New Initiative Targets Western #Wildfire Risks: Joint Forest Service-Department of Interior effort will focus resources on priority landscapes — The Nature Conservancy

WILDFIRE CHALLENGES The 2013 Alder Fire in Yellowstone National Park burned 4,240 acres. © Mike Lewelling, National Park Service

Click the link to read the release on The Nature Conservancy website (Jay Lee and Lindsay Schlageter):

The following is a statement from Carlos Fernández, state director of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Colorado, and Cecilia Clavet, a TNC senior policy advisor, in response to the announcement by Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and Randy Moore, chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Forest Service (USFS), of “10 Initial Landscape Investments.”

USFS highest risk firesheds January 2022.

The announcement is part of USFS’s 10-year plan to address wildfire risk throughout the United States. According to the agency, these 10 priority landscapes will apply funds from the bipartisan infrastructure law and other funding to provide treatments that will reduce wildfire risk primarily in western states.

Carlos Fernández, State Director, TNC in Colorado: “We are thrilled to welcome Secretary Haaland and Chief Moore to Colorado to announce the next phase of their 10-year strategy to address wildfire risk. “Colorado is no stranger to the devastating effects of increased wildfires, with the largest fires in our state’s history occurring within the last three years. We know that in order to address the growing threat of large-scale wildfires and longer fire seasons, we need to increase investments in wildfire resilience.

That’s why it’s promising to see the Front Range landscape is a priority for federal land management agencies as they plan to scale up their efforts to address wildfire risk. Our forests are so important to our quality of life here in Colorado, they clean our air and water, sustain wildlife and provide opportunities for recreation. We look forward to working together to ensure they are healthy, our communities are safe, and our way of life can continue into the future.”

Cecilia Clavet, Senior Policy Advisor, TNC: “Colorado is not alone. The entire western United States is facing unprecedented, large-scale wildfires, exacerbated by climate change. We need to build resilience of our forests and rangelands, reduce risk to communities and ensure people are empowered and prepared to live safely with fire. Wildfire resilience is an all-of-society challenge in need of an all-of-society approach. We commend the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior for prioritizing landscapes with the highest risk of wildfire. This will ensure investments are going to communities that need it most.

“The announcement today is a great step forward for the Forest Service’s 10-year strategy. The investments provided through the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act represent an important down payment for wildfire resilience. TNC will continue to support investing in wildfire resilience to meet the longer-term training, capacity building and workforce development needs.

Partnerships are essential to maintain and sustain this work. TNC partners with federal land management agencies, Indigenous peoples and other federal and non-federal partners to achieve a better future with fire.

Bent lodgepole pine in some areas revealed intensity of the wind. Photo/National Park Service via Big Pivots

Reclamation’s letter to Tom Buschatzke describing potential 2022 releases (7.0 maf) from Glen Canyon Dam/#LakePowell #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Upper Colorado, Great, Virgin River Basins
April 2022 April-July forecast volumes as a percent of the 1991-2020 average (50% exceedance probability forecast)

Click the link to read the letter from Tonya Trujillo/Department of Interior GCD – 2022 Operations Letter – Buschatzke.

From the letter:

…we believe that additional actions are needed to reduce the risk of Lake Powell dropping to elevations at which Glen Canyon Dam releases could only be accomplished through the river outlet works (i.e. below elevation 3490′ mean sea level (msl)), or hydropower operations infrastructure at Glen Canyon Dam would be adversely impacted…

… we have recently confirmed that essential drinking water infrastructure supplying the City of Page, Arizona and the LeChee Chapter of the Navajo Nation could not function…

In particular, in conjunction with any potential 2022 Drought Repsponse Operations Plan releases the Department respectfully requests your consideration of potentially reducing Glen Canyon Dam releases to 7.0 maf this water year and providing additional certainty regarding annual release volumes and tier determinations for the 2023 water year.

The latest Intermountain #Climate Briefing is hot off the presses from Western #Water Assessment

Click the link to read the briefing on the Western Water Assessment website:

April 7, 2022 – CO, UT, WY

Despite a cooler than normal March, a late-month heat wave triggered snowmelt and an increase in streamflow for most regional river basins. April 1st snowpack was much below normal in Utah (75%) and Wyoming (76%) and near-normal in most Colorado river basins (92%). Below normal precipitation since January 1st was the major cause of low snowpack in Utah and Wyoming. Seasonal streamflow supply forecasts are generally below to much-below normal and Lake Powell inflow is forecasted at 64% of average.

