White River Forest project is indentifying fens in the forest with an eye towards preservation of the resource

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From The Aspen Times (Heather McGregor):

Most grasses, shrubs and trees on Earth are rooted in soil that dries out enough between storms to allow oxygen to reach their roots. Fen species must be able to live rooted in a saturated, chilled, low-nutrient tangle of roots and slowly decaying plant material. Fens tend to occur in basins, around open water ponds, or on gentle slopes with blocked drainage. And fens form very, very slowly. A fen in the Rockies will accumulate peat at the rate of 3.5 to 18 inches per 1,000 years, [Forest botanist John Proctor] said. “Because the accumulation of peat in fens is so slow, these ecosystems are essentially irreplaceable,” he said. “Fens are relics from the glacial past. Many are more than 6,000 years old.”[…]

Fens filter and hold clean water, serving as high country reservoirs that help keep streams flowing past the runoff season. They also store high levels of carbon, helping to offset climate change. Fens also contain a climatological record of pollen, plant and insect species that can give scientists a view into the past, much like glacial ice cores…

Now that possible fens have been located in more than 5,500 sites across the 2.3-million-acre national forest, Proctor has started what will be a long process of ground-truth field surveys. Not all these areas will turn out to actually be fens. Some will be more ordinary wetlands, open ponds or meadows. Proctor worked this summer with two Forest Service technicians and a biologist with Colorado State University’s Colorado Natural Heritage Program to visit 25 possible fens. The team focused on sites that are outside wilderness areas and close to roads in the forest. This subset of possible fens would be at the highest risk for damage from development, visitation or motorized use. The ground-truth work continues this fall with biology students from the Colorado Mountain College Leadville campus. All but one of the summer’s 25 sites turned out to be high quality fens. “We’re on the right track,” Proctor said. “The only place it didn’t play out was on Middle Thompson.”[…]

On Independence Pass, the Warren Lakes area will be the site of an effort this fall to restore fens that were badly damaged in the 1930s by peat mining. The work will attempt to stop up the channels cut in the peat so the fen can fill up with water again. The hope is that once the fen is fully saturated, the peat will begin to gradually fill back in…

The overall goal for surveying and repair projects is to protect and preserve the forest’s fens as reservoirs of clean water and rare plants, and as a glimpse into the glacial past.

More restoration coverage here.

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