© U.S. Bureau of Land Management (Colorado Plateau Native Plant Program)

What is the Colorado Plateau?

The Colorado Plateau has been defined in various ways by different agencies and organizations.  The EPA defines the Colorado Plateau Level III Ecoregion as primarily the southeastern portion of Utah and southwestern portions of Colorado, with minor inclusions of northern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico. The U.S. Forest Service, on the other hand, defines the Colorado Plateau Semidesert Province (3.9 mb) as primarily in northern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico with relatively minor inclusions of Utah and southwestern portions of Colorado. 

For this reason, and because it has been defined in such broad terms, the Colorado Plateau Native Plant Program (CPNPP) has chosen to combine these definitions for the most part, by including the Colorado Plateaus, Arizona/New Mexico Plateau, and Arizona/New Mexico Mountain EPA Level III Ecoregions (see figure “2010-12-03 EPA Level 3 square figure web”). Colorado Plateau includes the Uinta Basin in the north and runs about 550 miles south to the Mogollon Rim in Arizona.  Elevations of this area range from near 2,000 feet at the surface of the Colorado River as it runs through the Grand Canyon to over 12,000 feet in the Henry and LaSal Mountains of southeastern Utah.  And vegetation patterns in the Colorado Plateau are indicative of this. It includes the red rock desert ecosystems as well as high elevation plateaus with expanses of pinyon-juniper woodlands and shrublands, sagebrush shrublands, blackbrush-Mormon tea shrublands, salt desert shrublands, communities and isolated mountain peaks. 

Land Cover Types of the Colorado Plateau

The Land Cover Types listed in the table below were described by the Southwest Regional GAP (SWReGAP) Analysis Project, which is focused on mapping and assessing biodiversity for a five-state region that includes Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. 

"The primary objective of this project is to use a coordinated mapping approach to create detailed, seamless maps of land cover, habitat for native terrestrial vertebrate species, land stewardship, and management status."

This classification and mapping efforts provide a meaningful way to understand the diversity within the Colorado Plateau as well a means to evaluate existing conditions in relationship to those that occurred historically.

Common Land Cover Types (LCT) as defined by the Southwest Regional GAP (SWReGAP) Analysis Project within each EPA Level III Ecoregion

SW Re-GAP Code

Land Cover Type

Colorado Plateaus

Arizona/New Mexico Plateau

Arizona/New Mexico Mountains

S010

Colorado Plateau Mixed Bedrock Canyon and Tableland (see photo below)

X

X

+

S006

Rocky Mountain Cliff Canyon and Massive Rock

+

+

 

S036

Southern Rocky Mountain Ponderosa Pine Woodland (see photo below)

+

+

X

S034

Rocky Mountain Mesic Montane Mixed Conifer Forest and Woodland

+

+

+

S032

Rocky Mountain Dry-Mesic Montane Mixed Conifer Forest

+

+

+

S039

Colorado Plateau Pinyon-Juniper Woodland (see photo below)

X

X

X

S052

Colorado Plateau Pinyon-Juniper Shrubland (see photo below)

X

 

 

S075

Intermountain Basins Juniper Savanna

X

 

 

S045

Mogollon Chaparral

X

 

 

S054

Intermountain Basins Big Sagebrush Shrubland (see photo below)

X

X

+

S056

Colorado Plateau Mixed Low Sagebrush Shrubland

+

+

 

S071

Intermountain Basins Montane Sagebrush Steppe

X

 

 

S096

Intermountain Basins Greasewood Flat

+

+

 

S065

Intermountain Basins Mixed Salt Desert Scrub (see photo below)

+

+

 

S045

Intermountain Basins Mat Saltbush Shrubland

+

 

 

S079

Intermountain Basins Semi-Desert Shrub-Steppe

+

X

 

S090

Intermountain Basins Semi-Desert Grassland (see photo below)

+

X

 

S059

Colorado Plateau Blackbrush-Mormon-tea Shrubland (see photo below)

X

+

 

S136

Southern Colorado Plateau Sand Shrubland

+

X

 

S093

Rocky Mountain Lower Montane Riparian Woodland and  Shrubland

+

+

+

D04

Invasive Southwest Riparian Woodland and Shrubland (see photo below)

+

+

+

D08

Invasive Annual Grassland

+

 

 

D09

Invasive Annual and Biennial Forbland

+

+

 

 X = Dominant Cover Type within the EPA Level III Ecoregion;

 + = May be locally abundant, but is not a dominant component within the entire Ecological Section

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