Regional precipitation was generally below normal during March. In Colorado, precipitation was 50-90% of normal in western Colorado and above normal on the Eastern Plains and in parts of the Front Range. Utah precipitation was less than 50% of normal in the south and 70-90% of normal in northern Utah. Wyoming saw above normal precipitation in the central portion of the state and below normal precipitation elsewhere. Locations west of the Continental Divide received below normal precipitation during the last three months with large areas of Utah, western Colorado and western Wyoming seeing precipitations totals among the 12 driest years on record. January-March was the driest on record for parts of northern Utah and Wyoming.

Temperatures were slightly below normal during March. In parts of central Wyoming and eastern Colorado, temperatures were 2-4ºF below normal. Below normal March temperatures were despite an extremely warm last 10 days of March when temperatures were 9-12ºF above average in northern Utah and southwestern Wyoming.

Regional snowpack conditions are a mix of near-normal and below normal as of April 1st. In Colorado, April 1st snowpack is near-normal except in the Yampa/White River Basins where SWE is 83% of normal. In Utah, April 1st SWE is below normal except for the Beaver River basin and in eastern Utah. Snowpack is 70-90% in most Utah river basins, but 50-70% of normal in the Bear and Weber River basins. In most Wyoming river basins, April 1st snowpack is 70-90% of normal. Near-normal SWE conditions exist in the Laramie River basin and snowpack is less than 40% of normal in northeastern Wyoming. Record warm temperatures in late March caused melt to begin in nearly all regional river basins.

The University of Colorado Mountain Hydrology Group is issuing reports containing near-real-time estimates of snow-water equivalent (SWE) for the Intermountain West region (Colorado, Utah and Wyoming). Modeled SWE output is generated as an experimental research product at a spatial resolution of 500 m from mid-winter through the melt season. The report is typically released within a week of the date of data acquisition at the top of the report. Detailed SWE maps (in JPG format) and summaries of SWE (in Excel format) by individual basin and elevation band accompany the report and are publicly available on their website.

Seasonal streamflow volume forecasts for April 1st are below normal throughout the region except for parts of the Arkansas, Gunnison and Laramie River basins where streamflow volume forecasts are near-normal. Seasonal streamflow forecasts in the Upper Colorado River basin range from 40-100% of normal and 30-80% of normal in the Great Basin. Seasonal streamflow forecasts declined slightly since March 1st due to below average March precipitation. A late March heat wave caused snowmelt to begin and streamflow increased to above average flows by the end of March.

Drought conditions remain in place across 93% of the region. Parts of northern and western Colorado are the wettest, but are still experiencing abnormally dry conditions. Extreme (D3) drought covers 20% of the region. Extreme drought conditions developed in northwestern Wyoming and along the Wasatch Front during March. Extreme drought conditions impacted regional rivers during March. Record low March streamflow was observed at sites along the American Fork, Dolores, East Fork of the Sevier, San Juan, San Rafael and Weber Rivers in Utah, the Animas and Dolores Rivers in Colorado and the Firehole and Snake Rivers in Wyoming.

US Drought Monitor map March 29, 2022.

La Niña conditions remain in place over the eastern Pacific Ocean, but the majority of ocean temperature models project a return to neutral ENSO conditions by summer. There is an increased probability for below average precipitation and above average temperatures during April for Colorado and Utah. During April-June, there is an increased probability for below average precipitation for the entire region, but Utah has a greater than 60% probability for below average precipitation. There is also an increased probability for above average temperatures during April-June across Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, with the highest probability in southern Colorado.

Significant March weather event: Regional heat wave. A regional heat wave, centered over Utah, set daily maximum temperature records and triggered early snowmelt from March 24-29. In Utah, 20-45% of sites with at least 50 years of data observed daily maximum temperatures records on 3/25-3/27. Notable daily high temperature records include the first days over 80ºF during March in Tooele, UT and the hottest March temperature recorded in Ogden (79ºF) and Morgan, UT (77ºF). Daily high temperature records were observed at sites in western and southern Wyoming on 3/26-27 with all-time March high temperatures recorded in Green River, Moose and Wamsutter. In Colorado, fewer maximum daily temperature records were set, but 20-25% of sites with greater than 50 years of observations set daily records on 3/26-27. The temperature record at snotel sites is shorter (10-40 years), but many daily high temperature records were observed. On 3/25, 98 of 106 snotel sites in Utah observed a new daily high temperature record and on 3/27 72 of 114 snotel sites in Colorado recorded new daily high temperature extremes. The cumulative result of the heat wave was the onset of snowmelt in nearly all regional river basins.

