Idaho Conservation Summary

Idaho is a Rocky Mountain state known for its spectacular vistas and unspoiled natural resources. Its topography consists of 12,000-foot mountain ranges, countless valleys and canyons, and expansive plains. These variable conditions contribute to a range of landscapes from the hot and dry sagebrush steppe of southern Idaho, year-round snow-capped mountain peaks in the central part of the state, and the relatively mesic, maritime-influenced old-growth conifer forests of the northern panhandle. In all, there are there are more than 65 ecological systems that provide the habitat for more than 4,000 native species. Of these, 50 are considered endemic and include the Idaho ground squirrel, Shoshone sculpin, Bliss Rapids snail, slickspot peppergrass, Christ’s Indian paintbrush, and Mulford’s milkvetch.

Rare Species and Characteristic Habitats

Large tracts of Idaho are mountainous, remote, undeveloped, and in federal ownership. Over one-quarter of the state (4 million acres) is designated wilderness or inventoried roadless areas. The largest contiguous wilderness in the lower 48 states is the Frank Church River of No Return (2.4 million acres) in central Idaho. The smallest wilderness area in Idaho is the Craters of the Moon National Wilderness Area (43,000 acres). These large landscapes afford unique opportunities for the conservation of intact natural communities and area-sensitive species currently listed under the US Endangered Species Act, including grizzly bear, woodland caribou, and chinook salmon.

Threats

Idaho faces many challenges in ensuring healthy plant and animal populations and natural communities persist for future generations. As the state’s population grows so too does the need for infrastructure development. This development often results in fragmentation of large intact habitats into less viable patches with numerous consequences for natural resources. For example, fragmentation threatens viable populations of sagebrush obligates such as greater sage-grouse and pygmy rabbit in southern Idaho. Likewise, home and road development is occupying essential big game winter ranges.

In Idaho, invasive plants such as cheatgrass, rush skeletonweed, spotted knapweed and yellow starthistle have already degraded several million acres of natural areas; and aquatic invaders such as Eurasian water milfoil and New Zealand mud snail are spreading in our waterways.

Last, climate change will likely result in geographic redistribution of plants and animals and, depending on the rate of change, may exceed the ability of species to migrate. While projected climate change will likely have direct effect on the biogeography of species, such projections are complicated by changes in other ecological responses and indirect effects on vegetation through changes in disturbance regimes (e.g., fire, insects, and disease) are also probable. For example, in the absence of disturbance, the distribution of cool coniferous forests may shrink whereas dry mixed-conifer forests may expand.

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