WILDLIFE LOSING GROUND IN ROCKIES DUE TO HUMANS,
CLIMATE CHANGE, DISEASE, LOSS OF OPEN LAND
State of the Rockies Report Card: Elk have lost 74 percent of range;
cougars lost 36 percent of range in last 150 years
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – April 6, 2009 – An increasing number of residents, developers and industries are squeezing the once abundant and diverse wildlife of the Rocky Mountain West into smaller and more confined areas. This loss of native range, combined with climate change and an increase in disease, is putting severe pressure on many species in the region.
A population explosion in the eight-state Rocky Mountain region, comprised of Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, has caused grazing allotments, migration routes and winter grazing areas to be narrowed and broken into disconnected islands of open land. Studies have shown that in areas of higher human influence, species ranges are more likely to contract and less likely to persist. Within the last 150 years, species iconic to the West, such as elk, bison, pronghorn, grizzly bear, grey wolf and lynx have lost significant portions of their historical ranges.
Additionally, climate change is taking its toll on wildlife in the region. With current trends in carbon dioxide emissions, expansive sagebrush habitats throughout the Rocky Mountain West could decline by 59 percent before the end of the century. Sage grouse, mule deer, pronghorn and many other species that rely on these areas are likely to decline in the face of shrinking habitat.
Sagebrush habitat is not the only land type that is predicted to face significant impacts as a result of climate change. High-elevation species are especially vulnerable to global warming, as there is only a limited amount of space for retreat to higher elevation habitat. The American pika, which lives in high-elevation talus fields, is acutely sensitive to high temperatures and may die in an hour if exposed to temperatures above 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
These are among the findings in “Wildlife: Range and Condition,” a report within the 2009 Colorado College State of the Rockies Report Card, released April 5. “Wildlife: Range and Condition” was written by State of the Rockies researcher Julia Head.
Key findings of the “Wildlife: Range and Condition” report:
- From 2000 to 2006, the population in the Rockies grew 9 percent, while the rest of the U.S. grew 6 percent
- In the last 150 years, elk have lost 74 percent of their range and cougar have lost 36 percent of their range
- Coyote range has increased 40 percent over the last 150 years
- Animal-vehicle collisions increased 50 percent between 1990 and 2004
- A 5.4-degree Fahrenheit increase in average July air temperatures could eliminate 50 percent of currently viable trout stream habitat in the Rockies
- Habitat loss and fragmentation have led to population decreases in approximately 83 percent of U.S. species
- In situations of unnatural crowding, diseases which are normally of low prevalence in the population can run out of control. An estimated 35 percent of the elk that winter at the feedgrounds have been exposed to brucellosis; in contrast, only 2 to 3 percent of those wintering on native range without supplemental feed have been exposed.
The State of the Rockies “Repopulating the Rockies” report may be found at: http://www.coloradocollege.edu/stateoftherockies/09ReportCard/RepopulatingtheRockies.pdf
The entire 2009 State of the Rockies Report Card, including a baseline section looking at key demographics for the region, may be viewed online at: http://www.coloradocollege.edu/stateoftherockies/reportcard.html
This year’s 130-page report addresses the following issues:
- Repopulating the Rockies: Highlighting the Megapolitan and Rural Economic Clusters of the Region
- Wild and Scenic Rivers: The Importance of Federal River Protection in the Rockies
- Wildlife Range and Condition: The Historic and Current State of Wildlife in the Rockies
- Impacts of Energy Development on Wildlife: Highlighting the Unique Resources of the Region
- Wildlife Management: Facilitating Safe and Sustainable Wildlife Populations in the Rockies
- United States Laws and Politics Protecting Wildlife
Additionally, there are three graded “Rockies Snapshot” sections, which provide insightful statistics and analysis of:
- Federal Representation: The effectiveness of Rockies' senators and representatives
- Incarceration and Crime: The region's status and share of internment
- Historic Preservation: The process, prevalence and state of historic preservation in the Rockies
Copies of the 2009 Report Card may be purchased through the Colorado College Bookstore, (800) 854-3930 or at http://www.coloradocollegebooks.com/catalog_products.asp?catalog_id=521.
About the State of the Rockies Project
The Colorado College State of the Rockies Project aims to provide a thoughtful, objective voice in regional issues by offering credible research on problems facing the Rocky Mountain West, and by convening citizens and experts to discuss the future of our region. Each year Colorado College students research and write on regional issues in an annual “Colorado College State of the Rockies Report Card.” Through the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project, Colorado College fosters a strong sense of citizenship for its students, graduates and the broader regional community.
About Colorado College
Colorado College is a nationally prominent, four-year liberal arts college that was founded in Colorado Springs in 1874. The college operates on the innovative Block Plan, in which its 1,975 undergraduate students study one course at a time in intensive 3½-week blocks. The college also offers a master of arts in teaching degree. For more information, visit www.ColoradoCollege.edu <http://www.ColoradoCollege.edu>