Funded projects in 2021

Brian Buma (CU Denver)

  • Fuels treatments and their impact on carbon stocks and fire severity in Boulder and Jefferson Counties and the City of Boulder.
  • The record-breaking fires in 2020 viscerally underscored the need to understand management activities and their implications for wildland fires in Boulder and Jefferson Counties. While there have been substantial preventative/mitigation activities, such as forest thinning and prescribed burning, there is relatively little known about the impact of those activities at the ecosystem level, specifically carbon. This is especially true when considering the balance between fire-mitigation associated reductions in carbon if a fire does not occur and reductions in losses if a fire does occur. Further, change over time is relatively poorly explored and there is almost zero information on soil carbon stocks across management strategies. We are interested in quantifying fire severity and ecosystem carbon relationships under various mitigation strategies as a function of time, the efficacy of treatments in reducing carbon losses given a fire, treatment + severity interactions and the balance between the extent of mitigation and actual fire extent in Jefferson and Boulder Counties and the City of Boulder. This plan has been coproduced with local county and city managers. We will revisit management plots installed in various treatments across the three jurisdictions, including those that were established within the boundaries of the 2020 Calwood fire (pilot soil samples already collected). Plots will be re measured for above ground carbon and soil samples taken for below ground carbon stocks. The repeat measurement approach will allow us to assess efficacy overtime. We will transfer our plot results to aerial estimates of carbon and fire impacts via remote sensing. These results will be available in 2022, and will improve natural resource management in the area by providing important information on soil carbon stocks (which are lacking) as well as a direct estimate of fire mitigation management techniques in regards to carbon and fire severity, balanced against the likelihood of fire overall.

Peter Innes (CU Boulder)

  • Assessing hybridization between native and introduced blue flax in Boulder County
  • The introduced species Linum perenne has been planted widely in Boulder County and elsewhere in western North America, but there is still some degree of uncertainty surrounding the impact it may have on populations of native Lewis flax (L. lewisii), a close relative. Previous work by the USFS suggests that potential for hybridization between L. perenne and L. lewisiii s minimal, though not entirely absent— we argue that the strength of reproductive isolation between these close relatives has not been fully established. Given the popularity of Lewis flax in restoration projects across the Intermountain West and its co-occurrence with L. perenne, this question warrants further investigation. We seek to establish a comprehensive understanding of reproductive compatibility between introduced and native perennial blue flax. We will conduct controlled crosses between species in a common garden and also allow for open pollination between (and within) species. We will then assess the viability of any resulting hybrid seed with germination tests. We will also look for genomic signatures of hybridization in offspring seed from open pollination, in order to determine the likelihood of gene flow in natural settings. An understanding of reproductive barriers between native and introduced species is important for land management programs because hybridization can contribute to native biodiversity loss. This research will also contribute to an understanding of how hybridization affects evolutionary trajectories—foremost in understanding what causes hybridization to be detrimental versus beneficial—and how species introductions by humans facilitate this process.

Keith Jennings (Lynker Technologies)

  • Identifying Harmful Algal Blooms with Water Quality Sampling and Remote Sensing
  • Harmful algal blooms present a management challenge for Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP). One key hurdle is how to monitor numerous OSMP waterbodies and test for algae types that may be harmful. Laboratory testing of water quality samples offers the only direct route by which researchers can discriminate among algae in various groups, including diatoms, chlorophytes, and others that are not toxin producers, and filamentous cyanobacteria and other types of blue-green algae that are. Although this process can be time and cost intensive as the number of waterbodies increases and sampling season lengthens, there are opportunities to develop streamlined protocols using flow-through imaging microscopy. Additionally, satellite remote sensing products allow for rapid, repeatable, low-cost analysis of potential algal blooms, with the drawback that the type of algae can be inferred but not definitively confirmed. For this project, we propose using the complementary strengths ofwater quality sampling and remote sensing to determine the presence of harmful algal blooms and their persistence in the following OSMP waterbodies and one on Boulder County Parks and Open Space land: Sawhill No. 1, Teller Lake No. 5, Sombrero Marsh, Wonderland Lake, and Lagerman Reservoir. This work will build on previous OSMP-funded remote sensing research, which identified the first three waterbodies as having potential cyanobacterial outbreaks in 2019.From May–September 2021, we will sample for chlorophyll-a and other water quality parameters along with performing lab tests with a FlowCam to determine the type of algae present. We will complement the lab work with high-resolution Sentinel2 satellite data to produce relationships between remote sensing output and the water quality parameters. This will enable a deeper understanding of the patterns of harmful algal blooms in OSMP waterbodies.

