After a number of revisions to our individual project, Caleb Bontempi and I measured the height and circumference of the fremont cottonwood (Populus fremontii), along with the health of each individual tree on a 0-4 rating. The 0-4 rating that we gave the trees was 0 being dead and fallen, 1 near dead and still standing, 2 much/mostly dead with some green buds and signs of life, 3 mostly alive but with dead limbs, and 4 being a healthy and thriving tree.

The area we studied was ~10 acres (Img. 1) just off the Colorado River (although the trees were confined to a close proximity to the river), across from the long-term parking, and just west of the boat launching area. This ~10-acre area was a part of the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council Lees Ferry Riparian Project (GCWCLFP) that took place over the summer of 2001 with follow-up monitoring over the next two growing seasons. The project was executed in an effort to combat the tamarisk, an exotic plant species that had infested the area. 950 native plants were planted and 1300 propagules were prepared in an effort to support the environment that over 400 species of birds, fish, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles call home.


Image 1. Photo of Grand Canyon Wildlands Council Lees Ferry Riparian Project after bulldozing and preparing (top left), after planting and seeding (center left), and after two growing seasons (lower left) (Arizona Water Protection Fund).

Our project was a follow-up roughly ten growing seasons after the release of the 2003 monitoring within the area. The reports given by the GCWCLFP in 2003, stated that the overall condition of the fremont cottonwoods was between good and excellent and a survival rate of 100% was met after two growing seasons, which was on par with their initial goal of 80-100% survival rate after five years (Fig. 1). Unfortunately, the success rate that was reported after two growing seasons did not carry through to our study, but was not far off of the five-year projection.


Figure 1. Population of fremont cottonwood projected (5 years) compared with actual (10 years).

After ten years, the fremont cottonwood population had been cut by 51.5% and gone from 270 to 131. Of the 131 remaining fremont cottonwoods, 18 were rated 0, 26 rated 1, 20 rated 2, 46 rated 3, and 21 rated 4 (Fig. 2).


Figure 2. 0-4 health rating of remaining fremont cottonwood.

In addition to the rating, we multiplied the height by the circumference to give a supplemental quantitative number that would reflect health of the fremont cottonwood. The product of this calculation would be a high value for a tall tree with a large circumference, or a low value for a short, skinny tree. The graph below shows the relationship of H*C plotted with the 0-4 rating (Fig. 3). The results display a definite trend favoring higher numbers of H*C correlating with higher ratings and lower values correlating with lower ratings.


Figure 3. Graph of Height x Circumference plotted with 0-4 rating displaying health of fremont cottonwood.

In conclusion, the fremont cottonwood aspect of the GCWCLFP was a success, though likely not to the degree that was initially anticipated. We estimate that the remaining trees are still alive largely due to proximity to the river, even though the area has been outfitted with an irrigation system. Of the 131 remaining trees counted and assessed after 12 years from the initial 270 planted, 44 (34%) were given a rating of 0-1 (dead-near dead) and will likely not make it much longer, 67 (51%) were given a rating of 3-4 indicating a much higher likelihood of survival, and the remaining 20 (15%) with a rating of 2 which could go either way. Fortunately, the 67 that fall into the healthy to very healthy range makes up the majority and will likely live long and prosperous lives barring a catastrophic event or disease outbreak.

Fracking for geothermal in France

In France, the oil and gas extraction process of hydraulic fracking has been outlawed for some time, but they are attempting to instigate a sustainable geothermal energy source using a similar method called “stimulation” that blasts acid and water into fissures to release volcanic heat. Apparently there is some opposition to the process and that believe if they can do this they should be allowed to frac for natural gas. The argument goes back again to sustainability. I’m not going to pretend I know whats best for France…but it is an interesting discussion that I am curious to see the conclusion of.

Link  —  Posted: April 11, 2013 in Uncategorized

Our initial project was observation of vegetation density and the relation to depositional setting: point bar vs. fan. Our thought was that porosity and permeability would play a big role in vegetation density within an arid region. Upon reaching Lee’s Ferry, it soon became apparent that either we were going to need a lot more time to get our project done, or we would have to modify our study. There were no obvious fan systems with relatively abundant vegetation. This left point bars as the dominant river depositional setting for the immediate area around where we were mapping. Either we were going to have to travel lengthy distances up and/or downstream, or our project needed a modification.

In researching our project prior to going on the trip we came across a revegetation project that took place in 2001 over 10 acres of Lees’s Ferry along the river near the long term parking lot and dock. The area had become overrun with a non-native species by the name of tamarisk which had killed off much of the more appealing plant species. The project consisted of uprooting, tilling, irrigating, and planting propagules of 14 native species.

