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1536 Wynkoop Street, Suite 911
Denver, Co 80202

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704 East Boulder Street
Colorado Springs, CO 80903

September 22-24, 2023
Adams State University, San Luis Valley

♦ Friday – CNHP Rare Plant Symposium, McDaniels Hall
♦ Saturday – CoNPS Conference, Richardson Hall
♦ Sunday – Field trips around the San Luis Valley

CoNPS Conference Agenda, Speaker Abstracts, and Bios

9:00 am –  Opening remarks: Alex Smith, CoNPS Board President

9:05 amDr. Kristy Duran, Ethnobotany in the San Luis Valley

Abstract: The San Luis Valley is the highest elevation valley in the world and the highest mountain desert in North America. Its boarders were formed by the splitting of the southern Rocky Mountains with the Sangre de Cristo Mountains forming the eastern boundary and the San Juan Mountains forming the western boundary. Runoff from the mountains in the northern part of the valley has no surface drainage soaking into the valley floor charging the shallow groundwater giving rise to lakes and wetlands. Headwaters from the San Juan Mountains and Sangre de Cristo Mountains flow into the Rio Grande River that drains the Valley to the south. The San Luis Valley also boasts the tallest sand dunes in North America. These diverse features give rise to a variety of habitats and a rich diversity of plants, many which have a long history of use by the people of the valley.  This talk will introduce each community type and focus on has one or more plants from each type that were of primary importance to both the American Indians and Hispanos of the San Luis Valley.

Bio: Dr. Kristy L. Duran is a sixth generation native to the San Luis Valley. As a professor at Colorado Mesa University she worked with the CSU Extension Office to create the Ute Ethnobotany Garden. As a professor of biology at Adams State University for 10 years, she pursued her interest in ethnobotany and recently wrote a chapter on the ethnobotany of the San Luis Valley. Dr. Duran is currently the Faculty Director of Undergraduate Research, and Professor of Biology at Metropolitan State University of Denver, where she is dedicated to equity, inclusion, and student success.

9:35 am  – Dr. Kate Schoenecker, Plant responses to herbivory by elk and bison

Bio: Dr. Kate Schoenecker has been studying the ecology of ungulates for 25 years as a Research Wildlife Biologist at the USGS Fort Collins Science Center. She received her master’s degree from the University of Arizona, Tucson studying desert bighorn sheep and her PhD from Colorado State University on bison and elk grazing ecology in the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Baca National Wildlife Refuge ecosystem. She currently leads the Ungulate Ecology research team, focusing on science to support bison conservation and wild horse and burro research across the west.

Abstract: Plant communities in rangeland ecosystems vary widely in the degree to which they can compensate for losses to herbivores. Ecosystem-level factors have been proposed to affect this compensatory capacity, including timing and intensity of grazing, and availability of soil moisture and nutrients. Arid ecosystems are particularly challenging to predict because of their high degree of temporal variability in moisture inputs. We used a replicated herbivore exclusion experiment to evaluate herbaceous plant responses to grazing by large ungulates to test current theory and identify constraints on plant compensation in a dryland ecosystem. We measured nitrogen (N) yield and herbaceous production in three plant communities: meadows, willow-associated herbaceous communities, and riparian communities. We implemented grazing exclusion treatments from 2005 to 2008 in areas with elk and bison and areas with only elk. Grazing by large ungulates increased herbaceous production and N yield in herbaceous riparian communities. In willow communities, herbaceous plants displayed equal compensation in response to grazing in total aboveground production and N yield. Our results support the idea that plant compensation in this semiarid system is contingent on soil moisture availability, wherein the most productive sites (that received substantial moisture inputs from subsurface flow) exhibited overcompensation. Although the herbaceous riparian communities we studied are isolated patches of productive grassland in an otherwise shrub-dominated and minimally productive semi arid landscape, grazing by a combination of bison and elk removed only 44%–53% of aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP) during the growing season, and 25%–38% of production over winter. Consumption by ungulates was a positive linear function of herbaceous production, similar to reported patterns from other temperate and tropical grazing ecosystems. The slope of this relationship was affected by the analytical method used to calculate ANPP and consumption rates, but, regardless of the method, was lower or similar to reported slopes for other intensively grazed systems (Yellowstone, Serengeti, Laikipia) that have sustained high ungulate densities for decades to centuries. Given that the vegetation communities exhibited equal or overcompensation in terms of total herbaceous ANPP in both years, elk and bison population levels during our study period did not appear to occur at densities leading to degradation of herbaceous communities.

