Colorado Parks and Wildlife: We provide management, monitoring and technical services on 7,400 acres of wetland, riparian, and associated uplands on State Wildlife Areas (SWA) in the San Luis Valley of Colorado. Management and monitoring plans are developed annually including water and weed plans.New 5-year management plans were developed and implemented for each of the SWAs.Duties include the daily maintenance of water delivery structures including ditches, culverts, and structures; development and adaptation of ArcGIS databases to document water management objectives and condition of infrastructure, weed and other vegetation treatment locations, well output, salinity, and various monitoring activities.We conduct annual secretive marshbird surveys, colonial nester flight line counts, spring migration waterfowl surveys, presence/absence neo-tropical migrant spring migration and breeding surveys, and northern leopard frog breeding surveys. We trap, catch, and band ducks as part of a long-term study to provide educational opportunities for school groups, K through college, including wetland management, waterfowl management/ecology/taxonomy/banding, amphibian ecology, and plant identification.