National Park Service

Upper Columbia Basin Network (UCBN)


UCBN employees doing field sampling the Big Hole River
UCBN employees doing field sampling the Big Hole River

Effective long-term management and stewardship of natural resources begins with baseline knowledge of these resources. To acquire this knowledge, an inventory program was established by the National Park Service with the goals of acquiring baseline information for a variety of resources, from bibliographic information to species occurrence and distribution.

Since 2002, the UCBN has been conducting biological inventories and providing reports and other products to parks. With most of the basic inventory lists such as park species lists now updated, our inventory efforts have been focusing on special projects of particular park importance, such as mapping distributions of park vegetation and individual species of concern.

The twelve (12) basic inventories are defined in appendix A of the Natural Resources Inventory and Monitoring Guidelines (NPS-75). The inventories consist of a group of resource related baseline information that has been found to be of greatest value in the initiation of a Vital Signs Monitoring Program.

In addition, the UCBN has produced numerous inventories that can be accessed through our Reports & Publications page.

Network Inventory Highligthts

American Pika as an Indicator Species for Detecting Climate Change Effects

The American pika is considered an indicator species for detecting ecological effects of climate change in mountainous regions. Results from recent studies suggest that in some areas pikas are being lost from lower elevations in response to increased warming, and thus, their suitable habitat is being reduced.

Pikas also live in the expansive lava flows of Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, which provides rather atypical habitat in a harsh environment. This provides us a spectacular opportunity to learn more about how this species may respond to climate change over time, and will help the National Park Service become better stewards of park resources in an era of accelerated climate change.

We conducted targeted pika surveys in the park during 2007-2009. This effort enabled the Upper Columbia Basin Network to develop a distribution map for the species and to model pika-habitat relationships in the park. The results of this effort have been published in the Journal of Mammalogy (Rodhouse et al. 2010). In 2010, we launched a long-term pika monitoring and genetics study in Craters of the Moon and in seven other NPS units. To learn more about pika monitoring and research at Craters of the Moon, check out our videos at our Multimedia page.

Vegetation Mapping in the UCBN

Understanding the current distribution of park vegetation and land cover is essential for effective park management and decision making. Through NPS vegetation mapping program funding, the UCBN has completed vegetation maps for all Network Parks. The Network contracted Northwest Management, Inc. to complete vegetation maps.

Vegetation Mapping Products by Park

Rare Endemic Species in the UCBN

Endemic species are those that are restricted to a very unique and narrow range of distribution, and NPS lands are often of critical importance to the overall conservation strategy for these kinds of species. Even small park lands can make an important difference.

For example, we recently surveyed for the rare Spalding's catchfly (Silene spaldingii), a species that is distantly related to the carnation, at Old Chief Joseph's Gravesite in Oregon, a unit of Nez Perce National Historical Park. Students from the Oregon Youth Conservation Corps assisted in the project. The distribution and abundance of the species was mapped and this information in being used to develop a park conservation strategy and also to generate new collaborative research and monitoring with neighboring land management agencies, including The Nature Conservancy. The plant occurs only in small fragmented populations in intact grasslands of eastern Washington, southeastern British Columbia, northeastern Oregon, and northwestern Idaho, and is considered rare and imperiled by conservation agencies in those states and provinces.

Lemhi Penstemon at Big Hole National Battlefield

Lemhi penstemon (Penstemon lemhiensis), a unique endemic plant, occurs in Big Hole National Battlefield. Lemhi penstemon is a very large and showy blue flowering penstemon (also known as a "beardtongue") that is found only in a few counties of southwestern Montana and in one adjacent county in eastern Idaho.

The species appears to be in decline although very little information is available to confirm that. It has long been suspected that an unusually large population of the species occurred in Big Hole Battlefield and through inventory surveys conducted by the Upper Columbia Basin Network and park staff during 2007-2011, we now have clear evidence that the largest reported population for this species does occur in the park (Stucki and Rodhouse 2009).

We have published the results of our inventory in the Natural Areas Journal and we have launched long-term monitoring that will enable the NPS to learn about population fluctuations in response to chaning climate and fire management strategies in the Battlefield (Stucki et al. 2013).

Our most recent population estimate is that approximately 2500 plants occur on the steep slopes of the Battlefield. We have also rediscovered a small subpopulation containing approximately 40 plants below the visitor center that was suspected to have been lost over time due to lack of fire. Unfortunately, through our penstemon survey efforts we have also collected evidence that spotted knapweed, a noxious weed, is increasing too, presenting a serious threat to the biological integrity of the Battlefield. You can find more details in our lemhi penstemon resource brief.

Fairy shrimp at City of Rocks National Reserve

Strange and little known creatures called fairy shrimp live in the vernal pools fed by rain and snowmelt on the granite spires and pillars of City of Rocks National Reserve. The UCBN collected fairy shrimp specimens from several pools in 2008 and sent them to a fairy shrimp expert for identification. These were identified as Branchinecta constricta, a species previously undocumented west of the continental divide. The shrimp were collected from pools perched on rock pillars 9-10 m above the ground. Identification of this species at City of Rocks National Reserve represents a significant range extension.

Bat Inventories at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Earlier in our inventory efforts, the Upper Columbia Basin Network focused on bats in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Bats are hard to study because they are only out at night, hide during the day, and tend to be found in places where humans have a hard time getting to, like sheer cliffs or deep caves.

During 2002-2003 we found that the Fossil Beds hosted particularly high bat species diversity, including several very rare and declining species such as the pallid bat, a very large desert species known to eat scorpions and other tough desert invertebrates.

Another species, the spotted bat, virtually unknown in Oregon prior to our surveys, was found to be relatively common in the area, and was regularly heard (but not seen!) foraging in the John Day River canyon and tributaries where the park is located. This information and results from bat inventories done in other UCBN parks will be instrumental in helping these parks prepare for and respond to emerging threats to bats such as the disease known as white-nose syndrome.

The UCBN has published a number of technical reports and journal articles using bat inventory data and is assisting Craters of the Moon National Monument with long-term monitoring of hibernating bat populations in lava tubes(Rodhouse et al. 2012, Rodhouse et al. 2011, Rodhouse et al. 2008, Weller et al. 2007, and Rodhouse et al. 2005).

Small mammal Diversity at City of Rocks National Reserve

City of Rocks National Reserve supports some of the northernmost populations of single-leaf pinyon pine (Pinus monophylla) and Utah juniper (Juniperus osteosperma), as well as the northernmost populations of pinyon-juniper woodland-associated mammals including the pinyon mouse (Peromyscus truei) and the cliff chipmunk (Tamias dorsalis). Studying these pinyon-juniper woodland communities at the range periphery can provide important insights into how parks like City of Rocks, which act as a crossroads for species and communities across a range of different climatic and geographic regimes, may preserve critical transitional habitat during a time of accelerated climate change.

In 2006-2007 we surveyed for pinyon mice, cliff chipmunks, and other members of the pinyon-juniper woodland rodent community there. Results, published in Journal of Mammalogy, provide evidence that old-growth type pinyon-juniper woodlands in the park provide critical habitat for these unique species (Rodhouse et al. 2010). This information has enabled park managers to better recognize and manage park habitats for protecting the unique biological diversity that is found there.

A more recent study of historic change in the Reserve's woodlands consolidates our knowledge about these unique resources into a discussion of specific management actions that can be taken to preserve and protect them. Check our Reports and Publications page to access this article.

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Last Updated: April 05, 2017 Contact Webmaster