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Resilient Habitats: Ecosystems

Greater Grand Canyon - Colorado Plateau

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California condor (Gymnogyps californianus)
The California condor, North America's largest land bird with a wing span of nearly 10 feet, once roamed across the American Southwest and West Coast. But their numbers dramatically declined in the 20th century due to poaching, lead poisoning, and habitat destruction.

By the early 1980s the condor was on the brink of extinction, with a total population of a mere 22 individuals. To save the bird, the most expensive species conservation project ever undertaken in the United States was set in motion, involving the controversial capture of all remaining wild condors in 1987, and captive breeding at the San Diego Wild Animal Park and the Los Angeles Zoo. Despite the long odds, the captive breeding program succeeded, and four years later condors were reintroduced into the wild.

As of February 2010, there are 348 condors known to be alive, including 187 in the wild. About half of these wild condors live in the coastal mountains of California and northern Baja California. The rest fly free over northern Arizona and southern Utah, including a growing number that have been raised in wild nest caves in or near Grand Canyon National Park.

The Greater Grand Canyon - Colorado Plateau ecosystem includes significant biological diversity due to its range of elevations and microclimates. Most of the area is semi-desert, but with elevations ranging from just over 1,000 feet at the Colorado River to 12,600 feet atop the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, the area supports diverse habitats, from cacti and desert scrub to piƱon pine, juniper, and spruce-fir forests.

Climate change has caused this already arid region to become even drier, and even with welcome rains in early 2010, Arizona remains in a condition of "severe drought" that has lasted well over a decade. A 2008 scientific study warned that human-induced climate change could result in a 90-year drought for the American Southwest.

The Sierra Club is working with Grand Canyon National Park to reduce the park's carbon footprint, helping different agencies in the region coordinate their efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change, and working hard to protect old-growth forests that offer critical wildlife habitat. The North Kaibab National Forest, part of the Greater Grand Canyon - Colorado Plateau Ecosystem, contains the most extensive old-growth forest in the Southwest, and represents a prime opportunity to restore the ponderosa pine ecosystem and protect old-growth-dependent species like the Kaibab squirrel, found nowhere else on earth.

Among the Sierra Club's objectives for the Greater Grand Canyon - Colorado Plateau ecosystem:

  • Obtain an administrative mining withdrawal for one million acres of public lands near Grand Canyon National Park
  • Pass the Grand Canyon Watersheds Protection Act in Congress
  • Stop the Warm Fire salvage sale on the North Kaibab National Forest, near Grand Canyon National Park
  • Limit off-road vehicle activity on Bureau of Land Management lands on the Arizona Strip, between the Grand Canyon and the Utah border, protecting the monuments' resources including the California condor and the desert tortoise
  • Improve or defeat the San Juan County, Utah, Wilderness Bill
  • Improve the Dixie National Forest plans on oil and gas leasing, off-road vehicles, and grazing to promote resilient habitats
  • Working with Native American tribes to stop the Arizona 1 uranium mine from moving forward

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