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Loss of Habitat in the Colorado Rockies

written by: •edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 1/25/2011

With stunning scenery, year-round outdoor sporting and potential for quality mountain living, Colorado has invited new residents for decades. The continuing influx of people into Colorado mountain communities has created a crisis for wildlife. The loss affects the regional Rocky Mountains ecosystem.

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    Mountain Wildlife

    The Colorado Rockies teem with countless varieties of wildlife. Mammals, fish, birds and other creatures are dynamic and essential parts of fragile eco-systems. When wildlife is threatened, the balance of nature is upset, affecting all inhabitants, including human beings. The Colorado Division of Wildlife provides a comprehensive list of all of the species located in Colorado. Included are Golden Eagles, beavers, coyotes, Greenback Cutthroat Trout, Mountain Whitefish, and skunks.The Colorado DOW provides a similarly long list of species that are endangered, threatened, or are species of concern. A search of the site using keyword, "development" yields a list of papers about the threat of residential, as well as oil and gas development to different species. (Colorado DOW)

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    Colorado Rockies

    Mt. EvansElk Herd Downtown Evergreen ColoradoPristeen Mountain SceneryBlack Fox in Evergreen ColoradoNew Businesses Conifer ColoradoEndangered Mexican Spotted Owl
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    Residential, commercial, and oil and gas development in Colorado are hotly debated issues for many reasons. Chief among concerns is loss of habitat for the wildlife of the Colorado Rocky Mountains (the Plains too). Colorado is a year-round vacation destination, which brings development and other problems. The state has been and continues to be an attractive region for relocation. The Rocky Mountains offer a unique quality of life. Unfortunately, those who relocate need homes. Therefore, developers sell great tracts of land, often developing with little regard for the ecosystems they invade. Mountain areas such as Steamboat Springs, Vail and Grand Lake have grown to accommodate new residents.

    As time passes and new residents settle into their snug mountain homes, they realize that city services are not part of mountain living. Roads are treacherous in winter conditions. Often, the nearest major shopping can be hours away. Eventually, people begin to clamor for safer and/or paved roads. They want to have the types of restaurants and shopping available to city-dwellers. Planning commissions, eager for revenue, open land to further commercial development. Every square inch developed is a square inch lost to habitat. Other forms of development, such as energy development, are even more invasive with far-reaching environmental consequences. But, habitat loss is always on the list of issues.

    The following is an abstract that illustrates the type of the dialogue that occurs around development issues: "Winter Tourism and Land Development in Gunnison, Colorado"

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    Residual Issues

    One of the primary issues that arise from loss of habitat is the influx of wildlife into residential areas. Actually, it ought to be stated in opposite terms. Residential communities erupt in wildlife habitat. Residents become alarmed when wildlife responds according to their instincts. It is not unusual to hear on the news or read in the paper about bears, mountain lions and coyotes finding their way as far into developed areas as Denver and Colorado Springs. (See Mountain Lion Sitings Up)

    Once wildlife encounters human beings, various results can occur. When a bear is attracted to food left in open garbage containers, the bear is ruined. The creature is destroyed because bears become a threat to human beings as the animals seek human food. Mountain lions often attack domestic pets and even unattended children. The Colorado Division of Wildlife advises, warns and tracks these encounters. (See Living In Lion Country) The bottom line is that wildlife is looking for food and has lost their range for hunting. When wildlife wanders into developed areas, the animals are removed and possibly separated from their young.

    Read a May 2009 report out of Summit County Colorado about loss of bird habitat in and around Vail, Colorado.

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    Residential, commercial and energy development in the Colorado Rockies comes along with a responsibility to the environment and to wildlife. Extremism on either side--no development vs. develop as much territory as possible without regard for consequences--achieves nothing. Planning commissions can establish criteria for protecting the wild places. Citizens can pressure state and federal governments for protection of lands and for responsible planning. Regulations on developers can be instituted. Citizens must be educated and encouraged to behave responsibly.

    Sadly, when development has flourished with little abatement and habitat is lost, it is difficult if not impossible to restore the land. The time to act is before future problems arise. Everyone involved should remember that human beings, while important to the balance of nature, are responsible for helping to preserve the other species that share in nature's diminishing bounty.

    For an example of the Colorado Division of Wildlife's current goals for habitat preservation, see "Colorado DOW’s Habitat Program Seeks Proposals from Land Owners, Conservation Groups" June 8, 2009. Visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website for more information about habitat and species in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

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