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The Upper Purgatoire River Project Measures of Conservation Success

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The Upper Purgatoire River Conservation Area is one of the few places in Colorado with large areas of privately held, unfragmented forest, grassland, shrubland and riparian systems. Pressured by a range of threats, predominantly fire suppression, wildlife disease, and management of wide-ranging mammals, the Upper Purgatoire River has been identified by The Nature Conservancy as a priority landscape for its conservation efforts. This document describes the work the Conservancy in partnership with private landowners and public agencies is doing to conserve this important region. What We Want to Conserve The Upper Purgatoire River Conservation Area supports rare or imperiled animal species, plant communities, and intact ecological systems. Conservation Vision The long-term vision for the Upper Purgatoire River area is to maintain an intact landscape mosaic, composed of high quality native shrublands, high elevation forests, ponderosa pine woodlands, montane grasslands and riparian communities. These systems will support shrubland birds, Gunnison’s prairie dogs and wide-ranging mammals. In addition, the fire regime will be restored especially in the ponderosa pine woodlands. The vision also includes increasing the awareness, appreciation and support for conservation.


Upper Purgatoire River Project Area

Walsenburg •

Trinidad Colorado New Mexico Raton •

Eagle Nest •

Project Area

n Southern Rocky Mountains n Central Shortgrass Prairie n Southern Shortgrass Prairie Ecoregions

Science guides our work in the Upper Purgatoire River area. This document illustrates key features of the biodiversity of the Upper Purgatoire River area, the challenges to their successful conservation, and essential ways of measuring the progress toward effective conservation. The project planning process used to generate this report was developed by The Nature Conservancy after more than 50 years experience in conservation. To fulfill our long-term vision and achieve our goals, The Nature Conservancy employs an integrated conservation process called Conservation by Design. This living process identifies the places where conservation needs to occur (or will be most successful), develops strategies, involves taking action, and measures the success of efforts and outcomes. This process is adaptable over time and uses measures of progress and success to stimulate continued thinking and actions for conservation.

vation. Such information, when available, empowers people from all walks of life to discuss, interact, and consider alternative ways of acting on behalf of nature. Nothing could be more fundamental to fostering a high standard of sustainable living and successful conservation than having objective status information to inform individual and group decisions. The Nature Conservancy hopes that you will find this report informative and that it will inspire you to take a strong interest in the ecological health of the landscape in which we work and live. Good decisions about the future will depend on it. Conservation Planning The Conservancy uses conservation plans to develop site-specific conservation strategies and prepare for taking action and measuring success. These plans follow what we call the 5-S Framework: u

Conservation by Design Through Conservation by Design, a common vision is created to ensure the long-term survival of native species and natural communities. This process focuses attention on key biodiversity status, degree of threats and progress toward conser-

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SYSTEMS. The conservation planning team identifies the species and natural communities that will be the focus of conservation for the area. To do so, biodiversity lists developed during the ecoregional assessment are modified to include site-specific priorities. STRESSES. The team determines how ecological systems are

Lazuli Bunting Photo © Peter La Tourette

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compromised; by habitat reduction or fragmentation, or by changes in the number or type of species, or by alteration of ecological processes such as fire and hydrology. u

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SOURCES. The team will then identify and rank the causes, or sources, of stress for each ecological system or key species. The analysis of stresses and sources together make up the threat assessment. STRATEGIES. An important step in the process is finding practical cooperative ways to mitigate or eliminate the identified threats and enhance biodiversity. SUCCESS. Each plan outlines methods for assessing our effectiveness in reducing threats and improving biodiversity—usually by monitoring progress toward established biological and programmatic goals.

Defining the Project

Using Results to Adapt and Improve

Conservation Action Planning

Implementing Strategies and Measures

Developing Strategies and Measures

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SITUATION. An understanding of the cultural, political and economic situation behind the threats to biodiversity is essential for developing sound strategies. This human context is often referred to as the sixth “S”.

Site Description The Upper Purgatoire River Conservation Area is a 1,400,000 acre landscape, located in the southern Front Range along the Colorado / New Mexico border. This region is an intact mosaic of gamble oak shrublands, pinyon and ponderosa pine woodlands, montane grasslands, spruce-fir, and other high elevation forests. While the watershed extends up to 14,000 feet, this plan focuses on the lower elevation portions of the area because of the greater threats to the biodiversity located there. The Upper Purgatoire has several large protected parcels. The Nature Conservancy holds easements on 35,000 acres and other conservation groups hold easements on at least 10,000 more acres. The Colorado Division of Wildlife owns and manages the 35,000 acre Bosque del Oso State Wildlife Area. In addition, many hundreds of thousands of acres are compatibly managed by Vermejo Park Ranch in New Mexico.

