Rocky Mountain Field Conservancy unveils world of coyotes, March 23, 2019

Now for some news we can really get behind here at Coyote Gulch.

From The Boulder Daily Camera (Beau Wilson) via The Longmont Times-Call:

The Rocky Mountain Field Conservancy is holding an introductory course on the behavior, biology, anatomy and histories of the coyote on Mar. 23.

Participants of this field class will observe and walk through coyote habitat in Rocky Mountain National Park. The class will be a full day event, while walks through meadows will be brief and on mostly even terrain.

The class instructor, Jared Gricoskie, said it’s an opportunity to “explore the natural history of North America’s second largest canine, Native American stories, coyote discovery by Lewis and Clark, and the animal’s expansion to the East,” and much more.

Gricoskie owns and operates Yellow Wood Guiding in Estes Park, a guiding service that specializes in nature tours and photo safaris in Rocky Mountain National Park.

To register for “Coyotes: The Song Dogs of the West” or for more information on the Field Institute, call the Rocky Mountain Conservancy Field Institute at 970-586-3262, or visit the website at http://rmconservancy.org.

Webinar: “Know your snow” from the #ColoradoRiver District, April 2, 2019 #COriver @ColoradoWater

Here’s the release from the Colorado River District (Andy Mueller):

Please join us for a free, educational webinar hosted by the Colorado River District and the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies on Tuesday, April 2nd, from 12:00 to 1:00pm.

“Know Your Snow” will provide important updates on current snowpack conditions, ongoing drought in the Colorado River Basin, threats posed to our water supply by dust on snow, and an overview of changing runoff trends important to water users on Colorado’s Western Slope.

PHOTO CREDIT: McKenzie Skiles
McKenzie Skiles (right) measures snow density, which is used to estimate the amount of water in the snowpack.

Click here to register.

As public officials, water leaders and concerned citizens we recognize that you play an important role in educating your communities on important water issues.

#California agencies are holding up the #Drought Contigency Plan #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #DCP

The American Canal carries water from the Colorado River to farms in California’s Imperial Valley. Photo credit: Adam Dubrowa, FEMA/Wikipedia.

From The Associated Press via Colorado Public Radio:

Most of the seven states that get water from the Colorado River have signed off on plans to keep the waterway from crashing amid a prolonged drought, climate change and increased demands. But California and Arizona have not, missing deadlines from the federal government.

Arizona has some work to do but nothing major holding it back. California, however, has two powerful water agencies fighting over how to get the drought contingency plan approved before U.S. officials possibly impose their own rules for water going to California, Arizona and Nevada.

The Metropolitan Water District is positioning itself to shoulder California’s entire water contribution, with its board voting Tuesday on a proposal to essentially write out of the drought plan another agency that gets more Colorado River water than anyone else.

That agency, the Imperial Irrigation District, has said it won’t approve the plan unless the federal government agrees to commit $200 million to address the Salton Sea, a massive, briny lake southeast of Los Angeles that has become an environmental and health hazard in the Imperial and Coachella valleys.

The Metropolitan Water District would have to provide what could be nearly 2 million acre-feet of water between 2020 and 2026…

That water would be stored behind Lake Mead on the Arizona-Nevada line to keep the key reservoir from dropping to drastically low levels. Water is delivered through Lake Mead to Arizona, California and Nevada.

“The more we delay, the harder it is to hold that deal together,” Metropolitan general manager Jeff Kightlinger said.

California isn’t required to contribute water under the drought plan unless Lake Mead drops to 1,045 feet, which might not ever happen. But if it does, the Imperial Irrigation District said the public would likely demand that it contribute as the agency with the largest and oldest rights to Colorado River water.

“The way to arrive at a resilient and durable drought contingency plan is for the parties to work through the Salton Sea issue, not around it,” Imperial general manager Henry Martinez told a Metropolitan Water District committee Monday. “Our two agencies have shown that we can do good things for the river and each other when we take the long view, and that capacity to see past the moment is what’s urgently needed now.”

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has given governors or their representatives in the seven states until March 19 to recommend the next steps after California and Arizona failed to meet its deadlines.

Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming wrote to the Colorado River Board of California over the weekend, urging California to unite with them in seeking authorization from Congress for the drought plans. Without it, the states won’t be able to implement the plans, Mexico won’t contribute water and the federal government will step in and decide what to do, the states said.

The states and the Bureau of Reclamation said they support Imperial’s call for federal funding for the Salton Sea.

Judge Matsch pauses #ColoradoSprings #stormwater lawsuit until April 12, 2019

Colorado Springs with the Front Range in background. Photo credit Wikipedia.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Conrad Swanson):

Colorado Springs and the four parties suing the city now have an extra month to either settle a longstanding lawsuit over federal stormwater permit violations or agree how to continue the case in court.

U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch in December ordered the case paused until this month so the parties could find common ground. The lawsuit was to restart last week, but Matsch extended the break by more than a month.

Now the parties have until April 12 to agree on next steps, or the case goes back to court.

The request for a break in the case came from the plaintiffs — the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District — after Matsch ruled that Colorado Springs violated federal stormwater regulations at three development sites.

#Snowpack news: Statewide #Colorado = 198% of last year’s accumulation

Yampa and White Basin High/Low graph March 11, 2019 via the NRCS.

From Steamboat Today (Eleanor C. Hasenbeck):

Most backyards in Steamboat Springs are filled with thigh-deep snow. In the mountains, the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s snow telemetry sites above Steamboat are all at or above average, from 47 inches of snow at the Bear River site in South Routt to 148 inches at the Tower site on Buffalo Pass.

