CNHP botanists Peggy Lyon and Janis Huggins have been inventorying fens on the White River National Forest this summer. At every site, they must dig a soil pit to check for depth and quality of peat. Peggy sent in this photo of herself reaching as far down as she can into a pit. She says she doesn’t mind the occasionally uncomfortable conditions because it’s an awesome place to work. This wetland northwest of Silverthorn did turn out to be an actual fen.
Fens in Colorado are generally small and fairly rare on the landscape. These squishy habitats are found only in specific environments defined by ground water discharge, soil chemistry, and peat accumulation of at least 40 cm (about 16 inches). Fens form at low points in the landscape or near slopes where ground water intercepts the soil surface. The fairly constant year-round water level, with water at or near the surface most of the time, leads to the accumulation of organic material (peat). In addition to peat accumulation and perennially saturated soils, many fens have distinct soil and water chemistry, with high levels of one or more minerals such as calcium, magnesium, or iron.