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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Northern and Southern Rockies / Colorado Plateau - More Information

Background information on DU's Northern and Southern Rockies / Colorado Plateau conservation priority area
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Importance to other wildlife

Elevational guilds of other birds species have been noted for the RCP. In the Alpine Zone, the brown-capped rosy finch and white-tailed ptarmigan are important species. The Williamson's sapsucker, Virginia's warbler, and Lewis' woodpecker are found in mid-elevation sites, along with blue grouse and the black swift. Most of the world's breeding gray vireos occur in the pinion pine-juniper ecosystem. Lowlands support sage grouse and provide critical breeding areas for mountain plovers.

Impacts to habitat

It is difficult to generalize about the human impacts on wetlands and upland habitat in the RCP because the region is so vast and diverse. Habitat degradation tends to decrease with increasing elevation, partially because high elevation habitats tend to be remote, in public stewardship, and have topography and soils that are not conductive to landscape-level impacts. Nevertheless, localized effects are apparent even in these high elevation ecosystems. In some areas, logging activities on both public and private land have degraded wetland basins through sedimentation and physical disturbance. Some diversion ditches reach even the highest headwater streams, altering the hydrology of downstream wetlands during times of irrigation demand. Livestock often concentrate around wetlands, particularly during dry summer periods, with localized effects on wetland aquatic vegetation and substrate.

Before the arrival of Europeans, 60-400 million beaver occupied North America. The RCP region was particularly rich in beaver. However, by 1900 beaver populations had been so heavily exploited that some state wildlife agencies considered them on the brink of extinction. In most portions of the RCP beaver did not regain significant populations until the 1950s, and some areas have still not recolonized. Although the number of ponds created and maintained by beaver during pre-settlement times will never be known, it is certain that these wetlands provided extensive waterfowl habitat that no longer exists in the region (Ringelman 1991).

In lower elevation systems, extensive alteration to natural hydrology has been implemented, most often associated with development of agricultural activities. Dam construction and flood control levees have effectively drained many floodplain marshes, reducing waterfowl habitat. Farming activities in these floodplains often provides suitable foraging habitat for many waterfowl species, primarily during migration periods. However, the loss of wetland habitat has significantly reduced the value of these areas for locally breeding waterfowl. Examples of this type of loss can be seen in the Baker Valley, Powder River Valley and Grande Ronde Valleys of Oregon and the Kootenai River Valley in the Idaho panhandle.

The newest threats to wetlands stem from the pressures imposed by human population growth and affluence. Condominiums and retirement homes are sprouting in mountain valleys, directly and indirectly impacting wet meadow habitats. Water to serve the domestic needs of the new residents and to make artificial snow on ski slopes has depleted streamflows. Farther downstream, water is diverted into reservoirs for storage and flood control, and groundwater is pumped to irrigate cropland. As surface and groundwater hydrology is altered, so too are the hydrologic regimes of shallow wetlands. However, not all water diversion has been detrimental to waterfowl. Irrigated hayland provides shallow, flooded habitat that is attractive to breeding pairs, and small to moderate-sized impoundments provide new wetland habitat along the margins and inlet. In places, small grains and legumes are cultivated, and waterfowl feed heavily on the waste that remains after harvest.

Conservation programs

The eastern half of the Intermountain West Joint Venture (IWJV) of the NAWMP includes the RCP region. Because the area is so vast, the IWJV has identified focus areas in which program delivery will be concentrated. Within the RCP there are about 50 focus areas of the IWJV. This joint venture has an objective of protecting 607,300 ha, restoring 202,430 ha, and enhancing 202,430 ha of waterfowl habitat. Unlike other regions of the country, much of the land in the RCP is publicly owned. Many state and federal agencies have programs to manage and protect wetland and wildlife habitat in the region. In Colorado, the partnership to protect wetlands has been particularly strong, involving the Colorado Division of Wildlife, the USFWS, and the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust. In Oregon, two NAWCA grants have focused wetland conservation actions in the Blue Mountains Focus Area while another NAWCA grant was centered on the Kootenai River valley in the Idaho panhandle.

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