Key Conservation Targets ANIMAL SPECIES OF CONCERN: u Virginia’s Warbler u Lazuli Bunting u American Dipper u Gunnison’s Prairie Dog u Wide Ranging Mammals (ungulates, black bear, mountain lion) RARE PLANT COMMUNITY: u Parry Oatgrass Montane Grassland ECOLOGICAL SYSTEMS: u High Elevation Forests (Mixed Conifer, Spruce/Fir, and Aspen) u Oak and Mountain Mahogany Shrublands u Pinyon/Juniper Woodlands u Ponderosa Pine Savanna u Montane Grasslands u Montane Riparian Areas

Gunnison’s prairie dog Photo © Lance Beeny

The highest ranking sources of stress, or “critical threats,” are 1. Fire Suppression 2. Wildlife Disease 3. Management of/for Certain Species 3


Long Term Ecological Goals

Critical Threats

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The conservation targets are threatened by multiple stresses, which can act together to effect the viability or integrity of each ecological system.

Conserve at least 500,000 acres of Ponderosa pine woodlands including restoration of fire regime in majority of areas. u Conserve at least 150,000 acres of high elevation forest which include a range of forest types (aspen, spruce/fir, and mixed conifer). u Conserve at least 120,000 acres of pinyon-juniper woodlands. u Conserve at least 150,000 acres of oak and mountain mahogany shrublands. u Conserve at least 40,000 acres of montane grasslands. u Restore the condition of the montane riparian communities. u Restore at least 3000 acres of Gunnison’s prairie dog complexes. u Restore wide-ranging mammals to more natural distribution in order to allow natural herbivory and predation patterns to be maintained.

Based on surveys, interviews with land managers, ecoregional assessment information and personal observations, we ranked the main sources of stress for each conservation target (see chart of “Threats to Conservation Systems” on page 9). The highest ranking sources of stress, or “critical threats” were: 1. Fire Suppression 2. Wildlife Disease 3. Management of/for Certain Species These threats have direct impacts on biodiversity and ecological systems in the Upper Purgatoire River Area. Fire suppression is a critical threat to ponderosa pine woodlands. In order for stands of ponderosa pine to remain open, they require frequent, low intensity fires. Fire suppression can lead to infrequent, high intensity fires, which destroy the character of these woodlands. The pinyon-juniper woodlands, oak and mountain mahogany shrublands are also affected by fire suppression.

The populations of Gunnison’s prairie dogs are at risk due to a wildlife disease—plague. The management of wide-ranging mammals, including black bear, mountain lions, elk and mule deer, is altering natural predator-prey interactions. In addition, some threats are localized in scope. Oak and mountain mahogany shrublands are highly threatened by fragmentation from new roads and utility corridors. Conservation Objectives The conservation goals of the Upper Purgatoire Conservation Area are to enhance the viability of the conservation targets and abate the threats to those targets. Objective 1: By 2009, create a habitat reserve for Gunnison’s prairie dog with at least 3000 acres of protected habitat with individual colonies not separated by more than 2.5 miles. Objective 2: By 2014, burn 5 % of the

Ponderosa pine woodlands per year. This level of burning should lead to the restoration of fire in the ponderosa pine system. Objective 3: By 2014, protect key

parcels from subdevelopment and fragmentation.

Mountain Lion Photo © Nancy Sefton

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Conservation Strategies In order to achieve the objectives mentioned above, The Nature Conservancy and its partners will undertake the following strategic actions.

Strategic Action 3

The mission of The Nature

PROTECT KEY AREAS OF PRIVATE LANDS

Conservancy is to preserve the

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Strategic Action 1 PROTECT GUNNISON’S PRAIRIE DOG COLONIES u

Permanently protect through conservation easement or other means 3000 acres of Gunnison’s prairie dog colonies.

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plants, animals and natural

Convene land protection groups to create common goals. Identify appropriate partners with whom to establish easements. Complete conservation easements or other permanent protection on all key properties.

communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive.

Strategic Action 2

RESTORE FIRE REGIME IN PONDEROSA PINE WOODLANDS u

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Create a watershed-scale Forest Restoration Plan and begin implementation. Create a market capable of handling the products of at least 30,000 acres of thinning annually. Create infrastructure to burn at least 5% of the ponderosa pine woodlands/year.

