Monday, April 8, 2013

Climate change tough on Colorado Plateau

Scott Condon in the Aspen Times (Colorado): Conservationists are lobbying the Bureau of Land Management to overhaul its policies in the Colorado Plateau after the agency's own study indicated big alterations are coming over the next 50 years because of climate change.

The vast Colorado Plateau is home of the spectacular canyon country and soaring mountain ranges of western Colorado and much of Utah. It covers 32,387 square miles, much of it public land managed by the BLM. It stretches from Grand Junction on the east to St. George, Utah, on the west and from Arizona to Wyoming. Moab, Utah, the popular offseason playground for hikers, bikers and Jeepers from Aspen and throughout the Colorado mountains, is in the heart of the plateau.

The BLM recently completed a rapid ecoregional assessment that examines current conditions and analyzes how the landscape could be altered by climate change and other “change agents” such as wildfire, invasive species and road development.

“This report describes fundamental changes in how the Colorado Plateau will look and how it functions,” said Heidi McIntosh, managing attorney for Earthjustice Denver. One finding of the report is that the average annual temperature of the plateau could increase 1 degree Celsius in the short term and around 2 degrees by 2060. The biggest warming could occur during winters.

The report said predicting future precipitation amounts is more difficult, but the trend is for a drier climate in the short term and a radical mix of periods of much drier and much wetter weather by 2060. The variation is due to the extreme terrain — low canyons will be drier; mountain ranges will be wetter during summers...

Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, shot by National Park Service, public domain

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