New website highlights Colorado’s 350 most susceptible species


How are scientists working to protect the toothless, federally endangered Colorado pikeminnow? Which species is most threatened by state energy production and mining? What is a Piping Plover?

The answers can be found at New species conservation dashboard from Colorado Parks and Wildlifewhich lists more than 350 sensitive species that inhabit Colorado and the agency’s efforts to protect them.

The public can explore species at risk and the threats they face, and follow the state’s conservation work outlined in its Wildlife Action Plan.

The recently launched site allows for greater transparency about CPW’s efforts to conserve sensitive species – from the greater prairie chicken to the long-nosed leopard lizard – and offers greater awareness to conservation partners, land management agencies, to local governments and the public, David Klute, the agency’s species conservation unit supervisor, said Thursday.

It also serves as a reminder that enjoying the outdoors is not without impact.

Unregulated off-piste skiing and snowshoeing threatens snowshoe hare and lynx, the scoreboard says. Climbing near cliffs and crevices endangers birds like the American peregrine falcon and brown-headed finch. Off-roading can affect the wilted rattlesnake. And alpine camping can have a serious impact on bighorn sheep herds.

“We enjoy the outdoors in Colorado and that’s where these species are,” Klute said. “So understanding when the general public might have impacts on those and taking steps to minimize those impacts can be really important.”

To address the threat that campers, hikers, mountain bikers and other trail users have on a range of species, the agency has implemented seasonal closures, added fencing to create boundaries in certain areas and established official wildlife viewing areas, according to the dashboard.

Private landowners can also have a big impact on the conservation of species at risk, such as the black-footed ferret, which lives almost exclusively on private land and was once thought to be extinct. Now, biologists are making progress in restoring prairie dog-eating rodents to the Eastern Plains.

The website also identifies species at risk that the state hopes to better understand, including Eastern Black Rail. The birds, which were once abundant in the marshes along the coasts, are now listed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act due to human development, rising sea levels and coastal storms, Klute said. Colorado has the largest known inland population of elusive birds in North America.

The meanders of Big Sandy Creek bisect May Cattle Ranch near Lamar. Beaver dams along the waterway have helped create wetlands that attract a unique population of birds, from eagles to sparrows, to the area. (Mike Sweeney, Special for The Colorado Sun)

Biologists believe there are large numbers of black rails living in dense swamps along the Arkansas River in southeastern Colorado, but because they are so elusive, CPW is still working to estimate its population. .

The agency’s conservation actions are ranked according to its progress. Green indicates the agency is on track to complete a conservation action, yellow or orange means it is “partly on track” to complete, and red indicates the project is not hasn’t started yet.

Efforts to conserve some “more charismatic” species, as Klute called them, including wolves and black-footed ferrets, have received a lot of attention. Some more divisive than others.

But there are other lesser-known species, such as gunnison sage grouse, which face a similar need for conservation. The the federal government lists the birdsknown for their elaborate courtship rituals and whose largest population lives in Gunnison Basin, as threatened.

“It’s a great example of where Colorado is really leading the global conservation of this species,” Klute said. “If they don’t succeed here in Colorado, they won’t exist anywhere else in the world.”

The dashboard tracks the projects and highlights the conservation needs described in the Colorado State Wildlife Action Plan, which each state is required to have in order to receive statewide conservation funding and federal grants. The Colorado plan ranks the threats the species face from low to high.

Taking early action can play a role in protecting sensitive habitats and potentially head-off recovery efforts for some species down the road, Klute said.

There have been recent efforts to get the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list the pinyon jay as an endangered or threatened species. The bird, which lives primarily in western Colorado and throughout the western United States, has seen a steep decline in population, in part due to the loss of its habitat of pine and juniper forests.

CPW works to understand how animals that live in the state’s alpine environments — like pika, southern white-tailed ptarmigan, and brown-headed finch — are affected by climate change. The recent monsoon humidity and more importantly the afternoon cloud cover help ptarmigan and others who may become “heat stressed” in the high country.

A Colorado Parks and Wildlife researcher releases a ptarmigan during field work studying birds. (Photo by Colorado Parks and Wildlife)

“So years when we don’t get that monsoon humidity can be very stressful for a species like this and if that happens more and more frequently, with climate change, then that could be a problem,” said Klute.

“We see our climate changing and we see changes in weather patterns and snowpack. Understanding whether these might be more at risk due to climate change – it may or may not be – we are still trying to figure that out.

CPW’s progress on its conservation actions previously appeared in a PDF and can now be viewed on the interactive dashboard, which is updated regularly. The Colorado State Wildlife Action Plan is scheduled for review in 2025.

(PS For those still wondering, a piping plover is a small bird that makes a distinctive pipe-pipe-pipe call as it flies and often nests along the sandy shores of Colorado reservoirs.)


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