Elk Photo © T. Kumpf

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Measuring our Success Two fundamental questions facing any conservation project team are: “How is the biodiversity doing?” and “Are the conservation strategies we are taking having the intended impact?” To answer these questions, we evaluate a number of indicators that gauge the status of biodiversity and critical threats. Tracking progress toward our goals and evaluating the effectiveness of our actions provide feedback we need to adjust our priorities and strategies. Measuring results closes the loop of our conservation approach. Overview of Priority Measures — Framework for the Upper Purgatoire River Conservation Area INDICATORS THREAT MONITORING 1. Fragmentation and Subdevelopment

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Completion of conservation easements in key areas (Number of acres under permanent protection)

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Measurements of fragmentation in ecological systems

2. Fire Suppression

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Fire regime condition class of woodlands and shrublands

3. Invasive Weeds

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Size of invasive weed patches

4. Protection of Private Lands

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Creation of a vision for priority protection efforts

5. Restoration of Fire Regimes

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Major restoration efforts begun on key parcels

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Acres treated annually throughout watershed

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Number of acres in prairie dog colonies

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Distance between colonies

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Rates of plague within colonies

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Structure of the woodlands

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Acreage of each fire-dependent system

PROGRESS MONITORING

VIABILITY/INTEGRITY MONITORING 6. Gunnison’s Prairie Dogs

7. Ponderosa Pine Woodlands and Fire Regime

Duhling Park

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Biodiversity Viability or Integrity Ranking System The viability or integrity of the selected conservation elements should be assigned a rank using a four-level scale. The viability or integrity ranking system uses simple categorical ranks, as follows: VERY GOOD. The factor is functioning at its ecologically desirable status and requires little human intervention. GOOD. The factor is functioning within its range of acceptable variation. However, it may require some human intervention to maintain this status. FAIR. The factor lies outside of its range of acceptable variation and requires human intervention. If unchecked, the target will be vulnerable to serious degradation. POOR. Allowing the factor to remain in this condition for an extended period will make restoration or preventing extirpation practically impossible. Integrity/Viability Criteria The assessment of viability or integrity is based on three criteria: SIZE. This is a measure of the area or abundance of the conservation target or element’s occurrence. For ecological systems and communities, size is simply a measure of the occurrence’s geographic coverage. For species, size takes into account the area of occupancy and number of individuals. Minimum area

needed to ensure survival or re-establishment after natural disturbance is another aspect of size. CONDITION. This is an integrated measure of the composition, structure and biotic interactions that characterize the occurrence. This includes factors such as reproduction, age structure, biological composition (e.g., presence of native versus nonnative species; presence of characteristic patch types for ecological systems), structure (e.g., canopy, understory, and groundcover in a forested community) and biotic interactions (e.g., levels of competition, predation, and disease). LANDSCAPE CONTEXT. This is an integrated measure of two factors: the dominant environmental regimes and processes that establish and maintain the occurrence, and connectivity. Dominant environmental regimes and processes include herbivory, hydrologic and water chemistry regimes (surface and groundwater), geomorphic processes, climatic regimes (temperature and precipitation), fire regimes and other kinds of natural disturbance. Connectivity includes such factors as species having access to habitats and resources needed for life cycle completion, fragmentation of ecological systems and the ability to respond to environmental change through dispersal, migration, or re-colonization.

Threat Ranking Guidelines Threats are composed of stresses and sources of stress (or “sources”). A stress is defined as a process or event with direct negative consequences on the biodiversity (e.g., alteration of water flow into a marsh). The source of stress is the action or entity that produces a stress (e.g., channel building). The planning team must identify and rank the stresses and sources for each of the species and ecological systems. Guidelines for selection and ranking of stresses and sources are below. The stress ranks and source ranks: 1) help elucidate the factors influencing that species and ecological systems and subsequently, the necessary conservation strategies, and 2) contribute to the analysis of threats for the conservation area. The stress and source rankings are analyzed together via computer to provide threat ranks for the element. Stresses are ranked based on the severity and scope of damage expected within 10 years under the current circumstances. Sources of stress are ranked based on the expected contribution of the sources and the irreversibility of the impact. All these aspects are combined into an overall threat rank for a particular source (i.e., operation of dams) to all ecological systems.

Photo © Harold Malde

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Integrity Background Assessing the current condition of the biodiversity is critical in the development of conservation strategies. Where viability and integrity are high, the strategy is to prevent degradation. On the other hand, if the integrity is poor, then restoration, reintroduction, or reclamation might be important actions to elevate the condition. Integrity ratings are made using the best science available and often with vigorous discussion. The planning team develops categories that define the relative condition in terms of size, ecological condition, and the landscape context. The team determines which category best reflects the current state at the project area. Clearly, in deciding how to allocate scarce conservation dollars, we should, where it is possible, focus conservation actions on the populations with the highest integrity or otherwise stated as the most likely to persist.

Viability or Integrity Summary

CONTEXT

CONDITION

SIZE

RANK

High Elevation Forests

GOOD

FAIR

FAIR

FAIR

Oak/Mountain Mahogany Shrublands

GOOD

GOOD

FAIR

GOOD

Pinyon-Juniper Woodlands

GOOD

FAIR

VERY GOOD

GOOD

Ponderosa Pine Savanna

FAIR

FAIR

VERY GOOD

GOOD

Montane Grasslands

FAIR

FAIR

VERY GOOD

GOOD

GOOD

GOOD

GOOD

GOOD

Montane Riparian Areas

FAIR

FAIR

GOOD

FAIR

Wide-ranging Mammals

GOOD

GOOD

FAIR

GOOD

Gunnison’s Prairie Dog

Site Biodiversity Rank VERY GOOD

GOOD

GOOD

Functioning at its ecologically desirable status. Requires little human intervention. Functioning within its range of acceptable variation. May require human intervention to maintain this status.

