Resource survey confirms support of diversity

RBC — At the county commissioners’ meeting May 12 the results from the 2007 Survey of Critical Biological Resources confirm that Rio Blanco County is truly unique with an amazing richness of rare fauna and flora well worth preserving for future generations. The Colorado Natural Heritage Program (CNHP), a research group at Colorado State University, conducted a survey last summer. The project was funded by Rio Blanco County, Great Outdoors Colorado, Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). A wetland and riparian survey was conducted concurrently with funding provided by the Colorado Department of Natural Resources via a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 8 Wetland Program Grant.
The purpose of this project was to provide a data resource for managers, planners and the citizens of Rio Blanco County for conducting proactive planning for managing lands that support rare, imperiled and/or sensitive plants, animals and significant natural plant communities. This project will provide an additional resource for the Rio Blanco County’s Land Use Resolution Results of the survey confirm that there are many areas with outstanding to high biological significance in Rio Blanco County. All together, 23 rare or imperiled plant species and 35 wetland and upland plant communities of concern were documented in Rio Blanco County. Thirteen rare or imperiled animal species have been documented by CDOW, BLM and Forest Service.
CNHP identified 28 Potential Conservation Areas (PCAs) in Rio Blanco County. Of the 28 PCAs presented in this report, one is of outstanding biodiversity significance, seven are of very high significance and 20 are of high significance. The PCA boundaries delineated in this report do not confer any regulatory protection of the site, nor do they automatically recommend exclusion of all activity.
All of the PCAs presented in this report represent unique opportunities for Rio Blanco County and its Stakeholders to conserve significant components of the natural heritage of Rio Blanco County, and each is worthy of conservation attention. Several PCAs stand out as very significant such as Dudley Bluffs PCA which supports not only the world’s only known population of the Dudley Bluffs bladderpod (Lesquerella congesta) but also one of the best known occurrences of Piceance twinpod (Physaria obcordata). The Piceance twinpod is also found within the Calamity Ridge PCA along with several occurrences of the globally imperiled (G2) basin big sagebrush with basin rye grass (Artemisia tridentata ssp. tridentata/Leymus cinereus) plant community. Numerous rare plants occur within the Raven Ridge PCA, of which the most significant is Graham’s beardtongue (Penstemon grahamii). Raven Ridge encompasses all the known Colorado occurrences of this plant which is endemic to the Uinta Basin of northwestern Colorado and northeastern Utah. The Cathedral Bluffs PCA supports the best known occurrences for two globally imperiled (G2) plants: Piceance bladderpod (Lesquerella parviflora) and the sun-loving meadowrue (Thalictrum heliophilum). Both plants are endemic to Colorado and known only from Garfield, Mesa and Rio Blanco counties. Numerous PCAs, especially in the Piceance Creek Basin, include nesting and lek sites for the Greater Sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus). The Greater Sage-grouse is a globally secure (G4) species; however, due to the loss of its habitat it is a State Special Concern species and a BLM/USFS sensitive species.
The results of the survey will be provided to the stakeholders and will be available to the pubic on the CNHP Web site (www.cnhp.colostate.edu).
For more information contact either Jeff Madison, Rio Blanco County Natural Resources, at (970) 878-9584 or Denise Culver at (970) 491-2998.