Trophic Cascades Involving Humans, Keystone Predators, Elk, and Aspen in North-Central Colorado on the High Lonesome Ranch
In this ten-year study, High Lonesome Institute researchers are investigating how large, keystone predators affect whole ecosystems including elk, deer, smaller predators, songbirds, and the aspen communities that sustain them, and how these effects vary over time and space. Little is known about food webs on working, livestock ranches in the West. We are measuring deer and elk behavior, biodiversity, and aspen health to learn about these relationships. Related studies on vegetation, wildlife, and landscape features, as well as studies will help inform land-use planning, wildlife management and the creation of sustainable, local economies. This research is benefitting from collaborations with state and federal natural resources agencies.
Project Leads: Cristina Eisenberg, Co-PI, and Michael Soulé, Co-PI.
Conservation Planning and Trophic Cascades Research for the Kimball Creek Watershed Restoration
Kimball Creek has experienced in-stream channel and riparian habitat degradation due to historic land use practices, including heavy cattle grazing, the creation of diversion dams for irrigation, and the extirpation of beaver. These disturbances, exacerbated by high flows from spring storms and snow melt, have resulted in deeply incised channel morphology and increased sedimentation. Plans are underway at HLR to restore Kimball Creek Valley to a more natural hydrological pattern and eventually a native cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii pleuriticus) fishery. Through extensive monitoring efforts (2011- ongoing) and numerous experiments (2012- ongoing), we are providing the science necessary to better understand how to manage Kimball Creek, assisting in planning for the restoration effort, and providing baseline data required to evaluate the effectiveness of restoration activities. Our monitoring involves sampling a number of measures of stream and riparian health, including amphibians, insect, plant, and bird diversity, water chemistry, and measures of ecosystem function. As part of this effort, we are building upon existing HLR research by studying trophic cascades within stream and riparian areas, as a way of exploring the ecological effects of restoration of native and threatened species as well as promoting the restoration of biodiversity to these wetlands.
Project Lead: Howard Whiteman, PI
Scientists: Scot Peterson, M.S. student and NSF Graduate Research Fellow; Kaylin Boeckman, M.S. student.
Academy of Natural Sciences Biological Surveys
From 2007 through 2011, the Academy of Natural Sciences (ANS) conducted bio-inventory and ecological assessments at HLR, mainly in the riparian areas of Kimball and Dry Fork Creeks. ANS studied riparian plants, insects, birds and other taxa to determine ecological condition, assess ecological responses to ranch activities like pond and marsh creation and assist in restoration planning. ANS assessed habitat and temperature suitability of Kimball Creek for Colorado River Cutthroat Trout. ANS scientists have also measured rates of bank erosion in Kimball Creek, to understand historical and ongoing channel processes, and to relate riparian ecological condition to channel shape. These studies helped provide invaluable baseline data to guide and assess future restoration activities. ANS work on the HLR be completed in 2012 with the development of checklists of the local fauna and flora for ranch guests, staff, and scientists.
Project Leads: Rich Horwitz, PhD; Jerry Mead, PhD; Doug Wechsler, PhD
Aspen Restoration Program
Quaking aspen ecosystems are one of the most important habitat types for wildlife in the western U.S. Recently, aspen stands in Colorado and other Rocky Mountain states began losing their overstory trees from what is termed Sudden Aspen Decline (SAD). Our objectives are to investigate how removal of aspen overstory trees affects aspen sprout density in SAD-affected stands, and to determine the efficacy of herbivory deterrents in protecting those sprouts. We have cut aspen trees in different plots on the Low Ranch and High Ranch to test for sprout response and herbivory pressure (deer-elk use) in each local landscape. We hope to identify the most economical and ecologically effective restoration techniques for aspen stands on these mixed-use landscapes.
Project Lead: Cristina Eisenberg, PI
Scientist: Trent Seager, PhD student.
Wildlife Disease Monitoring Program
Cattle, mule deer and elk share the range on The High Lonesome Ranch, just like on many other ranches in the American west. Cattle and elk also share a number of diseases (also some human diseases). We recognized the unique opportunity to cooperate with our hunting guests and their guides at the HLR to collect blood from harvested game and look for cattle diseases in the wildlife. The purpose of this project is to learn what we can about how game animals’ disease status might affect cattle and how cattle influence wildlife. This program began in 2010 with blood collected from harvested mule deer and elk and will continue for 5-6 years until sample size is sufficient for conclusions. Preliminary results have been obtained and samples have been saved for future, more detailed analysis. We are actively seeking collaboration with veterinary college researchers to continue and expand this work.
Project Leads: Richard Kennedy, co-PI, and Cristina Eisenberg, co-PI.
Private Landowners Network
Wildlands Network, in partnership with High Lonesome Ranch, is developing a west-wide network of leading conservation-minded landowners who are committed to sustaining biodiversity and open space on their holdings, while preserving rural economies and working lands enterprise. We are bringing together innovative landowners, scientists, investors, and others to promote progressive and effective models for mixed-use land stewardship that contribute to landscape-scale conservation. Participants in this forum are committed to sustaining, and where necessary restoring, land health for optimal productivity for human and ecological benefit. Exemplary landowners and experts in land management will have a forum in which to collaborate, share knowledge and lessons, tools, and explore models for lasting financial security and landscape health.
Project leads: Kenyon Fields, Cristina Eisenberg, PhD student, and Hal Salwasser, PhD.
High Lonesome Ranch Land Ethic Education Program
On the High Lonesome Ranch we are developing a land ethic education program at the HLR that will provide learning opportunities for adults and children who come to the HLR as guests, visitors, and students. We seek to create a program that increases environmental literacy and natural awareness in all participants through hands-on experiences and scientific inquiry. Beth began developing the HLR environmental education program in January 2011 when she began her Masters work at Prescott College with a concentration in environmental education. Some of her recent work includes developing a small nature center in a historic one-room schoolhouse on the HLR property and collaborating with local educators to create experiential learning opportunities for nearby school districts.
Project lead: Beth Haley, master’s student