Monitoring Riparian Wetlands in Colorado’s Cache La Poudre Watershed

By Colorado Water Team , posted on April 3rd, 2013 in Spring 2013 VPS

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Imagery of Colorado's Cache La Poudre watershed. Credit: DEVELOP

Image Credit: DEVELOP

Authors: Matthew Luizza, Amy Britwistle, Stephen Chignell, Sky Skach

Mentors/Advisers (affiliation): Dr. Paul Evangelista (Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University), Dr. Melinda Laituri (Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability, The Geospatial Centroid, Colorado State University)

Team Location: North Central Climate Science Center, Fort Collins, Colorado

Abstract: On June 9, 2012, the High Park Fire was first reported in the Roosevelt National Forest, west of Fort Collins. When it was finally contained, more than 87,000 acres and 259 homes were burned. The High Park Fire has had dramatic impacts to forest ecosystems. Of particular concern are the effects of the fire on the Cache La Poudre River (CLP) and its watershed. The Poudre River is one of the most important headwaters on the Colorado Front Range, providing important ecosystem and economic services before flowing into the South Platte, which in turn flows into the Missouri River. Within the week following the High Park Fire’s containment, the area received several days of torrential rains. The steep rugged terrain that frames the river banks, loss of trees and other vegetation by fire, and the exposed soils and ash, set the stage for yet another crisis. Soil and ash runoff was deposited into the Poudre River, resulting in a river choked with mud and black sludge. Monitoring the ongoing effects of this disaster is critical and requires establishing immediate baseline data to assess impacts over time. The spring 2013 Fort Collins Science Center DEVELOP project created a baseline model of riparian wetland areas within the Cache la Poudre watershed. Using remote sensing, GIS layers, and field data, the DEVELOP team conducted the first stage of a two-term investigation into riparian wetlands modeling within the watershed. The project provided important data for land managers and created a riparian wetlands modeling framework that can be reproduced throughout the intermountain west region. Data and end-user products resulting from the project were managed and disseminated by the Geospatial Centroid at Colorado State University.

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6 comments
anjward7
anjward7

Not considering limitations, what would be the ultimate goal of this project?

Kelsey Rooks
Kelsey Rooks

Sounds like a great project that accomplished quite a bit in a short time frame! Who does the team hope to disseminate their products to at the end of the summer term? 

amadson
amadson

Does the team expect to find an overall increase or decrease in wetland areas after the High Park Fire and subsequent soil/ash deposition?

mwluizza
mwluizza

@anjward7

Thanks for the question! The ultimate goal of this project will be creating a time efficient and accurate method for modeling wetland and riparian areas in the inter-mountain west region. Current methods using aerial imagery tend to be time efficient but not precise, and field work-based mapping efforts are time and labor intensive, and also tend to cost a lot of money. With many agencies seeing extensive cutbacks in funding we hope we can provide a useful decision-support tool for monitoring wetland and riparian areas and address potential changes due to disturbances like the High Park Fire. We plan to disseminate our results to not only agency partners but also the public through the Colorado State University Geospatial Centroid website (gis.colostate.edu/) and a reproducible methodology that interested parties can adopt.

mwluizza
mwluizza

@Kelsey Rooks

Thanks for the question Kelsey! At a recent working group on the Cache la Poudre Watershed (which brought together university, local, state and federal agency representatives, non-profits, and interested community members), our team presented our DEVELOP project and linked with 2 new partners (City of Fort Collins Environmental Planning Department and Save the Poudre Non Profit) in addition to our current partners the USGS and USDA Forest Service. We are collecting a new set of finer resolution wetlands and riparian field data from the Forest Service during the interim and will run additional models with different modeling platforms to produce an ensemble model with higher predictive power (and compare to our current model from this term). In the end we hope to share the model results with all of the aforementioned partners (especially the Forest Service and Colorado State University who are actively addressing post High Park Fire restoration efforts). But we also plan to share our results and a detailed tutorial on how to do this modeling procedure through the Colorado State University Geospatial Centroid website (gis.colostate.edu/) for all interested parties. So stay tuned!

mwluizza
mwluizza

@amadson

Great question! Our first goal is to validate the current model which was created with wetland/riparian location data produced by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service from aerial imagery. We are acquiring a finer resolution data set from the Forest Service that was produced through extensive field work in the study region. Once we create and new model and compare with our current model (which we believe over-estimated wetland areas), we will field validate the models. Because the finer resolution field data was collected in the early 2000s we expect to see less wetlands overall (in part due to chronic drought since the early 2000s and also increased irrigation for agriculture). Furthermore due to the High Park Fire we are assuming that many of the sensitive riparian areas directly within the extent of the fire will likely be compromised or fully destroyed, particularly in the areas with the highest intensity burning. This question of yours is something the team plans to really flesh out during the summer term.

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