10:05 am – Carol English, M.S. and Dr. Mat Sharples, Flora of the San Luis Valley

Abstract: The botany of the San Luis Valley will be broadly treated. The first part of the talk will focus on the unique La Botica site in south-central Colorado in Conejos County on the east slope of the Continental Divide. The 40 acres of land encompassed by La Botica occurs at an elevation of 8,500’, and sits on a nearly flat shelf, or bench composed of Tertiary volcanic basalt and tuff. La Botica has been a source of medicinal plants for several generations; however, the area was heavily grazed by sheep in the early 1970’s which apparently destroyed most of the medicinal plants and caused sagebrush to spread (Bye 1956). The general habitat of La Botica will be described, and particular taxa of interest focused upon. The second half of the talk will report on the general character of the flora of the South San Juans and Sangre de Cristos ranges, which bound the San Luis Valley to the west and east, respectively. Floristic novelties recently discovered in and around both ranges will be reported, including descriptions of new species. Some of these novelties were recently discovered by Adams State University students in Plant Systematics. We will then broadly connect our local mountain ranges back to some of their floristic origin points in Central Asia. The importance of the ALAM Herbarium at Adams State University in sustaining a record of local botanical knowledge will be emphasized, with both recent growth statistics and future ambitions offered.

Bio: Mat grew up in a dilapidated inner-city area of Massachusetts and realized with a car at the age of 16 that there was much nature beyond these grim surroundings. After graduating from UMASS Dartmouth with a B.A. in English in 2008, Mat explored many of the long-distance trail systems of the western United States. This formative summer helped inspire Mat to make a paradigm shift towards natural history and Mat enrolled in a Ph.D. program with COLO curator Dr. Erin Tripp at CU Boulder in 2013. Mat went on to forward floristic efforts both in Colorado and especially Nevada, to further understand the systematic biology, trait evolution, and biogeography of the Caryophyllaceae, and continues to actively work in these systems as the relatively new assistant professor of botany and curator of the ALAM herbarium at Adams State University.

Bio: Carol grew up in the mountains of northern California loving nature at a very young age. A high school biology teacher introduced her to Yosemite Institute, and she spent every summer taking backcountry and natural history classes with Yosemite Institute. She obtained an undergraduate degree in Earth Science from University California Santa Cruz, and went on to teach Environmental Education for Yosemite Institute and Outward Bound for five years. She then obtained a Secondary Science Teaching Degree and taught High School Science for several years. After teaching high school science, she worked for Jefferson County Open Space as an Interpretive Specialist and during this time, she took several natural history courses at Rocky Mountain Conservancy. She also became certified as a Native Plant Master and volunteered teaching native plant master classes for 9 years, for both CSU and the Audubon Society. She then obtained a graduate degree (BS) in biology and botany. She researched and wrote a thesis on pollination biology for the rare endemic Penstemon degeneri. Subsequently she worked as a botanist for Colorado Natural Areas Program, and Yosemite National Park. In 2012 she started her own business and has worked for Colorado State Land Board since 2012-Present. She also does fieldwork with Elliot Environmental Consulting, and On Pointe Consulting working with rare plants and doing wetland delineation.

11:00 am – Break

11:15 am –  Peter Innes, PhD candidate, Possible new species of sunflower in Sand Dunes National Park

Abstract: An unusual ecotype of prairie sunflower (Helianthus petiolaris) has adapted to the extreme environment of Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado. As a result, it is rapidly diverging from the prairie sunflowers growing on the periphery of the dunes and is on its way to becoming a separate species. I will present a summary of what is currently known about the natural history and evolution of this dune-adapted sunflower and will discuss my research into the genetic basis of its adaptive divergence. I will focus on the role of a particular genetic mechanism called alternative splicing, which plants and other organisms use to modulate how genes are regulated and expressed, especially in response to environmental stress.

