Climatic influences on the ecoregion vary both with latitude and elevation. Precipitation amounts range from a low of 5-8 inches per year in the shale deserts and arid canyonlands, to almost 20 inches per year in the higher pinyon-juniper woodlands, northern Uinta Basin slopes, and escarpment areas such as the Book Cliffs. The southern part of the ecoregion differs from the north in having a summer monsoonal precipitation pattern.
In general, juniper-pinyon woodland communities dominate higher elevations and are far more extensive than in the Wyoming Basin, which is adjacent to the north. Saltbush-greasewood and blackbrush communities are common at lower elevations. Summer moisture from thunderstorms supports warm season grasses not found in the Central Basin and Range, which is adjacent to the west. Many endemic plants occur and species diversity is greater than in the Central Basin and Range.
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The management questions for the Colorado Plateau REA were finalized in September 2010 in the Colorado Plateau Task 1 Final Memorandum. Approximately 60 questions, organized in 6 categories, were formulated to guide the REA. They seek information related to:
- Terrestrial ecological features, functions, and services as conservation elements
- Species as conservation elements
- Terrestrial sites of regional importance as conservation elements
- Aquatic ecological features, functions and services as conservation elements
- Aquatic sites of regional importance as conservation elements
- Change agents
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Conservation elements are resources of conservation concern within an ecoregion. This REA will assess the current status and forecast the future condition of these conservation elements:
- "Coarse-filter" ecological systems, which represent characteristic vegetation assemblages occurring within the ecoregion;
- "Fine-filter" plant species conservation elements, which represent a dominant plant species characteristic of each of the four largest geographical ecological system coarse-filters in the Colorado Plateau Ecoregion;
- Landscape-species conservation elements, in which selected species represent a range of important attributes characterizing the environment in which they occur.
A full list and description of conservation elements can be found in the Phase 1 Task 1 Memo.
In brief, the coarse-filter vegetation assemblages for the Colorado Plateau REA are Upland Forests and Woodlands, Riparian Communities, Semi-Arid Sage and Grasslands, and Arid Basin Shrublands. An additional category, Sparsely-Vegetated and Barren, was developed to represent areas with little or no vegetation. Biological (cryptogamic) soil crusts will also be addressed separately to highlight their important ecological role.
Examples of fine-filter plant species include Pinyon pine, Mountain sagebrush, and Blackbrush. For landscape-species conservation elements, the mountain lion, desert bighorn sheep, and burrowing owl are examples.
The REA will also address species that were not selected for inclusion in the suite of landscape species, known as “desired species,” such as the pronghorn and mule deer. Wild horses and burros will also be assessed as desired species.
The assessment will also look at a suite of conservation elements representing sites and a suite of ecological functions and services of conservation concern as conservation elements. Sites include, as examples, NatureServe/Natural Heritage sites and national and state parks. Surface and subsurface water availability — including for example, streams and groundwater protection zones — serve as ecological functions and services of conservation concern for the REA.
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Change agents are disturbances on the landscape that can influence ecosystem health. They can have natural causes, such as wildfire; human causes, such as energy development; or result from the interaction of both, such as climate change. A key purpose of this REA is to understand the influences of significant, widespread change agents on the natural resources (represented by the conservation elements discussed above) of the Colorado Plateau.
This REA will examine the potential effects of the following change agents. A more complete discussion of change agents is presented in the Task 1 Final Memorandum.
Change Agents to Be Addressed in the Colorado Plateau REA
Land and Resource Uses:
Urban and Roads Development:
- Oil, Gas, and Mining Development
- Renewable Energy Development
- Livestock grazing
- Wild horse and burro grazing
- Groundwater and Surface Water Extraction, Development,
- Recreational Uses
- Pollution (Air Quality)
In some cases, the BLM could not identify sufficient region-wide data or appropriate analytical models to incorporate identified change agents, such as livestock grazing, into the development of its REAs. Consequently, these topics were not addressed in the completed REAs. If we can find such data and models, future REAs could assess these, or other, change agents.
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Data, Maps, and Models
Geospatial data, maps, and models used in and produced by the REAs will be made available to the public upon final completion of each individual assessment. In some instances, data may be released in phases for an REA to expedite public access to particular data sets. To learn more about REA data products and determine which REAs have available data, go to the REA Data Portal.
Memos and Reports
For each REA, there is a series of memos which are supplemental documents to the final report. Memos document the major tasks and decision points made during the assessments and provide pertinent background information necessary to understand the justification and methods used during the assessment. As memos and the final report are completed, they can be downloaded through the table below.
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