The Center for Public Lands helps facilitate a diverse array of projects across our public lands. Here’s a sample:

Photo provided by Peter Horgan.

Photo provided by Peter Horgan.

Planning CLimbing Access

Peter Horgan is creating a ‘stabilization report’ assessing the conditions of the access trails and surrounding areas that lead to the rock climbing areas in the Gunnison Valley.  The purpose of this report is to propose actions to improve the access to the crags and boulders based on current conditions of the access trails.  The development of this report will consist of spending time in the field collecting information on several factors that will influence the decision-making process in the improvement of the access trails.  These factors include but are not limited to, wildlife habitat, native and invasive plant species, potential cultural sites, impacts to water resources, among others.  Upon completing the data collection the student will draft the report that outlines the data that will be used to support the United States Forest Service’s Gunnison Ranger District’s NEPA process.  

 

Western Colorado University students plant sagebrush seedlings as part of an effort to prevent cheatgrass from dominating the site of a recent wildfire. Photo by Sam Liebl.

Western Colorado University students plant sagebrush seedlings as part of an effort to prevent cheatgrass from dominating the site of a recent wildfire. Photo by Sam Liebl.

Fighting Back Against Invasive Cheatgrass

Western MEM student Sam Liebl partners with the CPL on a project to tell the story of cheatgrass invasion in the Gunnison Valley. A non-native annual grass, cheatgrass encourages larger and more frequent fires in sagebrush landscapes. After burns, cheatgrass thrives and outcompetes native vegetation. The grass has infested more than 60 percent of the Intermountain West, but the Gunnison Valley is still in the early stages of invasion, and there is an opportunity to prevent its further spread and save the valley's native landscapes if land managers take swift, large-scale actions. Liebl aims to inspire and inform those actions with a documentary film, a podcast series and community events. You can hear Liebl talk about his cheatgrass work and journalism background on an interview with ThinkRadio, link below.

The Digital Junior Ranger team learning about leather-making along a National Historic Trail in Utah. Photo provided by Amanda Botsford.

The Digital Junior Ranger team learning about leather-making along a National Historic Trail in Utah. Photo provided by Amanda Botsford.

Digital Junior Rangers

We are a team comprised of graduate, undergraduate, and high school students working for the National Historic Trails of the National Park Service to create a first-of-its-kind stand-alone digital Junior Ranger program in the nation. The digital Junior Ranger team has been tasked to create an engaging digital prototype targeted at kids to promote curiosity and connection to our National Historic Trails.

The National Trails Intermountain Region (NTIR) of the NPS is based in Santa Fe, New Mexico and administers nine national historic trails. These trails are the California, Oregon, Pony Express, Mormon Pioneer, Trail of Tears, Santa Fe, Old Spanish, El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro and El Camino Real de los Tejas NHTs. They cross 25,000 miles and 24 states. NTIR’s staff work with community groups, private landowners, nonprofit organizations, tribes, and federal, state, county, and local agencies to identify trail resources, provide site planning and design, map the trails on the ground, and develop educational opportunities. National historic trails are comprised of historic sites, buildings, roads, and trail segments that collectively tell the story of the trail travelers and their impact on our nation.

As a team, we are involved in analyzing the challenges and opportunities of a Junior Ranger program, creating a technology development plan, and building a prototype to be tested in the field. We investigate the uses of digital technologies that facilitate connections with place, report on strategies that have proven effective in accomplishing youth education objectives and are likely to be effective in the digital Junior Ranger program. We use a variety of ways to collect information and research to include travel to National Historic Trail sites within the Intermountain Region where we make connections with private, federal, and state contacts.

During year one, we will thoroughly evaluate existing conditions, opportunities and challenges, and produce a pilot study assessing the diverse ways youth engage with the national trails system.

Mount Crested Butte and Engelmann Spruce near it’s summit. Partnering with the US Forest Service the Vegetation Management Plan was created to maximize ecological vitality and resiliency of forests within the ski area boundaries.

Mount Crested Butte and Engelmann Spruce near it’s summit. Partnering with the US Forest Service the Vegetation Management Plan was created to maximize ecological vitality and resiliency of forests within the ski area boundaries.

Crested Butte Mountain Resort: Vegetation Management Plan

Amy Eaton is working with Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Gunnison Ranger District, to develop a vegetation management plan for the ski area. The purpose of the vegetation management plan is to provide short-term and long-term management guidance of the vegetation within CBMR’s Special Use Permit (SUP) boundary. The vegetation management plan is needed to maintain and promote functioning ecological communities within the ski area boundary.

