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Keywords:

  • Colorado, South Park, Rocky Mountains, fen, restoration, peat mining

Abstract

South Park is a high-elevation, semi-arid, treeless intermountain basin in central Colorado. A few extreme rich fens occur on the western margin and in the center of South Park where regional and local groundwater flow systems discharge to the ground surface. Over the past 40 years there has been extensive peat mining in these fens, but restoration methods have yet to be developed and successfully applied. The first part of this study compared the naturally reestablished vegetation on six mined peatlands with six pristine sites, while the second part of the study tested different revegetation techniques in 27 plots with varying depths to the water table. The six mined sites had only 30 plant species as compared with 122 species in the unmined sites; 43% of the species in the mined sites were not present in the undisturbed fens. Even after 40 years the sedges and willows that dominate the undisturbed sites were largely absent on the mined sites. The revegetation experiments seeded eight species, transplanted Carex aquatilis (water sedge) seedlings, transplanted rhizomes from six species, and transplanted four species of willow cuttings. Of the eight species seeded, only Triglochin maritima (arrowgrass) germinated and established seedlings. C. aquatilis seedlings, rhizome transplants of C. aquatilis, Kobresia simpliciuscula (elk sedge), and Juncus arcticus (arctic rush), and willow cuttings all had differing patterns of survival with respect to the annual maximum height of the water table. These results indicate that the dominant species can be successfully reintroduced to mined surfaces with the appropriate hydrologic conditions, but human intervention will be necessary to rapidly re-establish these species. The slow rate of peat accumulation means that restoration of the mined fens will require hundreds, if not thousands, of years.