Anna Paraskevopoulos (CU Boulder)

  • Linking species distributions and thermal physiology to understand climate change impacts on ants
  • Due to recent human-caused climate change studies are needed to understand how temperature changes affect the distribution of critical organisms. As temperature changes, organisms shift their ranges in response to these changes. Ectotherms, specifically ants, are ideal organisms to study these changes due to their sensitivity to environmental changes. I propose to resample a historical study that collected ants and temperature data in the late 1950’s throughout Gregory Canyon in the Boulder foothills (Browne and Gregg, 1969) to determine if ant species distributions have shifted locally. I will replicate the sampling methods of Browne and Gregg and also incorporate thermal tolerance testing to determine whether thermal tolerances predict distributional changes. Sampling will occur from late spring 2021 to early fall 2021. I will see if ant species persist at a given site where they had been documented historically. This study will provide important information on how species distributions have changed from the past and understanding on how they may change in the future, as well as a great platform for me to engage the community.

William Rice (University of Montana)

  • Developing Quality of Life Indicators for City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks Management
  • The Charter of the City of Boulder states that “Open space land shall be acquired, maintained, preserved, retained, and used” for “recreational value and its contribution to the quality of life of the community.” However, to date, Open Space and Mountain Parks’ (OSMP) contribution to users’ wellbeing has not been directly examined. It is thus the purpose of this proposed project to establish domains of recreational ecosystem service contributions that are generated by OSMP lands, for use in upcoming surveying efforts of OSMP users. This proposed project directly relates to OSMP’s priority research topic: “How does OSMP contribute to public well-being and quality of life?” Beginning in Spring 2021, OSMP users will have the opportunity to take part in a voluntary online survey, administered via QR codes (and corresponding URLs) posted on sandwich boards at select trailheads. Data collection will be segmented seasonally across four two-month sampling windows. This survey will consist of three components: 1) a multiple-choice battery seeking to identify categories of contributions to wellbeing users perceive to attain through OSMP, 2) a series of open-ended questions concerning those wellbeing domains selected in the first section—including what specific contributions they perceive attaining within each selected domain, and 3) a participatory mapping exercise where participants will be asked to map the areas within OSMP where they attain each of these contributions to wellbeing. This proposed project contains three primary outputs: 1) a comprehensive list of the quality of life contributions perceived by OSMP visitors, 2) a comprehensive list of quality of life indicators for each identified contribution domain, and 3) a spatial dataset of perceived distribution of quality of life contributions across OSMP. All three outputs will directly inform a Human Dimensions staff-led 2021-2022 surveying effort that seeks to measure the quality of life contributions of OSMP.

Aaron Shiels (USDA APHIS)

  • Improving efficiency of prairie dog surveys by using a small copter drone
  • Prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) are one of the most accessible and enjoyed wildlife species in Boulder, yet their involvement inhuman-wildlife conflict can be frequent due to associated environmental damage and plague. Prairie dog populations require occasional survey because large populations can be destructive and may warrant control, colonies are susceptible to plague that may cause unpredictable fluctuations, and a new contraceptive is likely to become EPA registered and used operationally for large-scale control in the near future. Traditional survey methods (e.g., binoculars, live-trapping) are labor intensive, and biased in detection rate and capturing only a subset of the population. We propose a 1-year study testing a small copter drone on OSMP lands, Boulder, to determine if we can improve the efficiency of prairie dog surveys above that of ground-based survey methods (drone/ground-based testing is an OSMP priority research area). We have an experienced drone operator with all the necessary certifications to complete all flights over these areas. The photographs and video taken via drone will be analyzed at USDA’s National Wildlife Research Center in Fort Collins. We will compare the prairie dog abundances with those of our simultaneous ground-based surveys. Critical characteristics that will be determined from this assessment will be: appropriate drone height, flight speed, width of overlap scans, time of day, and camera type. We will also determine whether we can distinguish the two size classes (juveniles and adults), if results differ among colonies, whether burrow density and activity can predict prairie dog abundance, and the economic costs associated with such surveys—these characteristics are necessary for land managers. We will share our methodology, dataset, summary report, and cost estimates with OSMP so they can consider the use of this technology and methodology in the future.

David Theobald (Conservation Planning Technology)

  • Testing and modeling patterns of visitor use from mobile “big” data
  • An important aspect of managing open space lands is to understand visitor use patterns: most critically how many visitors there are, where they go, and when they visit. This proposed research addresses a priority research topic identified by OSMP, BCPOS, and JCOS, and will inform decision making on open space lands by providing high-quality and rigorous estimates derived from statistical analysis of locational data from mobile devices. A prototype application (TBD) will be made provided via an online platform (TBD) to share data and results with agency staff and decision makers.