Spring appears to be on the not so distant horizon here on Colorado’s Front Range. Although spring in the Rockies is typically characterized by capricious and unsettled weather; Chinook winds rush off the mountains as the peaks are warmed by the growing strength of the sun. In town, temperatures climb momentarily into the seventies coaxing people from their winter repose. Although, just as you’ve gotten used to the idea that winter may be relaxing its frosty grip, the weather takes another turn and we wind up with six inches of sloppy spring snow on the ground. Spring appears to be further off in and among the high peaks and parks. Last weekend while skiing through the lodgepole pines of Grand County I was taken aback by the greater than two meters of snow which still insulates the cold hard ground. Somewhere down there beneath that blanket of white are the plants we hope to be monitoring in a few months’ time.
At the Colorado State Office my attention has been focused west of the high peaks on the high desert canyons and plateaus of the Western Slope. The Grand Valley and Gunnison River basin form the banana belt of the state; so to speak. The climate is relatively mild and supports vineyards and extensive orchards of peaches during the summer months. On the plateau the flora comes to life months earlier than do the alpine congeners. Out there, hiding in the shaley alluvium, is a particular cactus with has been the object of my time over the past several weeks. Sclerocactus glaucus is a small barrel cactus with highly plastic morphological characters which have long confounded its systematics. Due to variation in its form and a range which overlaps with other taxa of the same genus it is presently unknown exactly how rare or prolific the species is. Over the past couple of years, in addition to several revisions in taxonomic status and demographic monitoring studies, there has been quite a bit of work investigating the genetic structure of the species at a population level. This research has begun to illustrate that Sclerocactus glaucus might be less ‘threatened’ than it has been determined to be by the Fish & Wildlife Service. I have been working to synthesize a comprehensive literate review and status report which reflects the most current and up-to-date understanding of the species and its range.
Field season is shaping up to be a busy one. It seems that several times a week Carol (our mentor) receives a request from someone else to assist with surveying and monitoring. It is becoming apparent that we will be tending to a generous amount of demographic monitoring of rare and endangered species across the state this summer. These monitoring projects will take us from the Mancos badlands, Roan Cliffs, and red-rock canyons of the Western Slope, high into the alpine tundra of the Mosquito Range, to the dunes and sage-steppe of North Park. In addition to monitoring established trend plots, my fellow intern and I have several new projects to implement. It remains to be seen how much time we actually end up spending in the office this summer.
From the Front Range,
Colorado State Office – BLM