Biodiversity

The wild inhabitants of the Southern Rockies—from lynx and cutthroat trout to native plants and goshawks—are struggling for survival in the face of rapid human population growth, rampant urban sprawl, and unchecked resource extraction. As a result of these impacts, biodiversity in the Southern Rockies continues to decline. In fact, The Nature Conservancy states that one-fifth of Colorado’s species and subspecies are at risk of extirpation or extinction. Wyoming lists over 100 species as potentially imperiled.

In the face of these threats, SRCA’s Biodiversity Conservation Campaign seeks to conserve and recover the full range of native biological diversity in the Greater Southern Rockies. SRCA member groups use science and advocacy to secure lasting protection for the plants, animals, and habitats that comprise the Southern Rockies eco-region. The Committee also provides critical tools and resources to SRCA groups to enhance their ability to effectively advocate on behalf of roadless areas and special places across the region.

CURRENT ISSUES

Lynx Campaign:  The Lynx Conservation Campaign aims to ensure the restoration of Canada lynx throughout the Southern Rockies. As the Colorado Division of Wildlife reintroduced lynx to the Southern Rockies throughout the 2000s, SRCA member groups including Center for Native Ecosystems, Colorado Wild, San Juan Citizen’s Alliance, and others organized political support for the reintroduction program and watch-dogged development and logging project that would have destroyed vital lynx habitat or harmed the native cats’ ability to move freely across the Rocky Mountain landscape.  Most significantly, SRCA groups stopped giant development projects at Wolf Creek Pass and Vail Pass that would have cut off lynx movement through two of the most important wildlife movement corridors in Colorado.  In 2010, the Colorado Division of Wildlife declared the lynx reintroduction effort a success.  SRCA’s Biodiversity Campaign members remain vigilant in protecting lynx habitat throughout our region, especially in light of the changes climate change is likely to bring. We also work to protect lynx from illegal poaching, incidental trapping and poisoning, and deadly animal-vehicle collisions on our roads and highways.

Habitat Connectivity Campaign: Our Habitat Connectivity Campaign targets protection of critical wildlife linkages and movement corridors across the Southern Rockies. The Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project (SREP), which is now a part of Center for Native Ecosystems, in conjunction with the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), developed a wildlife linkage map that prioritized key areas for wildlife movement in the state of Colorado. They also conducted in-depth field assessments in each priority linkage to determine wildlife movement patterns and the level of highway permeability determined by the existence of crossing structures that wildlife are utilizing. SRCA groups have since worked to protect these linkages, for example, by encouraging CDOT to build highway underpasses or overpasses to allow wildlife crossings and prevent traffic fatalities when appropriate.  SRCA member groups are now working with the Colorado Division of Wildlife to incorporate this map of wildlife linkages into the State Wildlife Action Plan.  In doing so, we are also incorporating a first-of-its-kind analysis of how climate change will change the use of those linkages.  SRCA member groups also continue to work with CDOT to incorporate wildlife crossing protections into the upgrades planned for Interstate 70 through the Colorado mountains.

Greater Sage-Grouse Protection: Once widespread throughout the West, sage-grouse have disappeared from nearly half of their historic range.  In addition to its role as an icon of the Western sagebrush ecosystem, the sage-grouse’s decline is a red flag that our air, water, and land are also in trouble.  In many places, our natural heritage will depend on its recovery.  Over the years, SRCA member groups have been part of advocating for the protection of Greater and Gunnison sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act, and we will continue to press for the full protections this beleaguered species need.  Along the way, we also ensure that land managers like the BLM, which is responsible for some of the largest and most important sage-grouse populations, do all they can to protect the species and the sagebrush ecosystem upon which it depends.  In places like the Little Snake Field Office in northwestern Colorado, we have worked with state wildlife agencies and the public to improve the BLM’s management provisions for the sage-grouse, and in Colorado, Wyoming, and eastern Utah we have averted damaging oil and gas drilling operations on thousands of acres of sage-grouse habitat. 

ADDITIONAL BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION COMMITTEE EFFORTS INCLUDE:

  • Securing Endangered Species Act protection for imperiled species in the Southern Rockies and ensuring that the legally required conservation benefits of listing accrue to these species, including the white-tailed prairie dog, boreal toad, and native wildflowers like the Parachute penstemon.
  • Compelling federal land management agencies to plan adequately for the protection of at-risk species in management plans and specific development projects.  These efforts include providing conservation mapping technologies and nominations for protected areas in Resource Management Plans and Forest Plans for places like the Uncompahgre Field Office of the BLM and the Pike-San Isabel National Forest. 

For a closer look at some of the work happening under the umbrella of the Biodiversity Conservation Committee, please visit the following websites:

Center for Native Ecosystems

Biodiversity Conservation Alliance

Colorado Wild

Western Environmental Law Center

Defenders of Wildlife – Colorado office

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