On Saturday, the Yampa and White River Basin’s snowpack hit 23.8 inches of snow water equivalent, a measure that considers the amount of water contained in the snowpack. Considering snowpack data from 1986 to present, the median peak of snowpack in the Yampa and White River Basin is 22.9 inches of snow water equivalent. This typically occurs around April 13 when snowpack peaks before melting off.

This year’s snowfall has exceeded that median, and it did so about a month before it typically happens. Snowpack is at 119 percent of average in the Yampa and White River Basin and at 129 percent of average statewide…

The impacts of those dry years don’t disappear, though. As of Monday, Routt County was still under moderate drought and abnormally dry conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

“Runoff isn’t going to be totally mirroring the snowpack because of low soil moisture,” said Jim Pokrandt, community affairs director of the Colorado River District, which encompasses Routt County. “Some of the runoff is going to be going into the ground before it starts hitting the streams, which is a general fact when you’re coming off of a couple dry, hot summers like we’ve had.”

Utah statewide basin-filled map March 11, 2019 via the NRCS.

From The Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

February snapped Utah’s eight-year dry spell like a dry twig, and these latest rounds of storms in March propelled every single hydrologic basin into star-studded snowpack performances…

Last year, the Dixie region sat at 40 percent of normal for precipitation, with agricultural producers enduring cutbacks and a shortened growing season. The Virgin River was a trickle.

This year?

The Virgin River Basin is doing swimmingly, sitting at 175 percent, with Thompson now looking to the skies for possible rain-on-snow events that could bring flooding.

Southeastern Utah, which was also parched last year, has a snowpack at 158 percent of normal…

[Cody] Moser said the Colorado River was at 108 percent of average at Cisco on March 1 and within the region, the Dolores River Basin was at 180 percent of median and Gunnison was at 145.

Along the Wasatch Front, the Ogden-Weber Basin hovers at 131 percent of average, while Jordan-Provo sits at 140.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 11, 2019 via the NRCS.

Paper: Wildfires and climate change push low-elevation forests across a critical climate threshold for tree regeneration #ActOnClimate

Click here to access the paper from the paywall at PNAS.org (Kimberley T. Davis, Solomon Z. Dobrowski, Philip E. Higuera, Zachary A. Holden, Thomas T. Veblen, Monica T. Rother, Sean A. Parks, Anna Sala, and Marco P. Maneta). Here’s the abstract:

Significance

Changes in climate and disturbance regimes may cause abrupt shifts in vegetation communities. Identifying climatic conditions that can limit tree regeneration is important for understanding when and where wildfires may catalyze such changes. This study quantified relationships between annual climate conditions and regeneration of Pinus ponderosa (ponderosa pine) and Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas-fir), two ecologically and economically important conifer species in low-elevation forests of western North America. We found that regeneration exhibited a threshold response to annual climate conditions and the forests we sampled crossed these climate thresholds in the past 20 years, resulting in fewer recruitment opportunities through time. In areas that have crossed climatic thresholds for regeneration, stand-replacing fires may result in abrupt ecosystem transitions to nonforest states.

Abstract

Climate change is increasing fire activity in the western United States, which has the potential to accelerate climate-induced shifts in vegetation communities. Wildfire can catalyze vegetation change by killing adult trees that could otherwise persist in climate conditions no longer suitable for seedling establishment and survival. Recently documented declines in postfire conifer recruitment in the western United States may be an example of this phenomenon. However, the role of annual climate variation and its interaction with long-term climate trends in driving these changes is poorly resolved. Here we examine the relationship between annual climate and postfire tree regeneration of two dominant, low-elevation conifers (ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir) using annually resolved establishment dates from 2,935 destructively sampled trees from 33 wildfires across four regions in the western United States. We show that regeneration had a nonlinear response to annual climate conditions, with distinct thresholds for recruitment based on vapor pressure deficit, soil moisture, and maximum surface temperature. At dry sites across our study region, seasonal to annual climate conditions over the past 20 years have crossed these thresholds, such that conditions have become increasingly unsuitable for regeneration. High fire severity and low seed availability further reduced the probability of postfire regeneration. Together, our results demonstrate that climate change combined with high severity fire is leading to increasingly fewer opportunities for seedlings to establish after wildfires and may lead to ecosystem transitions in low-elevation ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir forests across the western United States.

From New Scientist (Adam Vaughan):

Forests around the world face being permanently wiped out because climate change is making them unable to recover from devastating wildfires.

Solomon Dobrowski at the University of Montana and colleagues painstakingly dug up approximately 3,000 small trees from 90 burn sites across the western US to look at the ability of forests to regenerate after a wild fire.

They found that before the 1990s, low-lying forests could grow back after being burned, but between the early 1990s and 2015 there was a sharp drop in the ability of seeds to regenerate a forest at most sites.

The team used tree ring dating to see which year their trees had germinated since a fire, and used those samples to build a model of how forests would likely recover in different conditions.

Climate change appears to have changed soil moisture and surface temperatures so much that the forests have passed a threshold where conditions no longer favour new growth after a fire. Unlike mature trees, seedlings’ roots are too shallow to reach water deeper underground.

Higher temperatures
Climate scientists have warned for years of the possibility of such abrupt responses to higher temperatures, such as the rapidly-accelerating loss of ice sheets.

“These dramatic disturbance events, the changes we will see over the landscape won’t be gradual over decades, they will happen very quickly,” says Dobrowski.

The study looked at just two types of conifers, ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir. But Dobrowski said the findings were also relevant to similar semi-arid forests around the world, such as those of southern Europe.

That would be bad both in terms of the ecosystem services those forests provide, but also limiting future climate change.

Human interventions could help some of these burned forests grow back, for example by reintroducing seedlings when they are 2-3 years old and have roots long enough to reach water underground. But this costs money and time.