Sunday, May 22, 2011

Mesa Verde National Park

Here's my Top Ten list of things you may not know about Mesa Verde National Park:

1. Identified as an IBA (Important Bird Area) by the Colorado Audubon Society

2. Designated by UNESCO as a World Hertitage Site for it's nature and history.

3. Under the Clean Air Act, it was designated as a Class I Air Shed, which means the air quality is supposed to be as good as it gets, and is protected by law.

4. Part of the Nature Conservancy's southern Rockies Network of Conservation Areas.

5. A component of the Park Mesa Research Natural Area.

6. Recognized as a Colorado Outstanding Waters due to the Mancos River forming the eastern edge of the park's borders.

7. Considered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to be in the top 25 National Parks most vulnerable to climate change, with a climate monitoring station established at Far View.

8. A member of the SCPN (Southern Colorado Plateau Inventory and Monitoring Network), which conducts surveys of Long Term Monitoring Plots inside the park.

9. the Colorado Plateau is considered by the International Dark-Sky Association to be one of the best night skies in the country.

10. In the top 28 Places to See Before You Die, a bucket list published by Smithsonian Magazine.

Meanwhile, my crew-leader's boss's boss has established a reward to the person who reports the most interesting (from the general public's perspective) wildlife sightings during the summer season. The list is weighted towards the classic charismatic megafauna, with Big Foot topping the list at 100 points! Wish me luck!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

May Daze

Work is progressing swiftly. The wildland firefighter red-card refresher course was held last week, along with the dreaded pack test. Fortunately, my flat-lander feet could keep up the pace and finished in plenty of time. Whew! While I was off doing that, my coworkers were assisting a botanist from the University of Colorado's state Natural Heritage Program. They visited several pre-existing study sites and inventoried the plants they found. The exciting news is they may have found a new species of Astragalus to add to Mesa Verde's species list. It's preliminary, but if they are positive in their identification, they hope to submit a voucher for it.

I suppose to counter a possible first, I should include a photo of a definite last. This skull is the last known Desert Bighorn to have lived in Mesa Verde. The wildlife biologists are still hard at work to attempt a reintroduction, and perhaps soon the bighorn will be seen once again along the cliffs of Mesa Verde.

This year, there is much more emphasis in qualitatively analyzing the native flora, as well as accurately mapping out weed infestations. Dare I say, I have been blind-sided by science. The new crew is well versed in botany, so I need to catch up so that I can contribute what I can.

To help me gain some traction, I attended a field trip this past Friday to Narraguinnep Canyon Natural Area. In a rare moment of political precognition, these natural areas were set aside to serve as reference types for a particular ecosystem. Therefore, Narraguinnep can be studied to understand what a "natural" (as natural as humanely possible) Ponderosa ecosystem should look like. Of particular interest in this area is the realization that old growth Ponderosa forests are the best defense against forest fires, much like a mangrove hammock resists the destruction of a hurricane.

I'm slowly learning my plants, so be prepared for more latin words and a "Plant of the Week". Today's plant of the week is Lithophragma parviflorum the Woodland Star. It is common saxifrage upon the mesa tops, and blooming now. It also highlights why I need to learn the real names of plants, because another common plant Lithophragma glabrum, also called Woodland Star, is a different species, which can be distinguished by tiny, red buds along the infloresence. There will be a quiz later!

For a weekend reprise from plant ID, we went to see the mountains still buried in snow and hunt down a few geocaches. The highlight was seeing Cornet Falls breaking free of its icy prison.