The freemont cottonwood (Populus fremontii) is one of the propagule species in the project and is a native tree to northern Arizona. For our modified project we located as many of these trees as we could find in the revegetated area and recorded height using a Brunton compass and trunk circumference with a measuring tape. We created a 0-4 scale that we rated the trees with 0 being dead and fallen, 1 near dead and still standing, 2 much/mostly dead with some green buds and signs of life, 3 mostly alive but with dead limbs, and 4 being a healthy and thriving tree. We will compare our field recordings with the original project to track the progress of the trees after more than a decade to see if they are in decline or if it is a success.


As my partner Caleb has mentioned in a previous post, renting a kayak would be a great way for us to travel both sides of the river to record vegetation data along with sedimentation. We would certainly be able to cove a lot of ground (relatively speaking) in a kayak.

From what is stated on the kayak site, we would be given a ride from Page to the dam then paddle back. The average, which depends on current, is about six hours to return to Lee’s Ferry. If we were to do this we would need to get a very early start to travel the 18 miles on the Colorado and make sufficient stops for testing and recording. HW 89 being closed creates a slight issue and another reason to start early as it will take 3 hours to drive to the dam after paperwork and loading gear. We will discuss logistics later today.

Link  —  Posted: March 8, 2013 in Uncategorized

Vegetation update

The link above is a brief summary from Northern Arizona University’s site on Lee’s Feery. As it relates to native plants, Lee’s Ferry lies in close proximity to three of the four biomes in the Four Corners area with sagebrush and other dry summer/cold winter shrubs to the northwest. The west and south has a hot wet summer and a cool wet winter which allows for cacti, mesquite, catclaw, and other desert plant species to dominate. The rocky mountain biome to the east and north has the climate that is more suitable for upland and boreal species like pines and Douglas fir. As a result of its immediate surroundings in each direction and the mixing of vegetation, there is actually a great diversity of plant species in the area of Lee’s Ferry, even though images in Google Maps display an often sparse appearing landscape. Due to the above stated diversity of plant species, it turns out that our project would be a lot more complex than previously anticipated if we were to attempt to correlate these species in our study. What we will likely do to compensate will be to include the one or two most abundant continuous species or just overall vegetation abundance as they relate to vegetation density in different depositional settings.

There has also been some ongoing work to revegitate Lee’s Ferry in recent years. In 2003, Fred Phillips Consulting carried out a 10 acre revegetation project (link to PowerPoint below) in Lee’s Ferry with the objective of maximizing establishment of native species in the area and monitor the health of the environment for the benefit of wildlife and humans. As part of our project on vegetation density in the area, I think that it will be interesting to compare what they did with the rest of the relatively untouched surrounding areas. They did quite the overhaul that included soil analysis, site clearing and irrigation, and planting layout design of many native species. I assume that this area should be relatively distinct and will be included in our study with the same criteria as its surrounding areas. It can be used as a model of what can happen with positive human intervention. The slideshow also contains follow up monitoring that they did up to 2007 with before and after photos. It will be interesting to see the differences after a decade has passed since initial revegetation.

Link  —  Posted: March 1, 2013 in Uncategorized


I think we can all relate

Link  —  Posted: March 1, 2013 in Uncategorized

Good ol’ veggies

Posted: February 21, 2013 in Uncategorized

After numerous attempts at a viable project, alas, Caleb and I have arrived at the exciting study of vegetation density along the Colorado River. In this study, we will observe vegetation and how depositional systems (meandering river with point bars vs. alluvial fans) influence their abundance and hopefully even species variations. These systems should be somewhat dissimilar with regard to porosity due to sorting, size, angularity, and composition. Sandy units should have more porosity. However, less porous soil with a higher mud-sand ratio with be more rich in nutrients and minerals.

For a methodology, we will research the local vegetation in the area to familiarize ourselves with the species that we will be searching for. As a preliminary observation, we will do a point count using Google Earth, Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint, and/or NASA IR images (Jefferson’s suggestion) to calculate vegetation density from satellite images. Depending on when the image was taken, we might factor in the health of the ecosystem based on past images with current recordings from the field. Using GPS way stations, we will take points at each plant within our field of study and compare with the images from Google Earth and NASA. We will incorporate histograms in our study as well to exhibit the amount of vegetation present. Along with point counting we can also measure height and average distance between same species in a populated area.

In looking at images up to this point, it appears that along the Colorado River and close to Lee’s Ferry, there are a number of both of the depositional systems we plan to study. As a result, we should have little problem accessing enough recordable real estate over a two-day period. I think a logical approach would be to plot destinations to record data from one side of the river per day.