Bio: Peter Innes is a PhD candidate in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department at CU Boulder, in the Kane Lab. He studies evolutionary genomics of crop wild relatives, including sunflower (Helianthus spp.) and blue flax (e.g. Linum lewisii). Before graduate school, Peter worked at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory outside of Crested Butte, Colorado, as a summer research technician and winter caretaker. To learn more about his work you can find him on twitter @peter_innes1 or visit

11:45 amAlex Crochet, The taste of change: How chokecherry jelly sculpted my horticultural mindset

Abstract: Crochet’s love and deep knowledge of native plants began by following his grandma around his home in the San Luis Valley. In this talk, Alex will describe how his upbringing informs his practice of native plant propagation. He will describe the immense success of his horticulture crew in propagating natives and advancing native landscapes in the Pikes Peak Region through plant materials access, native garden demonstration, and open space restoration efforts. 

Bio: Alex has had a rich career path working for the Colorado State Forest Service, on a ranch in Durango, as the habitat creator for the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and now as the City of Colorado Springs Horticulture Director. Alex lives in Colorado Springs with his pup Samich where he tends to his garden and paints. Alex is a member of the CoNPS Board and Horticulture Committee. 

12:15 pm  – Dr. Maggie Gaddis, USFS seed collection & other news from CoNPS

Abstract: CoNPS has a multi-year contract with the United States Forest Service, Region 2, to assist in the development of the Rocky Mountain Native Plant Materials Program, which is part of the National Seed Strategy. In this talk, Dr. Gaddis, will introduce us to the National Seed Strategy, explaining some of the environmental events and subsequent legislation that led us to the present. Finally, native plants and seeds are central to restoration efforts in the U.S. Listen to how you can get involved in seed collection efforts. Dr. Gaddis will also discuss CoNPS programming developments through 2023. 

Bio: Dr. Gaddis is the Executive Director of CoNPS and a member of the Geography and Environmental Studies faculty at the University of Colorado – Colorado Springs. Maggie is a restoration ecologist, whose foci include grassland and riparian revegetation, native plant propagation and citizen science engagement. Maggie lives in Colorado Springs where she was formerly the SE Chapter Chair before becoming the ED of CoNPS. 

12:30 pm –  Lunch

1:30 pm Photo contest results, find your field trip group for Sunday carpooling

1:45 pm – Keynote, Arnold Clifford: Plants and plant use of the Navajo nation

Abstract: Join us for a conversation with Diné botanist and geologist Arnold Clifford, focusing on his research practice of ethnobotany. He will engage us in a conversation about indigenous people and plants, and how the knowledge and medicines therein give us the greatest insights into our own well-being and our place here on Earth.

Bio: Arnold is a geologist, botanist, ethnobotanist and an authority on Navajo history and culture. Arnold started studying plants at the age of 10 years. His maternal grandmother, Sarah Charley, was instrumental in teaching Arnold his first lessons in Navajo ethnobotany. He was first taught about edible plants followed by helping his grandmother to collect native plants for creating different colored dyes for natural wool that his grandmother carded and spun to create wonderful woven rugs. Arnold’s training continued as he learned about the great diversity of native plants that grow out on the range while herding sheep. Later he learned about medicinal plants, tobaccos and ceremonial plants. For the past 35 years, Arnold has been collecting and documenting the flora of the southwestern province of the United States, from the high alpines of southwestern Colorado to the low land deserts of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, parts of Nevada and California. Arnold maintains his own personal collection at the Carrizo Mountain Herbarium, where there are about 30,000 plant specimens stored. His collection includes many rare plants of the southwest, including about 35 new species he has discovered, 15 of which have been described and published, with 20 specimens still in need of describing, naming and publishing. Arnold is also co-editor of the “Flora of the Four Corners Region,” a flora of vascular plants of the San Juan River drainage basin. This flora was published by Missouri Botanic Garden in 2013. Arnold has also co-published numerous new plant species from the southwest desert with five plants named after him. He also named a new buckwheat after his grandmother, Eriogonum sarahiae N.D. Atwood & A. Clifford. Arnold is now putting together a flora and geology of the Navajo Indian Reservation. He is also trying to get his Herbarium registered so that his herbarium can be recognized nationwide and internationally.

2:30 pm  – Committee meetings
3:15 pm  – 
Chapter meetings
3:45 pm  – Closing remarks