I have been working in Dinosaur Nat’l Monument under the park botanist, Tamara Naumann. Located in northwestern Colorado, Dinosaur Nat’l Monument is home to over 60 miles of the Green and Yampa Rivers, and boasts a seriously impressive landscape. I often feel like I’m on another planet here. The geology of the Monument, which I will not get into, could easily be an entire post by itself. But, if you would like more info on the Monument’s unique geology, shoot me an email at email@example.com
The scope of my internship has been primarily focused on river ecosystem health and function. The Yampa remains the last wild/undammed river in the Colorado River system, while the Green River has been regulated upstream by the Flaming Gorge Dam since 1964. Dams are known to disrupt the physical, chemical, and biological connectivity of rivers. The Green and the Yampa rivers collide in the heart of the Monument at a place called Echo Park, and because the two rivers were so similar during Pre-dam conditions, and are located in such close proximity to each other, a unique opportunity arises here to observe the impacts of large dams on big western rivers.
The Yampa Canyon
Gates of Lodore. Lodore Canyon, Green River
For more info on the Yampa, check out http://www.yampariverawareness.org/
As is stated under the Organic Act of 1916, it is the purpose of the National Park Service to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Along the river corridors, especially on dam-regulated rivers, fulfillment of this duty can be a handful. Millions of dollars are spent every year in an attempt to eliminate, or at least set back, invasive plant species that occupy riparian river areas. High priority invasive species such as Tamarisk (Tamarix spp.) and Russian Olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) are known to out-compete native species such as Willows, Cottonwoods, and Box Elders along riparian areas. The effects of such invasions are dense monocultures that result in losses of biodiversity and poor overall ecosystem health.
Not to worry though, folks who love their rivers won’t go down with a fight! Thanks to the efforts of the Weed Warriors, a volunteer weed management program here in Dinosaur NM, thousands of tamarisk have been removed from the Green and Yampa Rivers within the park. Participating in the program is a great way to lend a helping hand in the fight against tamarisk, and also a great way to take a free trip down the Green and Yampa!
Heavy duty tamarisk call for heavy tools. And heavy duty people. Like the Weed Warriors, pictured here removing a monster tamarisk root with a tripod!
For more info on the Weed Warrior program, check out http://extension.usu.edu/files/publications/publication/pub__6803066.pdf
Another line of defense against the Tamarisk invasion is this little fella pictured above, the Tamarisk Beetle (Diorhabda elongata). After nearly 20 years of studies, 50,000 beetles were approved for release in the park during the summers of 2006 and 2007. Since their release, the beetles have gradually extended their reach throughout the park and are creating visible areas of Tamarisk defoliation. Considering the signifant impact that the beetles have had in only three years, it’s exciting to think about the impact that they will have in the future!
- Tamarisk Beetle Monitoring in Lodore Canyon of the Green River
A third instar Tamarisk Beetle emerging from it's molt. It will begin munching Tamarisk about 2 seconds after it molts! NPS/Pete Williams
Another invasive tree which poses substantial threat to the health and function of the river riparian areas is the Russian Olive. Due to it’s highly aggressive nature, it is likely the number-one candidate to move into the voids of Tamarisk that will be created by the Tamarisk Beetle. Although very attractive, the Russian Olive is not a nice tree. Capable of growing over 40 feet high, it is covered with sharp, dagger-size thorns. For a job like removing Russian Olive, we call in the pros. They are the best of the best, the Special Forces of weed management if you will, the Exotic Plant Management Team (EPMT). They came from far away places like Glacier National Park in Montana and Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho with chainsaws, herbicides, and the raw grit & determination necessary to tackle Russian Olive. I’m proud to say that after 2 weeks of work with the EPMT, I helped to remove the last of the Russian Olive from the park!
Myself w/ the EPMT crews from Glacier NP and Craters of the Moon NM
Another interesting project I had the opportunity to participate in was measuring the amount of light pollution in Dinosaur Nat’l Monument skies when the NPS Night Sky Research Team came to town. The NPS Night Sky team is a small team of NPS scientists dedicated to documenting the status of our night skies and protecting them for future generations. According to their website, Two–thirds of Americans cannot see the Milky Way from their backyard, and 99% of the population live in an area that scientists consider light polluted. The rate at which light pollution is increasing will leave almost no dark skies in the contiguous US by 2025. Therefore, National Parks are becoming some of the last refuges for uninterrupted, natural, dark skies.
Taking light pollution measurements atop Serviceberry Ridge. Serviceberry Ridge is one of the most remote peaks in the park.
After a long night of night sky monitoring
Remember; “Tomorrow will depend on the love you give today” – W. Jennings
Woo Pig Sooie!
Josh Richard, Dinosaur Nat’l Monument