Monitoring Riparian Wetlands in Colorado’s Cache La Poudre Watershed

Imagery of Colorado's Cache La Poudre watershed. Credit: DEVELOP

Image Credit: DEVELOP

Authors: Matthew Luizza, Amy Britwistle, Stephen Chignell, Sky Skach

Mentors/Advisers (affiliation): Dr. Paul Evangelista (Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University), Dr. Melinda Laituri (Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability, The Geospatial Centroid, Colorado State University)

Team Location: North Central Climate Science Center, Fort Collins, Colorado

Abstract: On June 9, 2012, the High Park Fire was first reported in the Roosevelt National Forest, west of Fort Collins. When it was finally contained, more than 87,000 acres and 259 homes were burned. The High Park Fire has had dramatic impacts to forest ecosystems. Of particular concern are the effects of the fire on the Cache La Poudre River (CLP) and its watershed. The Poudre River is one of the most important headwaters on the Colorado Front Range, providing important ecosystem and economic services before flowing into the South Platte, which in turn flows into the Missouri River. Within the week following the High Park Fire’s containment, the area received several days of torrential rains. The steep rugged terrain that frames the river banks, loss of trees and other vegetation by fire, and the exposed soils and ash, set the stage for yet another crisis. Soil and ash runoff was deposited into the Poudre River, resulting in a river choked with mud and black sludge. Monitoring the ongoing effects of this disaster is critical and requires establishing immediate baseline data to assess impacts over time. The spring 2013 Fort Collins Science Center DEVELOP project created a baseline model of riparian wetland areas within the Cache la Poudre watershed. Using remote sensing, GIS layers, and field data, the DEVELOP team conducted the first stage of a two-term investigation into riparian wetlands modeling within the watershed. The project provided important data for land managers and created a riparian wetlands modeling framework that can be reproduced throughout the intermountain west region. Data and end-user products resulting from the project were managed and disseminated by the Geospatial Centroid at Colorado State University.