Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Our efforts have added significantly to the USFS database on the amphibians and reptiles of the Comanche National Grasslands; these animals are important components of the prairie ecosystem, and good baseline data on their populations is important for future management. However, these animals have adapted to a harsh environment and have evolved specific strategies which allow them to "wait out" hard times, making any survey effort difficult. A three to five year program for the study of these animals would allow for the vagaries of weather, upon which these animals so closely respond, to be averaged out. The resulting database would be much more robust as a basis for sound management and as a "starting point" for monitoring changes in amphibian and reptile populations over the next several decades. Even though these small animals are nongame and do not in and of themselves contribute to the economic status of our state, they are important members of a vast ecosystem in Colorado. Additionally, since they are sedentary animals and are largely dependent on an unaltered habitat, negative changes in their population levels serve as early warning of larger scale changes which will eventually impact game and ranch animals, as well as ourselves. Maintenance of populations of all species of amphibians and reptiles is compatible with sound cattle ranching practices as long as overgrazing and fouling of water sources does not occur. The Grasslands provides protection for habitat utilized by most of the species of amphibians and reptiles found in southeastern Colorado, and it is imperative that this shortgrass prairie, which has been greatly disturbed or destroyed over much of the plains, continue to be managed to the advantage of Colorado's native flora and fauna.
Numerous observation were made on R-2 species (USFS definition) and species of concern/species of unknown status (CDOW definitions). Several fossorial species, such as the night snake and the ground snake, were found only for a short period, while soil moisture was relatively high. These species are found in a very limited area of Colorado, but they seem to be locally common; this certainly appears to be the case with the ground snake in Otero County. Another species, the Great Plains narrowmouth toad (Gastrophryne olivacea), is known to occur in an area which was heavily censused (extreme southwestern Baca Co.) but was not found, and renewed efforts will be necessary to determine if this unusual species, which was found in Las Animas County in 1996, still occurs in Baca County.
One of the best ways to get people to be aware of the smaller animals and other organisms in their environment is to get them involved and to educate them. It is beyond the scope of this project to do extensive community outreach, but working with the locals in many areas has proved critical to our successes thus far. A community-based approach to conservation would provide an opportunity for involvement and education of local citizens on the importance of the smaller non-game animals to a healthy shortgrass habitat. Several teachers in the above-mentioned schools expressed an interest in getting involved with such a project, so I think that the local interest is there. Active involvement of local people in various conservation and education projects (i.e., school field trips) will help to promote a sense of pride and ownership of the Grasslands, and citizens will become more willing to support the idea of the need for refugia for Colorado's small non-game animals.
During the 1996 season, one of the field crew members, Enoch Bergman, gave presentations to several school groups in Lincoln and Cheyenne Counties. Enoch grew up in Wildhorse, a small community in Cheyenne County, and he wanted to discuss his work with school children. Presentations to groups at Karval and Kit Carson schools included slides and live animals, a discussion of the natural history of amphibians and reptiles of the region and a question-and-answer period, and his presentations were well received.