Aspinall Unit operations update (April 13, 2022): Deliveries through the Gunnison Tunnel bumping up to 1,000 cfs

East Portal Gunnison Tunnel gate and equipment houses provide for the workings of the tunnel.
Lisa Lynch/NPS

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased from 900 cfs to 1200 cfs on Wednesday, April 13th and then from 1200 cfs to 1300 cfs on Monday, April 18th. Releases are being increased as diversions to the Gunnison Tunnel continue to increase. Currently snowpack in the Upper Gunnison Basin is 100% of normal and the forecasted April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir is 83% of average.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. River flows are expected to stay at levels above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1050 cfs for April and May.

Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 600 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 335 cfs. After these release changes Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be around 1000 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be near 350 cfs. There will be a period of higher flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon between Wednesday, April 13th and Monday, April 18th. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

St. Vrain and Left Hand #Water Conservancy District Funding to Help Protect #Jamestown From #Wildfire

Jamestown, a view from Mill street looking over Little James Creek towards Main Street. By Jared Winkler – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66484723

Here’s the release from the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District:

The Town of Jamestown will be at less risk from wildfire because of funding provided by residents and business property owners in the St. Vrain and Left Hand Creek Water Conservancy District. The Town and many local property owners agreed to work with over $127,000 of Water Conservancy District funding to begin planning a fire mitigation project that encompasses dozens of homes in the town limits. The area has been identified as a critical zone for wildfire mitigation treatments that will improve public safety across Jamestown as well as help protect the James Creek water supply in the event of a wildfire.

Many of the private property owners in the proposed area participated in an informational meeting on March 29 in Jamestown. Though property owners were not asked to fully commit to the proposal, many signed agreements allowing the project team access to their properties in order to assess conditions and develop a fire mitigation plan.

The Water Conservancy District provided the funding and sought the support of Left Hand Watershed Center to gather local experts to facilitate the work. This team is beginning work to assess the type of forest mitigation work necessary, and work with the landowners to achieve and implement a common vision. In addition to the District and the Watershed Center, the team includes the Boulder Valley and Longmont Conservation Districts, the Lefthand Fire Protection District, and the St. Vrain Forest Health Partnership (a larger collaborative seeking similar larger scale opportunities).

”The recent fires in Boulder County demonstrate the urgency we have to address community safety at this kind of scale,” said Allan Mueller, Town of Jamestown resident and project participant. “As a community that rests at the top of the watershed, we have a great appreciation for how our water resources connect us clear through Weld County.” “We are incredibly grateful to the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District, whose mission is for the entirety of the creek, for this funding”.

Lefthand Fire Protection District Chief Chris O’Brien, whose crews will do the forest mitigation work this summer, was thrilled to have this generous funding. “We have been working one small piece of the puzzle at a time to help decrease the wildfire risk to the community and all up and down our watershed. This funding allows us to get a lot done at one time, lowering the cost for each acre and making a bigger difference given the size of the wildfires we could potentially face. Thank you to the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District and the Jamestown community for stepping up to meet the wildfire challenge we all face.”

The Left Hand Watershed Center will be the lead coordinating entity for the project, and helped secure the funding from the Water Conservancy District. Jessie Olson, Executive Director, stated, “Our communities, water supplies and forests are at risk if we do not begin scaling up forest restoration in the County. This is why we formed the St. Vrain Forest Health Partnership with over 100 agencies and community members, to begin implementing landscape scale cross-boundary restoration. This Jamestown project was identified as a priority through the partnership, and the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District stepped up to spear head this important project. This is an exciting moment for the community of Jamestown and all downstream communities.”

