The average person might call it a swamp. The average rancher might want to drain it. But a fen, like the one at North Star Nature Preserve, an open space property near Aspen, is actually an “old-growth” wetland that can be thousands of years old.
A fen is a groundwater-fed wetland with saturated organic soils commonly known as peat. Fens develop when the rate of plant growth exceeds the rate of decomposition of plant litter. The result is the accumulation of organic matter, i.e. peat.
Here’s what the 2018 Wetland Fen Assessment & Floristic Inventory of North Star Nature Preserve has to say on the subject:
“Fens are rare and ecologically significant wetlands in Colorado and the Rocky Mountains and are colloquially known as ‘old-growth’ wetlands because they can be thousands of years old. They are ancient ecosystems 8,000 to 12,000 years old. Even though they occupy a small percentage of the landscape, they provide important headwater quality functions, including carbon storage, wildlife habitat and biodiversity.”
Figuring out what sorts of wildlife make use of a 2,500-acre collection of open space properties is no easy task. Nonetheless, Sky Mountain Park outside of Snowmass Village is carefully monitored for mammals and birds (in addition to vegetation, in separate studies). The goal is simple, though the means are complex: Ensure the park is managed to protect its biodiversity while providing recreational opportunities to its most obvious users – humans.
The 2017 Sky Mountain Park Annual Wildlife Monitoring Report, prepared by Colorado Wildlife Science, documents the results of monitoring activities at the park.
Monitoring wildlife at Sky Mountain Park involves on-the-ground observers searching in specifically plotted areas for not only actual animals and birds, but also scat, tracks, rubbed trees, bedded vegetation and other indicators of various species. In addition, infrared cameras and scent stations are used to attract and record the comings and goings of nocturnal animals. Owl surveys involve broadcasting recorded calls of owl species and listening for responses by actual owls. The owl calls, incidentally, produced the first record of breeding flammulated owls in the park. (more…)