Conservation Overview

Home to a variety of seemingly contradictory landscapes that represent a multitude of communities with everything from forest to grassland to alpine tundra to shrubland to riparian to absolute desert, Nevada is one of the most biologically interesting states in the union. 

314 distinct Nevada mountain ranges generally run north to south, separated by deep valleys.  Elevations range from 479 feet at the very southern tip of the state to 13,141 feet at the top of Boundary Peak.  Precipitation is extremely variable depending on time and space, with some areas averaging less than 3 inches a year and others averaging over 56 inches a year.  Nevada has experienced extreme temperature variation from the lowest recorded temperature of -48°F to the highest recorded temperature of 125°F.  In any one day, temperatures may change 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. 

This extreme variability supports an astounding amount of diversity among our plants and animals.   Only ten states have reported more species then the 3, 872 found here, 2,875 of which are plants, and just five contained more endemic species than the 173 peculiar to Nevada. 

Rare Species and Characteristic Habitats  

Nevada is mostly contained in the Great Basin Ecoregion and the Mojave Desert. Unique in that all waters drain inwards with none ever reaching the sea, the Great Basin area is a cold, northern desert, receiving most precipitation during the winter in the form of snow.  In contrast, the Mojave Desert is a hot southern desert, receiving most of its very little precipitation during the summer monsoonal rains.  The Sierra Mountains front makes up the rest of Nevada, yet it accounts for a large amount of diversity, with many of its species reaching the edges of their ranges. 

Many rare and at-risk species innately have narrow ranges or habitat preferences, which complicates the conservation picture.   Nevada has a large number of endemic fishes and springsnails, many that occupy only one isolated spring.  Plants with narrow habitat distributions such as the Las Vegas bearpoppy (Arctomecon californica) or the altered andesite buckwheat (Eriogonum robustum) are threatened by rapid urban development.   Wide-ranging species are not immune to these stressors; the Greater Sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) is declining throughout the sagebrush ecosystem and many other sage-obligated species are considered at-risk.

Public and Private Conservation Efforts

Nevada boasts areas with an exceptional amount of biodiversity that have been recognized and protected.  One such area is Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. Edward O. Wilson described Ash Meadows as "a sacred landmark…" with 26 endemic flora and fauna occurring there.  Other important conservation areas include Soldier Meadows, the Spring Mountains, and the Ruby Mountains. 

While these areas offer some protection for the vast biodiversity in Nevada, many other "hotspots" of diversity need attention.  The Nevada Natural Heritage Program has published a list of 69 of the highest Priority Conservation Sites that bring focus to these important places.  Through cooperation and partnerships with all Federal, State, and private organizations, these areas can be protected for future generations.   

Threats

Unfortunately, many of Nevada's native plants and animals have become increasingly rare and vulnerable to extinction.  Nevada is the fastest growing state in the union, and with this growth comes increased pressure on our native ecosystems.  Water, our most precious and limiting resource, is in greater demand than ever before.  Land is being converted at a high rate for urban development and other uses.  An even greater threat has emerged recently, in the form of competition with increasing numbers of invasive non-native species.  Catastrophic fires add to the stressors, including promoting a vicious cycle of invasions, primarily of annual grasses.  These pressures are causing declining ecosystem health and loss of native biodiversity. 

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