Northern and Southern Rockies / Colorado Plateau

Level III Ducks Unlimited conservation priority area, containing some of the most productive waterfowl breeding habitat in North America

© Pete Sutsos

For thousands of years, waterfowl have found desirable habitat in the Rocky Mountains for migration and for breeding. Melting snow and early spring rains flood mountain streams; these waters spread out to form floodplain wetlands along river corridors. The spring that also fed marshes in the mountain valleys; these basins received their water either directly from mountain streams or from groundwater seeping to the surface. These shallow wetlands beckon to breeding waterfowl as well as birds needing rest spots during their travels north. The Rocky Mountain range of Montana, Wyoming and Colorado continues to offer wetland habitat for those birds drawn to higher elevations. Although small in size, the intermountain valleys of the Rockies contain some of the most productive waterfowl breeding habitat on the continent with nesting densities reaching 1,000 per square mile in some areas and nesting success averaging 26%. Unfortunately, the wetland habitats of the Rockies are increasingly threatened by competition over limited water supplies and increasing demands on space from a growing human population.

Importance to waterfowl

  • The intermountain basins or "parks" of the Northern and Southern Rockies and the Colorado Plateau contain the most important waterfowl habitats in the region.
  • Mallards, gadwall, cinnamon teal, northern pintail and green-winged teal are the most common species.
  • Major river systems also provide migration and wintering habitat, particularly if cereal grains or other agricultural foods are located nearby.

Habitat issues

  • Northern and Southern Rockies / Colorado Plateau mapWetlands and upland nesting cover are threatened by rapid development in the region.
  • Diversions of ground and surface water to support a growing human population threatens the life blood of wetlands in this region.
  • Riverine systems in this region have been impacted by significant man-made alterations, including dams and flood control levees.
  • Agricultural practices such as ranching and irrigated cropland have helped to sustain wetlands and waterfowl. As they give way to increasing homesite development, return flows to wetlands, nesting cover and agricultural food resources for waterfowl are lost.

DU's conservation focus

  • Achieve a no net loss of wetlands and associated uplands within DU emphasis areas in the Rockies such as the San Luis Valley, North Park, Laramie Basin, and Flathead Valley.
  • DU developed the High Country Wetlands initiative to work with ranchers, farmers, public agencies and other conservation organizations across the Rocky Mountain range. This initiative primarily seeks to protect waterfowl breeding habitats through conservation easements, but also works to restore seasonal wetlands which have been drained or degraded.
  • Support the objectives of the Intermountain West Joint Venture.
  • DU is using satellite-generated data to evaluate habitats in this landscape.
  • Maintain strong funding for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA)and the conservation programs of the Farm Bill which are critical tools for achieving DU's conservation objectives in the Rockies and Colorado PlateauStates in the Northern and Southern Rockies / Colorado Plateau.

States in the Northern and Southern Rockies / Colorado Plateau region

Arizona | ColoradoIdahoMontanaNevadaNew Mexico | Oregon
Utah |  Washington | Wyoming

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