“It is a great collaboration in the Boulder County Fireshed whereby we have partners that are willing to fund work upstream from where they reside and with others are coming together to get a significant and strategic needed project done,” said Boulder County Commissioner Matt Jones. “We all recognize that wildfires are getting worse and threaten our mountain residents and we have also learned the hard way since the Hayman Fire 20 years ago, that downstream water users can be impacted as well by wildfire. Our forest is the main source of our drinking water in Boulder County and catastrophic wildfire ruins its ability to provide us that resource while post fire flood debris can devastate water supply infrastructure.”

The St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District encompasses some 500 square miles along the St. Vrain and Left Hand creeks in Boulder, Weld and Larimer counties. In 2020, voters in the Water Conservancy District agreed to a mill levy increase from 0.156 mills to 1.25 mills through 2030. This was the first property tax increase sought by the District in its 50 year history. The tax will generate an additional $3.4 million in 2022, up from the $416,000 collected in 2020. The 1.25 mill on a $500,000 residential property is equal to $4.47 per month, and $36.25 per month on a $1,000,000 non-residential property.
Sean Cronin, Executive Director of the Water Conservancy District stated, “For years, our constituents said they wanted holistic, sensible, and apolitical leadership across the watershed. In response, the Board of Directors asked the voters in November 2020 if they would approve funding to implement a holistic and sensible water plan. Part of that plan included investments in protecting forests and water quality.” “We are really excited to partner with the Left Hand Watershed Center, the Fire District, the Longmont and Boulder Valley Conservation Districts, and the community of Jamestown to help protect forests and water quality.”

If you are a Jamestown resident and/or you would like to learn more about the proposed project please contact the Watershed Center’s Forest Program Manager, Chiara Forrester at cforrester@watershed.center.

Study: Early wildflower blooms sign of a warming #Wyoming — WyoFile

Click the link to read the article on the WyoFile website (Dustin Bleizeffer):

Wyoming botanist Trevor Bloom spotted his first springtime blooms of the year on March 28. Bloom, while tracing the footsteps of famed ecologist Frank Craighead at Blacktail Butte in Grand Teton National Park, saw the Orogenia linearifolia, or snowdrop, wildflower.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a wildflower, besides a dandelion, flowering in March,” Bloom said. The snowdrop bloom was nearly a month earlier than Craighead had recorded in the 1970s. “It means we’re probably going to have a very early spring this year. It probably means that we’re going to have very low water levels, and we’re probably going to have an increased risk of wildfire this year.”

The prognostication isn’t merely a gut feeling. Bloom and co-authors Donal S. O’Leary and Corinna Riginos recently published the study “Flowering Time Advances Since The 1970s In A Sagebrush Steppe Community” in the journal Ecological Applications. The study — a project of The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming — shows that early blooms of wildflowers correlate with warming average temperatures and a host of potential ecological responses.

The team began measuring plant behavior in 2016, in the exact locations where Craighead documented seasonal rhythms and relationships between plants, insects, birds and animals — the basis for his 1994 book “For Everything There Is A Season.” Bloom and his co-authors wanted to learn how closely the ecological relationships that Craighead observed track with what’s happening decades later.

They learned the seasons themselves are changing — particularly springtime, which is arriving sooner in Wyoming and potentially driving a cascade of ecological changes.

“We found that early flowering species had the greatest shift, moving up to three weeks earlier,” Bloom said. “Mid-summer flowers, like lupines, are flowering on average about 10 days earlier, and then late-summer flowers — like fireweed and goldenrod — have actually not changed significantly at all.”

Early flowering and earlier production of fruits correlate with warming average temperatures in Wyoming and throughout North America, Bloom said. Wyoming’s annual mean temperature increased 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit from 1920 to 2020, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data. One of the most significant responses to warming average temperatures in Wyoming is early snowmelt and spring runoff.

Amelanchier alnifolia var. semiintegrifolia

Wyoming’s warming springtime, and ecological responses to it, have major implications for all manner of vegetation and wildlife — from whether migrating hummingbirds might find nectar at their annual stops to when bears go into and emerge from hibernation.

“This is just a very tangible example of climate change,” Bloom said.

‘For everything there is a reason’

Bloom grew up in Jackson idolizing brothers Frank and John Craighead — famed naturalists and conservationists credited for groundbreaking methods for studying grizzlies and other wildlife in and around Yellowstone National Park.

“I was inspired by them as these ecologists who were also adventurers and mountain climbers and just really inspirational people,” said Bloom, who serves as community ecologist for The Nature Conservancy.

