- Grasslands are open areas dominated by perennial grasses and occasionally broken by stands of trees. They vary in appearance but share typical characteristics: hot summers, a tolerance for drought and low rainfall, and an intolerance of shade.
- Grasslands are an anomaly in the natural world, straddling the ground between forest and desert: slightly more rainfall would have resulted in forest; less rainfall, in desert.
- Grasslands are considered to be one of the most imperiled ecosystems in North America and worldwide.
- Colorado has lost approximately 35% of its central shortgrass prairie.
- More than 800 million people live in grassland ecosystems all over the world.
- Only 0.1% of the tallgrass prairie in North America has not been degraded.
The Conservancy is working to create a lasting, tangible and large-scale conservation impact on Colorado's grasslands. Below are three important projects from the often overlooked, but incredibly significant, prairie of eastern Colorado that demonstrate our work.
Making the Connection between the Mountains and the Plains
The Conservancy and our partners are working to protect the last intact landscape north of Douglas County where native grasslands still merge with Front Range mountains. In partnership with Larimer County and the City of Fort Collins, we are working to conserve up to 70,000 acres of Front Range grasslands, including some of the most intact productive ranchland along the entire corridor.
While we have worked in the Laramie Foothills for almost 20 years, only recently have our efforts resulted in such a grand opportunity to work with private landowners and local government to achieve large-scale success. The City of Fort Collins has enthusiastically embraced the Mountains to Plains Project. Together with the City and Larimer County, we have submitted a concept paper to the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund (GOCO), encouraging the state to provide significant funding for this $20+ million project.
Mitigating the Impact of Colorado's Highways
Shortgrass prairie is among the most imperiled ecosystems in North America. As such, the Conservancy has sought out partners who can best help us protect remaining intact prairie and the diverse wildlife it supports. One of our most effective partnerships is with the Colorado Department of Transportation. Together, we have launched the Shortgrass Prairie Initiative.
This initiative emerged from a shared vision that public transportation agencies could more effectively use environmental mitigation dollars to recover declining ecosystems. By looking ahead and estimating the damage to natural areas caused by road-widening activities, the Colorado Department of Transportation can direct funding nowto recover and preserve similar habitat outside of the state’s major transportation corridors.
Partnering with the Department of Defense
In the past several months, we have developed another promising grasslands project, with what may at first seem like an unusual partner—the Department of Defense (DoD).The DoD manages 25 million acres nationwide, lands which harbor numerous threatened and endangered species. Recently, the DoD awarded the Conservancy nearly $300,000 to update our Central Shortgrass Prairie Ecoregional Assessment. This assessment will identify plants, animals and natural processes within this ecoregion, which covers the eastern plains of Colorado and portions of Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. The assessment will also recommend a portfolio of conservation areas necessary for protecting the region's full range of natural diversity.
Additionally, the Conservancy has been working with the DoD to protect "buffer areas"—lands that border military bases—in southeastern Colorado. The DoD seeks to guard against residential encroachment, while the Conservancy seeks to protect habitat for plants and animals within those buffer zones. Together, we have already invested in a conservation lease that protects prairie habitat bordering the entire southern boundary of Fort Carson, south of Colorado Springs.