The annual precipitation in Black Forest is 18 inches with 80% of the precipitation coming between March and October. Monsoon moisture in the form of thunderstorms in July and August contribute the most. Winter is the driest season of the year. The mean annual snowfall is 84 inches with the peak amount in March.
One of the unique features about the Black Forest area is the perched water tables. A dense clay layer of subsoil often creates ponds or wetland areas in the forest.
Black Forest is part of a larger forest of ponderosa pine that extends eastward on a high elevation ride from Palmer Lake to Elbert County. Native Ponderosa Pine is commonly found in Black Forest, and is well suited to the Kettle soils. In addition to Ponderosa pine, Gamble oak and Douglas-fir have adapted to the area. The Black Forest area supports Ponderosa pine woodland, foothill prairie, and wet meadow plant communities. In the lower elevation Pring soils, native grasses such as mountain muhly, little bluestem, needleandthread, Parry oatgrass and junegrass are commonly found.
Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa var. scopulorum): Ponderosa pine is the primary tree species found in the Black Forest area. Ponderosa pine is the most common forest tree throughout the Rocky Mountains and across the southwest. This pine spreads out along the Colorado Front Range, and lies between lower elevation grassland or pinyon/juniper forests and higher elevation Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir forests. Ponderosa pine is most commonly found around elevations of 6,500 feet. Ponderosa pines are generally fast growing and maintain a pyramidal crown when not suppressed. The crown eventually becomes more rotund as the tree ages and in natural settings is a vigorous self-pruner. In some regions, interior Ponderosa pines may reach heights of 150 feet and ages of 700 years, however such trees are on open canopied fertile sites that have little competition. This oldest class of Ponderosa is disappearing due to the increasing density of the Forest in the Black Forest area. Colorado’s Front Range forests, including Black Forest produce heights of about 50 to 60 feet. The natural open stand structure helps individual Ponderosa pines to develop. Interior Ponderosa pines grow quickly and extensively underground. Ponderosa pines are extremely resistant to windthrow due to their deep taproots and extensive lateral root networks. These networks also make this pine extremely drought resistant.
Gamble oak (Quercusgambelii):Gamble oak is a minor component in BlackForest Regional Park. It is extremely commonthrough the foothills of Colorado’s Southern Front Range, growing in solid shrub stands orassociated with Ponderosa pine and mixed conifer stands. Gamble oak does very well on lesserdeveloped soils such as those found on slopes, ridges, and in high elevationareas where erosion iscommonplace. It is moderately shade tolerant, and can regenerate well in thefiltered sunlight. The dense thicket structure is common because of itsvigorous sprouting nature. Individual stems are not vey long lived, however theunderground networks live for much longer and help Gamble Oak standsmaintain site dominance for long periods of time and survive large disturbancessuch as fire. Generally, Gambel oak is a persistent seral species thatexhibits early dominance after a disturbance, but is overtopped by largertrees such as Ponderosa pine. After this succession has taken place, Gambeloak growth and spread will begin to slow due to the lack of light andnutrients.
Rocky MountainDouglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii var. glauca): Douglas-fir is presentin areas of Black Forest and is commonly associated with Ponderosa pine, but there are very few examples in the Regional Park.It is a significant tree species in the foothill and montane zones from 6,500to 9,500 feet in elevation (Reimer 2001). It thrives in cool wet conditionspresent on north and east-facing slopes andis very shade tolerant allowing it to thrive in the presence of other trees. It’s the adaptation of theDouglas-fir to the shaded environments that gives this species a competitiveedge in dense forests like Black Forest.
Aspen (Populus tremuloides): Aspen is a minor tree species on the parkland found on sitesthat were generally cooler and moister. Aspen stands are unique in their ability to stabilize soils and watersheds and their abundant leaf litter contains more nutrients than most trees, creating nutrient-rich humus. Aspen thrives for a time but without disturbance gradually age and deteriorate. Aspen readily colonize after fire, clear cutting or other disturbances.
The dominant understory species varies across the landscape. Shrubs represented include kinnikinick (Arctostaphylos urvaursi), squaw current (Ribes cereum), rose (Rosa woodsii), snowberry (Symphoricarpos spp.), mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus montanus) and common juniper (Juniperus communis). Common ground vegetation and grasses include blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis), western wheatgrass (Agropyron smithii), side-oats grama (Boutelous curtipendula), needleandthread (Stipa comata), little bluestem (Andropogon scoparius), mountain muhly (Muhlenbergia Montana), and Parry’s oatgrass(Danthonia parryi). There are a few small riparian areas found in the park. These are typically found in the drainage areas and should be protected. Meadows with Aspen and Willow (Salix spp.) are the dominant component (Wegner 2010).
Rare plants are listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as threatened or endangered. There are also “special concern” plants listed by the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the USFWS, and / or the Colorado Natural Heritage Program. No rare plants or those of special concern were found in Black Forest Regional Park. However, two plant communities tracked by the Colorado Natural Heritage Program are in Black Forest and found in the park (Wegner 2010). One is hoary frostweed (Helianthemum bicknellii) and the Ponderosa pone / little bluestem woodland occurs occasionally in the ponderosa pine forest (Markstein and Kelso 2008). Prairie violet (Viola pedatifida) has also been identified by the Colorado Natural Heritage Program as occurring in the Black Forest area (Spackmen et al 1997).
