© Mike Norton (Colorado)

Disappearing Landscapes in Colorado

While Colorado is fortunate in that there are no truly "disappearing" landscapes, there are several ecological systems in our state that are declining in extent and condition. Read on to learn more.

Colorado's Threatened Ecosystems

  • Sagebrush

    The major types of sagebrush ecological systems in Colorado are big sagebrush shrublands and montane sagebrush steppe. These systems occur throughout the much of western U.S. Although they can be found on the east slope of Colorado, the largest occurrences are on the western slope. North Park, Middle Park, and the upper Gunnison Basin have large and continuous stands of sagebrush shrublands. Sagebrush shrublands are characterized by a dense stands of taller sagebrush species with a significant herbaceous understory. These taller shrubs distinguish the sagebrush shrubland ecological system from sagebrush steppe ecological system, which is dominated by dwarf sagebrush species.

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  • Ponderosa Pine

    Ponderosa pine forests, woodlands, and savannas form one of the predominant ecological systems in the foothills and lower elevations of the Southern Rocky Mountains. In Colorado, this system is most prevalent along the Front Range and in the southwestern part of the state. Because this system is occurs in the same areas that have been most highly prized for human development, Ponderosa pine ecosystems are deteriorating both in size and condition within Colorado.

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  • Lodgepole Pine

    In Colorado, the lodgepole pine ecological system is widespread between 8,000 and 10,000 feet in elevation, on gentle to steep slopes of the Rocky Mountains. Lodgepole pine forests, while still common in Colorado, are experiencing widespread damage from a severe outbreak of mountain pine beetle. This outbreak is affecting forests across the western U.S. and into Canada, with millions of trees affected.

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  • Pinyon-Juniper Habitat

    In Colorado, pinyon-juniper ecological systems may occur as shrublands or woodlands. These systems are typically found at lower elevations (ranging from 4,900 - 8,000 ft) on dry mountains and foothills of the Colorado Plateau region on the Western Slope. Pinyon-juniper also occurs in a limited distribution on the eastern plains near the Purgatoire River.

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  • Sandsage

    The sandsage prairie ecological system is found primarily in the south-central areas of the Western Great Plains. The greater part of the system occurs in the Central Shortgrass Prairie Ecoregion in eastern Colorado, western Kansas and southwestern Nebraska. This system is closely tied to sandy soils that are often associated with dune systems and ancient floodplains.

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