Ecology and Plant Communities of the Colorado Plateau

The Colorado Plateau has been defined in various ways by different agencies and organizations.  The EPA defines the Colorado Plateau Level III Ecoregion as primarily the southeastern portion of Utah and southwestern portions of Colorado, with minor inclusions of northern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico. The U.S. Forest Service, on the other hand, defines the Colorado Plateau Semidesert Province (3.9 mb) as primarily in northern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico with relatively minor inclusions of Utah and southwestern portions of Colorado. 
For this reason, and because it has been defined in such broad terms, the Colorado Plateau Native Plant Program (CPNPP) has chosen to combine these definitions for the most part, by including the Colorado Plateaus, Arizona/New Mexico Plateau, and Arizona/New Mexico Mountain EPA Level III Ecoregions (see figure below). Colorado Plateau includes the Uinta Basin in the north and runs about 550 miles south to the Mogollon Rim in Arizona.  Elevations of this area range from near 2,000 feet at the surface of the Colorado River as it runs through the Grand Canyon to over 12,000 feet in the Henry and LaSal Mountains of southeastern Utah.  And vegetation patterns in the Colorado Plateau are indicative of this. It includes the red rock desert ecosystems as well as high elevation plateaus with expanses of pinyon-juniper woodlands and shrublands, sagebrush shrublands, blackbrush-Mormon tea shrublands, salt desert shrublands, communities and isolated mountain peaks. 

EPA Level 3 Ecoregions within the CPNPI Colorado Plateau
CEPA Level 3 Ecoregions within the CPNPP Colorado Plateau

Land Cover Types of the Colorado Plateau

The Land Cover Types listed in the table below were described by the Southwest Regional GAP (SWReGAP) Analysis Project, which is focused on mapping and assessing biodiversity for a five-state region that includes Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. 

"The primary objective of this project is to use a coordinated mapping approach to create detailed, seamless maps of land cover, habitat for native terrestrial vertebrate species, land stewardship, and management status."

This classification and mapping efforts provide a meaningful way to understand the diversity within the Colorado Plateau as well a means to evaluate existing conditions in relationship to those that occurred historically.

Common Land Cover Types (LCT) as defined by the Southwest Regional GAP (SWReGAP) Analysis Project within each EPA Level III Ecoregion

SW Re-GAP Code
Land Cover Type
Colorado Plateaus
Arizona/New Mexico Plateau
Arizona/New Mexico Mountains
S010
Colorado Plateau Mixed Bedrock Canyon and Tableland (see photo below)
X
X
+
S006
Rocky Mountain Cliff Canyon and Massive Rock
+
+
 
S036
Southern Rocky Mountain Ponderosa Pine Woodland (see photo below)
+
+
X
S034
Rocky Mountain Mesic Montane Mixed Conifer Forest and Woodland
+
+
+
S032
Rocky Mountain Dry-Mesic Montane Mixed Conifer Forest
+
+
+
S039
Colorado Plateau Pinyon-Juniper Woodland (see photo below)
X
X
X
S052
Colorado Plateau Pinyon-Juniper Shrubland (see photo below)
X
  
S075
Intermountain Basins Juniper Savanna
X
  
S045
Mogollon Chaparral
X
  
S054
Intermountain Basins Big Sagebrush Shrubland (see photo below)
X
X
+
S056
Colorado Plateau Mixed Low Sagebrush Shrubland
+
+
 
S071
Intermountain Basins Montane Sagebrush Steppe
X
  
S096
Intermountain Basins Greasewood Flat
+
+
 
S065
Intermountain Basins Mixed Salt Desert Scrub (see photo below)
+
+
 
S045
Intermountain Basins Mat Saltbush Shrubland
+
  
S079
Intermountain Basins Semi-Desert Shrub-Steppe
+
X
 
S090
Intermountain Basins Semi-Desert Grassland (see photo below)
+
X
 
S059
Colorado Plateau Blackbrush-Mormon-tea Shrubland (see photo below)
X
+
 
S136
Southern Colorado Plateau Sand Shrubland
+
X
 
S093
Rocky Mountain Lower Montane Riparian Woodland and  Shrubland
+
+
+
D04
Invasive Southwest Riparian Woodland and Shrubland (see photo below)
+
+
+
D08
Invasive Annual Grassland
+
  
D09
Invasive Annual and Biennial Forbland
+
+
 

 X = Dominant Cover Type within the EPA Level III Ecoregion;
 + = May be locally abundant, but is not a dominant component within the entire Ecological Section


 



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D04-Invasive-Southwest-Riparian-Woodland-and-Shrubland S010-Mixed-Bedrock-Canyon-and-Tableland S036-Southern-Rocky-Mountain-Ponderosa-Pine-Woodland S039-Colorado-Plateau-Pinyon-Juniper-Woodland S052-Colorado-Plateau-Pinyon-Juniper-Shrubland

S054-Intermountain-Basins-Big-Sagebrush-Shrubland S059-Colorado-Plateau-Blackbrush-Mormon-Tea-Shrubland S065-Intermountain-Basins-Mixed-Salt-Desert-Scrub S090-Intermountain-Basins-Semi-Desert-Grassland