FAIR

Outside its range of acceptable variation. Requires human intervention. Vulnerable to serious degradation if left unchecked

POOR

If condition remains for extended period, restoration or prevention of extirpation will be practically impossible.

Collecting conservation data Photo Š J. Dale Swenarton

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VIABILITY/INTEGRITY

LANDSCAPE


Threats to Conservation Targets OAK AND

Fire Suppression

HIGH

MOUNTAIN

PINYON

PONDEROSA

MONTANE

WIDE-

OVERALL

ELEVATION

MAHOGANY

JUNIPER

PINE

MONTANE

GUNNISON’S

RIPARIAN

RANGING

THREAT

FORESTS

SHRUBLANDS

SHRUBLANDS

SAVANNA

GRASSLANDS

PRAIRIE DOG

AREAS

MAMMALS

RANK

LOW

HIGH

HIGH

VERY HIGH

MEDIUM

Wildlife Disease/Plague

HIGH

Roads/Utility Development

HIGH

MEDIUM

Grazing Practices

LOW

MEDIUM

Home Development

MEDIUM

Invasive Plant Species

LOW

LOW

LOW

MEDIUM

HIGH LOW

MEDIUM

MEDIUM

MEDIUM

MEDIUM

Operation of Dams and Reservoirs Oil or Gas Drilling

LOW MEDIUM HIGH VERY HIGH

HIGH

VERY HIGH

Management of/for Certain Species

Overall Threat Status

HIGH

HIGH MEDIUM

MEDIUM

LOW

MEDIUM

MEDIUM

MEDIUM

HIGH

MEDIUM

HIGH

MEDIUM

MEDIUM

MEDIUM

MEDIUM

LOW

LOW LOW

HIGH

LOW MEDIUM

HIGH

MEDIUM

MEDIUM

HIGH

Threat is likely to slightly impair the ecological system over a portion of the area. Threat is likely to moderately degrade the ecological system over some portion of the area. Threat is likely to seriously degrade the ecological system over much of the area. Threat is likely to destroy the ecological system over much of the area.

Black Bear Photo © Lance Beeny

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Situation Analysis Process A good situation analysis diagram provides a team with a clear and common understanding of the context in which the project occurs. The model will show assumptions and potential obstacles as well as data gaps. The situation diagram process has proven useful and has lead to innovative and different strategies. The diagram seeks to demonstrate the complexity and interrelatedness of factors affecting biodiversity within the project area. Ecological systems, along with high priority dependent species – nested targets, are linked to ecological processes, factors that directly impact the biodiversity and processes, resulting challenges and key strategies. How the System Works: Upper Purgatoire River The diagram illustrates the interactions among these focal species, systems and threats, and the underlying causes and factors that influence the biodiversity of the Upper Purgatoire area. The Upper Purgatoire River Systems are composed of a mosaic of high elevation forests and montane grasslands, ponderosa pine savanna, pinyon-juniper woodlands, foothills shrublands, and riparian systems as well as Gunnison’s prairie dogs and wide-ranging mammals. The hydrologic and fire regimes that maintain these areas are also important aspects of this landscape. This biodiversity is impacted by many factors including invasive plant species, roads, altered fire regimes which leads to crown fires, and altered predation rates. The following is an example of how to read this diagram. The ponderosa pine forest, including the fire regime, is an important element of biodiversity in the Upper Purgatoire. Increased fuels because of fire suppression and lack of prescribed fires directly impact the fire regime. A key strategy, forest restoration plan and implementation, will address these factors .

West Spanish Peak Photo Š John Fielder

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Conclusion The Nature Conservancy is proud to be working with public and private partners to achieve a common vision: to preserve the biodiversity of the Upper Purgatoire River area by protecting key parcels, creating incentives for compatible land management, and restoring ecological systems. This vision is achievable by leveraging our strengths to achieve tangible and lasting results. We believe that good science will be the cornerstone of our future success.

Controlled burn Photo Š Mike Babler/TNC

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The Nature Conservancy 2424 Spruce Street Boulder, Colorado 80302 303 /444–2950 nature.org/colorado

8/2007

u MRCRM800 u PRINTED ON RECYCLED PAPER

Cover photograph © J. D. Marston

Profile for ARTIFACT

TNC Measures of Success  

Illustrated report on conservation success in Colorado's Upper Purgatoire River basin.

TNC Measures of Success  

Illustrated report on conservation success in Colorado's Upper Purgatoire River basin.

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