Noxious weeds are non-native plants that have been introduced without any natural biological controls. This allows them to spread readily, dominate a site and crowd out native plant species. They are most commonly established on soils that have been disturbed by construction, vehicles, road maintenance, erosion, or overgrazing. The Colorado Noxious Weed Act (35-5.5-101-119. C.R.S) regulates the control of noxious weeds in Colorado. There are three categories of Noxious Weeds separated into lists A, B, and C. List A species are mandated to be eradicated. Species on List B require a plan to stop their spread. List C species should have plans to provide educational, research, and biological control resources for management (Colorado Weed Management Association 2004).
Noxious weeds are present in Black Forest Regional Park. Locations are identified in the Forestry and Noxious Weeds Management Plan (Wegner, 2010). Noxious weeds noted were Diffuse knapweed (Centaurea diffusa), Spotted knapweed (Centaurea maculosa), Canada thistle (Cirsium arvesne), and Common mullein (Verbascum Thapsus). Diffuse knapweed, Spotted knapweed, and Canada thistle are List B species, requiring a plan to stop their spread. Common Mullein is a List C species.
Diffuse knapweed is a biennial or short term perennial, reproducing only from seed. It is found in pastures, riparian areas, roadsides and waste areas. In Black Forest Regional Park it was found around the detention pond off of Vessey Road and at several disturbed sites along roads and trails.
Spotted knapweed is a perennial that reproduces from seed and forms a new shoot each year from a taproot. It occurs in dry meadows, pasture land, stony hills, and sand or gravelly flood plains. It tolerates dry conditions, but will survive in high moisture areas as well. In Black Forest Regional Park Spotted knapweed was found along Milam Road.
Canada thistle is a creeping perennial and reproduces by seeds and roots. It invades disturbed areas, wetland, open meadows, pastures, forests and gardens. Canada thistle is found in the northern part of Black Forest Regional Park.
Common mullein is a biennial that produces a thick rosette of fuzzy leaves the first year and a single tall stout stem the second. It is found in river bottoms, pasture, meadows and along fencerows. It is readily found in sites disturbed by fire or forest cutting. It is prevalent on gravelly soils. Common mullein is found on some of the gravelly knolls in Black Forest Regional Park were forest cutting had previously occurred.
Dwarf mistletoe (Arceuthobium vaginatum): Dwarf mistletoe is found in the Black Forest area in Ponderosa pine trees and is present at some level in every part of Black Forest Regional Park. It is one of the major issues in the Park both visually and for its impact on the overall forest health. Dwarf mistletoe is a parasitic flowering plant that spreads by ejecting seeds in late summer (July to September). Spread occurs from tree to tree and within the crowns of infected trees. It is a leafless plant that lives by creating an extensive root network throughout the cambium of the host tree, sharing water and nutrient resources that the tree takes up.
The visible portion of the parasite is orange, yellow or green. It tends to build up initially in the lower part of the crown and gradually spreads upward. Over time this leads to the production of the profusely branches, dense masses of distorted branches called “witches’ brooms”. Spread of the parasite is slow, only one to two feet per year outward in a forested stand (Hawksworth and Weins 1996). It is a dioecious plant with separate male and female plants, thus, long distance spread is infrequent.
Birds and mammals contribute to the longer range dispersal of seeds. Distribution is patchy with discrete areas of infection surrounded by areas without the pathogen (Conklin and Fairweather 2010). Effects of Dwarf mistletoe include growth reduction, loss of wood quality, poor growth form, a predisposition to other insect and disease problems, premature death, and reductions in seed crops. Infected trees can survive for decades, although during drought times there is not enough water to support both the tree and parasite (Wegner 2010).
Black Forest offers a diversity of habitats offering many wildlife opportunities. Dense forested areas, meadows, and wetlands are all present in the Black Forest area and Black Forest Regional Park. Much of the wildlife is found in transitional zones or at the edges of the heavily forested areas.
Lower elevation grasslands and Gambel oak habitat provide excellent habitat for small bird communities. Small rodents also thrive in this habitat, with plant seeds offering food sources. The dense growth pattern of Gambel oak provides excellent shelter from predatory species. Large mammals such as deer and elk can also be found in this habitat, but the lack of cover discourages their presence.
Ponderosa pine stands offer great habitat opportunities for birds and squirrels. Abert’s squirrel (Sciurus aberti) is an indicator species of the Ponderosa pine forest. There is a positive relationship between the two. The squirrel is dependent upon the trees for shelter, nesting sites and seeds for survival. The tree is benefited by a fungus that is distributed through the squirrels’ feces that’s essential for the pines’ health (Howard 2001). Abert’s squirrels also require a more closed canopy to move around in and often nest in witches’ brooms.
Other wildlife species that utilize a Ponderosa forest as habitat, and have been found in the Black Forest area include; hummingbirds, raptors, deer, elk, bears, mountain lions, wild turkeys, and rodents (