Agroforestry on the Western Slope: An inventory and performance evaluation of tree and shrub plantings in western Colorado

Mountain Region



(Archuleta, Delta, Dolores, Eagle, Garfield, Gunnison, Hinsdale, La Plata, Mesa, Mineral, Moffat, Montezuma, Montrose, Ouray, Pitkin, Rio Blanco, Routt, Saguache, San Juan, San Miguel)

Primary Topic:

Natural Resources and Sustainability

Other Topics:

Economic and Community Development, Emergency Planning and Resources, Food and Agriculture, Health and Well-Being

Lead Mentor:  

Derek Lowstuter

Agriculture and Food Systems Specialist – Mountain Region

Internship Overview:

There are multiple experimental and/or demonstration woody species plantings in the Western Slope region of Colorado, an area long associated with the state’s fruit production. Changing biotic (e.g., invasive species spread) and abiotic (e.g., climate change/ aridification) conditions create increasing uncertainties about woody plant species’ survival and performance. These changes impact conservation, ornamental, and/or crop-bearing woody plants alike.

Perennial, carbon-sequestering trees and shrubs can provide multiple ecological, social, and economic benefits. Although long-lived relative to annual plant seedings and transplantations, woody plantings often have higher initial planting and establishment costs. It is important that Colorado growers have relevant and accessible information on the performance of these plantings so that they can invest in the plant material best suited to meet their goals. Some target stakeholder groups are nursery growers producing trees for sale, homeowners buying trees for residential installation, and government agencies funding plantings on public and private land.

The internship project will improve the ability of Colorado State University (CSU) Extension and the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) to meet the needs and interests of Western Slope stakeholders by identifying, inventorying, and reporting on the condition of existing tree and shrub plantings in the region. Outdated or hardcopy inventories will exist for some plantings, and the intern will work to update, standardize, and digitize this information to improve its accessibility for stakeholders and recoverability for future research and outreach.

Goals, Scope and Objectives:

The primary goal of the internship is to identify existing woody species plant collections on the Western Slope, to perform inventories where inventories have not been conducted, and to compile existing inventory data on the identified plantings. This will allow for improved evaluation among plantings and the creation of a record that can be more easily updated and queried.

The second (concurrent) goal is to evaluate the inventory platforms available to enter and display inventory data, and to select the best suited for the intern to use to conduct the inventories. Most plantings do not have inventory data stored digitally. If records have been kept on the plantings, they are often only accessible as hardcopy documents and notes or in a flat-file electronic database that has limited functionality. The selection of an inventory database will depend on multiple factors, including cost, the familiarity of personnel in charge of managing the plantings, ease of initial use, ease of updating, reporting and output options, and others.

The third goal is to identify potential tree and shrub species that warrant additional, replicative plantings or completely new trial/ demonstration plantings to better assess suitability for the Western Slope.

The fourth goal of the internship is to highlight collaboration between CSU campus faculty, CSU Extension, CSFS, Conservation Districts, and other local community partners. This effort could be expanded statewide. This is beyond the scope of the initial internship but could be rolled into additional work plans.

With which stakeholder group(s) will the intern work?

The intern will work with both private and public partners on the Western Slope for the primary research; however, connections will be made statewide as the project progresses. The project will require the intern to work with nursery trade professionals, local Conservation Districts, CSFS field offices, CSU Extension staff and CSU faculty to identify appropriate plantings, conduct inventories, and report outcomes. The plantings initially identified for being inventoried are either on public land or publicly accessible land managed by a nonprofit partner. It is possible that some additional plantings the internship identifies to inventory will be located on private land or require agreements with private landowners to secure access to the plantings site.

What student learning outcomes do you anticipate and what are the opportunities for professional development?

This project would provide the greatest value to a student with academic and/or professional interests in urban/community forestry, tree physiology, forest biometrics, green infrastructure, and/or community engagement. The intern will gain experience on woody plant identification, tree assessment protocols, and the data management required for conducting intensive tree inventories. The intern will not only learn about the different ways these plantings are managed, but also how management objectives may differ and what limitations exist in managing them for these objectives.

The intern will gain experience working with a diverse range of public and private stakeholders and creating appropriate informational materials for target audiences.
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