The vegetation management plan is being developed following a forest inventory that occurred over the summer of 2018. The intent of the fieldwork was to gain a general understanding of the forest composition and health at CBMR. The inventory employed USFS Common Stand Exam Region 2 Gunnison Modification Protocols, at the intensive level of examination. A total of 205 plots were sampled in 81 stands across both the current SUP boundary and the proposed SUP boundary expansion area. The data collected is archived in the USFS Field Sampled Vegetation database. Following data collection, ArcMap was used to map the forest composition of the mountain and complete a series of GIS analyses to create severe wildfire vulnerability and climate change vulnerability indices, and prioritize forest stands for management action.

Silvicultural recommendations include proactive, planned treatments that are sensitive to ecological needs in the unique context of developed ski area terrain. As an ecologically informed, forward thinking, and fundamentally functional strategy for land management, the plan is intended to enable CBMR to maintain and enhance the natural resiliency of the ski area while simultaneously providing outstanding year-round recreational experiences into the future.

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The Conundrum Hot Springs area has seen a spike of increased visitation in recent years leading to trampling of fragile alpine vegetation, an excess of fecal matter, and an altered visitor experience. Tyler Lee worked to create a permitting system to protect this unique area.

The Conundrum Hot Springs area has seen a spike of increased visitation in recent years leading to trampling of fragile alpine vegetation, an excess of fecal matter, and an altered visitor experience. Tyler Lee worked to create a permitting system to protect this unique area.

Realizing a Land Ethic: Implementing the Conundrum Hot Springs Overnight Limited Use Permit System

Tyler Lee is working for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District to implement an overnight limited use permit system in the beloved Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. After decades of increased visitation, diminishing wilderness character, and biophysical impacts in the Wilderness, the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District implemented an Overnight Visitor Use Management Plan in 2017. The purpose of this project is to implement the first phase of the plan by establishing a limited use permit system at the Conundrum Hot Springs. The project has accomplished engineering the permit system and reservation website, educating internal and external stakeholders, outreach to the public, and developing a strategic enforcement plan. Thus far, data from Wilderness Rangers shows the Hot Springs have seen a positive turn-around and a more prepared visitor. Furthermore, the public and local media have embraced the successful first year of the permit. Tyler continues to work for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District as the Lead Wilderness Ranger to implement the next phase of permits and monitoring.

A youngster getting ready to cast a line at Independence Lake Preserve located near Truckee, California. Photo provided by Mila Bock.

A youngster getting ready to cast a line at Independence Lake Preserve located near Truckee, California. Photo provided by Mila Bock.

CONSERVATION AND RECREATION: MANAGING VISITATION ON A NATURE PRESERVE

Mila Bock partnered with the Nevada Chapter of The Nature Conservancy (TNC)  in order to assess visitor use at one of their nature preserves. Independence Lake Preserve is the only lake in California home to a wild, self-sustaining lake population of Lahontan cutthroat trout, and an increasingly popular recreation destination for locals and tourists in the Lake Tahoe area. Mila administered a survey during the summer of 2018 to reassess visitor use trends to Independence Lake Preserve (ILP). Her report summarized findings of the survey, provided management recommendations, and offered fresh insight into ILP’s visitor base. This work will help TNC modify management plans and develop strategies to accommodate increased public use while continuing their conservation efforts to protect the trout and surrounding meadows and forests.

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species management in the gmug: Modeling population distributions of the northern LEOPARD frog

Clarinda worked with the US Forest Service to assess northern leopard frog populations in the Gunnison Ranger District and make recommendations for future management and survey activities. The northern leopard frog is a species of special concern in the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests, which is currently in the process of revising their Forest Plan. Although this species is present across much of North America, it has experienced severe localized declines, including within the Gunnison Basin.

Clarinda’s project evolved into three main areas: (1) Begin the process of understanding the population distribution of the northern leopard frog within the Gunnison Basin. (2) Identify current threats to the known populations and recommend management options to reduce these threats. (3) Create a habitat suitability model to guide future survey efforts.

Literature review and database searches informed two months of field surveys in the Gunnison Basin during the fall of 2018. A Western undergraduate with interest in wildlife ecology was recruited to assist in the field surveys. These surveys continued to confirm suspicions of extirpation of the species in historical locations through the Basin. On-the-ground surveys also revealed threats to remaining populations such as non-native amphibians that may out-compete the native frog for resources, and a lethal pathogen that is responsible for amphibian decline throughout the world.

A habitat suitability model was created for south-central Colorado using ArcGIS and Maxent, a modeling platform that has become widely used to identify suitability habitat for rare and cryptic species over the past decade. Habitat suitability of the northern leopard frog is predicted across the study area using inputs of species presence locations and environmental features that are thought to impact the distribution of the species. The modeling results should be used to continue future field surveys for this important native amphibian. The accessible and easy to learn model can also be improved upon with more occurrence data locations and additional environmental variables.