Ecological Values of Colorado's Canyon Country Wilderness Proposal

Colorado's Canyon Country Wilderness Proposal seeks protection for lands that preserve Colorado's biological diversity. Biological diversity, or biodiversity, is a term commonly used to describe the variety of living things, their relationship to one another, and their interactions with the environment. Biodiversity affects more just numbers of plant and animal species, it drives our economy, enhances our lifestyles, improves our health by providing increased pharmaceutical research, clean water and clean air, and provides a variety of opportunities for recreation and tourism. The CWP recognizes the importance of maintaining Colorado’s biodiversity and enhances biological diversityit in three major ways:

Expands the representation of ecosystems contained within the National Wilderness Preservation System units in Colorado. Colorado's Canyon Country Wilderness Proposal adds large acreages of pinyon-juniper woodlands, sagebrush steppe, and ponderosa pine-Douglas fir forests to the ecosystem types, all of which are poorly represented by current wilderness areas. More...

Parachute penstemon (Penstemon debilis) is among the rarest of plants
in North America, known only from
five locations along the cliffs of
the Roan Plateau.

(Steve O'Kane/CNE)

Secures landscape connections among significant ecological feature. CCCWP areas offer protection to several distinctive landforms, including low-elevation portions of the state’s major river canyons. They preserve key connecting corridors between existing large wilderness units, preserve corridors likely to be used by species expanding ranges due to global climate change, and incorporate key dispersal corridors for big game herds. More...

Protects concentrations of rare and imperiled plant, vertebrate, and invertebrate species. Colorado's Canyon Country Wilderness Proposal protects many rare and imperiled elements of both Colorado’s and the world’s biological diversity. Half of the federally-listed Threatened and Endangered species in Colorado occur within CCCWP areas. In addition, four-fifths of CCCWP areas contain important habitat for globally imperiled species. CCCWP areas offer protection for at least 87 globally imperiled or vulnerable species, mostly plants and natural communities. Another 83 species imperiled specifically within Colorado are also protected within these proposed wildernesses. More...

Unique Ecosystems
Wilderness designation often brings to mind scenic landscapes offering rugged, outdoor recreation opportunities. Preserving wilderness to protect America’s breathtaking scenery and to offer hikers, hunters, anglers, horsepackers, rafters, and skiers unspoiled country to pursue their sports are worthy goals. But wilderness also offers America the opportunity to preserve a cornucopia of biological wealth for future generations.

Lion tracks in Sewemup Mesa CWP.

(Mark Pearson)

Wilderness designation offers the most permanent land use protection available to federal public lands. Through its ban on development activities and its emphasis on preserving native ecosystems unmodified by human activities, wilderness offers the best hope for preserving the biodiversity represented by unmodified natural communities. Our existing wilderness contains few examples of the arid ecosystems contained in desert canyons, mesas, plateaus, and mountains. Most Colorado wilderness areas were established by devoted recreationists hoping to preserve their favorite wild places. That’s why so many high peaks, fourteeners, alpine lakes, and cirque basins dot our wilderness areas. More recently, Colorado conservationists have taken to heart concerns about old-growth forests and conservation biology. Our newest national forest wilderness areas include some spectacular stands of old-growth forest, and several link high mountain wilderness with lower elevation forests. Because desert ecosystems are lacking within our existing wilderness system, they offer abundant opportunities to expand the wealth of living organisms and ecosystems included within the National Wilderness Preservation System.

Land managers are just beginning to understand the role wilderness plays in creating a viable system for preserving biological diversity into the foreseeable future. Conservation biologists now believe that only a system of large protected areas (called "core reserves") linked by corridors containing habitat suitable for movement by a variety of wildlife species (the "landscape linkages") will suffice to ensure the perpetuation of our natural diversity of life. In practice, this means a connected system of large wilderness areas and national parks, with suitable intervening habitat in which wolverines, elk, lions, owls, and many other species can move.

A now-closed vehicle way in the heart of the Little Bookcliffs Wilderness WSA.

(Mark Pearson)

In earlier times, human developments in North America consisted of isolated activities surrounded by vast areas of wild land. Wildlife species could simply adjust their paths and go around such development. Today, however, it is the wild areas that comprise the isolated patches of land, and wild species are more and more confined to almost zoo-like preserves. We are just finally realizing the extent to which our natural habitat has been fragmented.

Threatened and Endangered Species

  » View Listing of Threatened and Endangered Species
  » View Listing of Additionally Globally Imperiled Species

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