Protected Areas Protect Wildlife Habitat
Gunnison County is home to a wide variety of ecosystems – communities of animals and plants that work together. In our county, you can find rolling seas of sagebrush, one of the largest aspen forest in the world, rich forests of spruce and fir trees, and alpine tundra, which are all habitat for wildlife. It is critical to continue protecting the integrity of Colorado’s natural landscape to ensure healthy habitats that can support sustainable wildlife populations and ecosystems.
Plants and animals need large tracks of habitat to forage for food, disperse their young, and find mates to breed. Large areas of habitat that are connected across the landscape are much more likely to sustain healthy plant and animal populations than small habitat areas, or habitats that are isolated.
THE BIG PiCTURE
Gunnison County falls within the greater Southern Rockies Ecoregion stretching roughly 500 miles from southern Wyoming to Northern New Mexico, and extends 250 miles from east to west at its widest point. These landscapes provide habitat for herds of elk, mule deer, mountain lion and black bear. More illusive are the wolverine and lynx, but they also are found in this ecoregion.
By designating areas for no new road development, commercial timber projects or mineral extraction on federal lands in our region, we can prevent habitat fragmentation on federal lands. Breaking habitat into small fragments leaves smaller areas that can only support small populations, so large undeveloped lands are critical to ensure healthy populations of wildlife.
The GPLI wants to leave a lasting legacy that ensures Colorado’s natural resources and critical habitat is protected.
Habitat for a changing climate
Scientists have high confidence that in the coming two decades a warming climate will affect Gunnison County in numerous ways, including a longer growing season, increased fire frequency and intensity, decrease runoff, snowlines moving up in elevation, and an average annual temperature increase of 2-5 F° warmer. Ecosystems that have formed over hundreds or thousands of years in specific geographic locations will either have to adapt to the new climate in place or move across the landscape as the climate changes.
Best climate change adaptation practices, however, show that protecting large tracts of intact habitat, across elevational gradients, will help our ecosystems adapt to a warming world.
Plants and animals, already stressed by climate change, will have a lower likelihood of survival if barriers like roads or industrial development impede their movement across the landscape.
Safeguarding a broad variety of ecosystems at differing levels of protection improves the likelihood that we will have the conservation measures in place for the ecosystems that need them the most. A portfolio of protected areas increases the chances that wildlife, plants, and communities can adapt and withstand a changing climate.