“Frank Craighead became very interested in phenology, which is the seasonal timing of ecological events,” Bloom said. “It’s [studying] when snow melts, when flowers bloom, when they go to seed and the interaction of animals; when the elk begin to migrate, what they’re feeding on at what times, when bears emerge from hibernation, when birds migrate from the south. Those are all examples of phenology.”

The Craighead family homestead near Blacktail Butte, just outside the Grand Teton National Park boundary, served as an intriguing landscape to document the rhythms and interactions of a complex sagebrush steppe ecosystem. For several years in the 1970s and 80s, Frank Craighead recorded weekly observations along a 1.7-mile route from the base of Blacktail Butte toward its summit, documenting hundreds of plant, insect, bird and animal species.

Many professional and amateur ecologists refer to “For Everything There Is A Season” as a field guide to learn about seasonal interactions in the region. Corinna Riginos, director of science for The Nature Conservancy, used to ask students at the Teton Science School whether their own observations matched those described in the book. She began to notice seasonal events that Craighead described weren’t quite in sync.

A passage from Craighead’s book came to mind: “If the event occurs earlier or later than anticipated from the base data provided in the book, you can try to determine the influencing factors — for everything there is a reason.”

Wyoming researchers traced the steps of ecologist Frank Craighead, who recorded observations of wildflowers and wildlife at Blacktail Butte in Grand Teton National Park in the 1970s and 80s. (Google maps)

Riginos proposed continuing Craighead’s work to identify potential trends from the 1970s to today, factoring in changing climate conditions. The Nature Conservancy team consulted with Craighead’s widow and son to confirm his route and the plots where he’d made his observations. They were even given access to hundreds of pages of Craighead’s handwritten notes.

“Some of them are in cursive and in journals, and some of them have burned edges and are smoke-stained because his cabin in Grand Teton National Park burned down,” Bloom said.

The notes added a new dimension to “For Everything There Is A Season,” establishing a critical baseline to inform The Nature Conservancy’s research.

The findings

The greatest degree of change was measured among wildflowers known to bloom just as spring snowmelt begins, such as the snowdrop and hooded phlox. Those and other early spring flowers bloomed an average 17 days earlier compared to Craighead’s data from the 1970s and 80s, according to the study. Some bloomed 36 days earlier, based on the study’s 2016-19 data.

Mid-summer flowers bloomed an average 10 days earlier, and berry-producing shrubs five days earlier.

While early blooms are a logical, natural response to a warming climate and changing hydrological conditions, they pose significant challenges for wildlife that depend on them. Hummingbirds, for example, base their migratory habits on the length of daylight, which means they might arrive at annual stopover sites after flowers have lost their nectar.

“The flowers might be all dried up and gone,” Bloom said, adding that the phenomenon also threatens to extend the wildfire season.

If bushes continue to produce berries earlier in the season, it could result in food scarcity for bears in the fall. “There’s a direct correlation between the size and the abundance of a berry crop and bear-human conflicts,” Bloom said.

Better understanding these types of “phenological mismatches” is critical to inform land and wildlife managers about how to help mitigate potential threats, Bloom said. Preserving large, intact landscapes is especially critical for sagebrush ecosystems.

“You want to preserve as much biodiversity of plants as possible,” Bloom said. When restoring disturbed surfaces, it’s important to tailor a seed mix to include both early and late-blooming wildflowers. Bloom and The Nature Conservancy are consulting with Grand Teton National Park officials on such an effort at the Kelly hayfields, he said.

The study also highlights the need to maintain connectivity and corridors between seasonal habitats. Pronghorn, deer and other migrating wildlife must adapt to changing seasonal patterns to take advantage of vegetation as it “greens up” — a message underscored by the work of the Wyoming Migration Initiative.

Bloom said he’s excited to continue the wildflower research and to trace the footsteps of Craighead. The Nature Conservancy plans to expand its phenology research to other areas of the state. The work is bolstered by the organization’s Wildflower Watch initiative, which taps citizen volunteers to contribute phenology observations in northwest Wyoming. Some 700 volunteers have contributed to the program.

“Our goal is to increase people’s understanding of native plants, increase their understanding of invasive plants and form personal connections with climate change in Wyoming,” Bloom said.

DUSTIN BLEIZEFFER
Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 22 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily.

Wyoming rivers map via Geology.com