Rocky road in the Rockies: Challenges to biodiversity

By:  and 
Edited by: Jill Baron



To people worldwide, the Rocky Mountains of the United States and Canada represent a last bastion of nature in its purest and rawest form-unspoiled forests teeming with elk and deer stalked by mountain lions and grizzly bears; bald eagles nesting near lakes and rivers; fat, feisty native trout in rushing mountain streams; and dazzling arrays of wildflowers in lush meadows. In fact, the total biodiversity of the Rocky Mountains is considerable, with relatively high diversity in birds, mammals, butterflies, reptiles, and conifers (Ricketts et al. 1999) and with geographic variation in the flora and fauna of alpine, forest, foothill, and adjacent shortgrass prairie and shrub communities over more than 20 degrees of latitude and more than 10' of longitude.
Although the biodiversity of most North American regions has declined because of anthropogenic influences, the perception remains that the biodiversity of the Rocky Mountains is intact. This view exists in part because the Rocky Mountains are remote from urban centers, in part because so much of the land comprises protected areas such as national parks and wilderness areas, and in part because of wishful thinking-that nothing bad could happen to the biodiversity that is so much a part of the history, national self-image, legends, nature films, and movies of the United States and Canada. Despite modern technology and the homogenization and globalization of their cities and towns, at heart North Americans still regard their land as the New World, with pristine nature and untamed landscapes epitomized by the Rockies.
The reality is that the biodiversity of the Rocky Mountains has not been free of anthropogenic influences since the West was settled in the 1800s, and in fact it was altered by Native Americans for centuries prior to settlement. A number of escalating problems and consequences of management choices are currently changing Rocky Mountain ecological communities at a dizzying pace. In Order to maintain some degree of natural ecosystem processes and preserve natural biodiversity in light of these challenges, Americans and Canadians are faced with the need for intensive, hands-on management of both ecosystems and selected plant and animal populations.
In this chapter, we first discuss the primary issues regarding the biodiversity of the Rocky Mountains, including the Rocky Mountain portions of Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, British Columbia, and Alberta. Next, we survey groups of organisms to examine their status and special problems. Finally, we touch on major challenges to biodiversity that loom in the near future. Given that entire books may be written on these issues, the discussion is brief and general, but with case histories for more detailed examples.

Publication type Book chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Title Rocky road in the Rockies: Challenges to biodiversity
Chapter 8
ISBN 978-1559639545
Year Published 2002
Language English
Publisher Island Press
Publisher location Washington, D.C.
Contributing office(s) Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center
Description 28 p.
Larger Work Type Book
Larger Work Subtype Monograph
Larger Work Title Rocky Mountain futures: An ecological perspective
First page 153
Last page 180
Other Geospatial Rocky Mountains
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details