Overall Rating Silver
Overall Score 61.15
Liaison Ashley Woolman
Submission Date April 8, 2022

STARS v2.2

Western Colorado University
OP-10: Biodiversity

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 2.00 / 2.00 Ashley Woolman
Sustainability Coordinator
Facilities Services
"---" indicates that no data was submitted for this field

Does the institution own or manage land that includes or is adjacent to legally protected areas, internationally recognized areas, priority sites for biodiversity, or regions of conservation importance?:
Yes

A brief description of the legally protected areas, internationally recognized areas, priority sites for biodiversity, and/or regions of conservation importance:

Within Western's institutional boundary, the 1,068 acres of undeveloped land contains legally protected areas, priority sites for biodiversity, and regions of conservation importance.
Tenderfoot Mountain (500 acres), south of the main campus is an archeological site in which artifacts from Paleo Indians have been found. The site is protected and closed to the public. This land contains sage grouse habitat, a federally threatened species. Western entered an agreement with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) called the Gunnison Sage-grouse Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) and this agreement requires and helps guide Western's management of the habitat for sage grouse in partnership with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the USFWS.

Similarly, northeast of the main campus is the Signal Peak area (568 acres) which is not only campus property, but also is the main gateway to an expansive Bureau of Land Management sagebrush ecosystem. This land also contains sage grouse and sage grouse habitat. The Gunnison Sage-grouse Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances requires Western to manage the habitat for sage grouse in partnership with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the USFWS. Also within the Signal Peak area, Western manages for biodiversity and the eradication of cheatgrass. These acres contain sensitive plant species and wildlife habitat. The gateway to the BLM recreation area means we have numerous trails in this area and cheatgrass is spread by humans using trails. It is a critical area to manage the spread and try to eradicate cheatgrass form the landscape. Cheatgrass represents one of the top threats to the globally unique and rare Gunnison Sage-grouse (literally occurring in our backyard with 87% of the global population of the species occurring in the Gunnison Basin and a total population of 2,700 individuals). The sagebrush ecosystem on Western’s property also includes other sagebrush obligate bird species such as the Brewer’s Sparrow, Sage Thrasher, and Green-tailed Towhee. This habitat is critical winter range for mule deer and elk.


Has the institution conducted an assessment to identify endangered and vulnerable species (including migratory species) with habitats on land owned or managed by the institution?:
Yes

A list of endangered and vulnerable species with habitats on land owned or managed by the institution, by level of extinction risk:

Gunnison Sage-grouse- federally threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Western manages sage grouse habitat in partnership with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the USFWS, Gunnison County and other partners by restoring sagebrush, hosting native plant seed collection days, pulling and spraying for cheatgrass, implementing seasonal trail closures, and trail work days. . In addition, Western provides education to students, staff and faculty about the ecosystem and vulnerable species in forums, classes, and through research projects. The Colorado Parks and Wildlife coordinates annual lek counts (leks are mating areas for sage-grouse) and the nearest lek is approximately 1 mile from the Western’s main campus.

Sagebrush obligate species include the Brewer’s Sparrow (common bird in steep decline), sage thrasher, green-tailed towhee and the vesper sparrow. Almost one quarter of the global population of green-tailed towhees resides in western Colorado, so Western’s habitat is important to sustain their breeding success. Brewer’s Sparrows have declined by over 2% annually in the last 50 years, thus nearly cutting their population in half twice over that time period. It remains the most common bird in the sagebrush ecosystem, but is steeply disappearing.

On campus, Cliff Swallows (migratory)- least concern. Migratory cliff swallows nest in Gunnison and on buildings on Western's campus during the summer months. Western is careful not to disturb their nests once they have been built as they are federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and return to the same nesting sites. Western’s campus has a variety of trees and other open space that provide nesting habitat for a variety of migratory songbirds and other species that are all protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (partial list includes: Mountain Chickadee, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Yellow Warbler, Say’s Phoebe, House Finch, Pine Siskin, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, barn swallow, tree swallow, violet-green swallow, and many more).
me nesting sites.


Has the institution conducted an assessment to identify areas of biodiversity importance on land owned or managed by the institution?:
Yes

A brief description of areas of biodiversity importance on land owned or managed by the institution:

The spread of cheatgrass on the Signal Peak area presents many concerns to biodiversity. The area contains rolling hills of sagebrush, native grasses, and forbs which are difficult to reestablish once disturbed. The spread of cheatgrass increases fire risk and could lead to an invasive annual grassland decimating the native shrub-steppe ecosystem. Western coordinates with its Center for Public Land Management, over a dozen agencies, and not profit groups, and hosts annual cheatgrass pull days and herbicides treatments with Colorado Parks and Wildlife in an effort to stop new seed sources. This is critical to stop the spread of cheatgrass and conserve the biodiversity. Cheatgrass converts sagebrush into a completely different habitat type that no longer provides habitat for the species whose life histories have evolved in sagebrush ecosystems.


The methodologies used to identify endangered and vulnerable species and/or areas of biodiversity importance and any ongoing assessment and monitoring mechanisms:

Colorado Parks and Wildlife conducts counts to document GUSG populations annually every spring – counts are made four times at each lek. Nearest lek to Western is about a mile from campus on Signal Peak. Students in BIOL 430 (Wildlife Ecology and Management) have mapped cheatgrass and developed a restoration plan.


A brief description of the scope of the assessment(s):

Colorado Parks and Wildlife conducts counts to document GUSG populations annually every spring – counts are made four times at each lek. Nearest lek to Western is about a mile from campus on Signal Peak. Students in BIOL 430 (Wildlife Ecology and Management) have mapped cheatgrass and developed a restoration plan.


A brief description of the plans or programs in place to protect or positively affect identified species, habitats, and/or ecosystems:

The Wildlife Ecology and Management (BIOL 430) course developed a sagebrush restoration plan. The plan includes actions to remove invasive cheatgrass (pulled using citizen pull days and sprayed using multi-agency Strike Force as well as cooperated with Gunnison Trails who paid for a two day crew), remove fences, remove redundant trails (already removed three), close and restore unneeded roads, remove garbage (already removed 5 truckloads), restore crested wheatgrass infestation, restore borrow area which was scraped to bedrock, and manage powerline and communication towers (all new structures must be buried).


Estimated percentage of areas of biodiversity importance that are also protected areas :
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Website URL where information about the institution’s biodiversity initiatives is available:
Additional documentation to support the submission:
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Other URLS with information about the institution’s biodiversity initiatives:

Gunnison Basin Sagebrush Ecosystem Alliance (https://gb-sea.weebly.com/ )– multiagency cooperative organization formed by two Western professors and students from the Masters in Environmental Management program

Sisk-a-dee (https://siskadee.org/ ) – nonprofit run by a Western professor

https://western.edu/westerns-mem-program-helps-start-ecological-resoration-gunnison-valley/

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