Innovating a Path Forward: EPA & the Colorado Natural Heritage Program Wade Into Colorado’s Wetlands
By: William Bunch
I work in EPA’s Region 8 office in Denver and have the opportunity to work with some partners that are doing great work in this area of our country. One such program is the Colorado Natural Heritage Program (CNHP).
CNHP is on the cutting edge of wetlands science and is one of EPA’s partners in Region 8. It provides an array of mapping, monitoring and assessment, and other eye-catching projects for the entire state of Colorado. One such project was the development of a wetland plant identification handbook. As a plant ecologist, I’ve used tons of plant field guides, but this is not your ordinary plant handbook. It’s an incredibly exhaustive collection that documents the wetland plants found in the state of Colorado. In fact, the weight of knowledge is so extensive that you can easily tell when the book is in your pack! On this front, CNHP shines yet again. It is currently in the process of converting the field guide into an app for smartphones. The app will reduce the extra weight during field visits, while still providing the extensive information that is included in the handbook.
Another project from CNHP that has been grabbing the attention of wetland ecologists in Colorado is its assessment of wetland plant communities in Denver parks. I had the pleasure of joining CNHP on a plant inventory of Parkfield Park and it was awesome! Of the many plants discovered and identified, we found Wolffia columbiana, which is the world’s smallest flowering plant. This was only the second known occurrence of this plant in the state of Colorado (first known occurrence in Denver), and reinforces the idea that you can’t judge a book by its cover. The only other documentation of this plant occurring in Colorado was in Yuma County by Ralph Brooks in 1980. Who would have thought that an urban park in Denver would be home to a plant so rare for the state? As John Muir once said,
“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe!” We are intrinsically connected to our environment, and everywhere you turn, there are new things to be discovered.
Billy Bunch, Pam Smith, and Laura Cascardi standing in front of a patch of large bull rushes during a plant inventory of Denver’s Parkfield Park. Photo by Bernedette Kuhn.
About the author: William Bunch is an ORISE Intern for EPA Region 8. He is an avid plant ecologist and, like most ORISE interns, is currently trying to find a permanent position with EPA.