Landscape Dynamics

Elk grazing in Rocky Mountain National Park
Elk grazing in Rocky Mountain National Park.


Landscapes within and surrounding protected areas, including Rocky Mountain Network parks, are undergoing varying degrees of anthropogenic and natural modification that can have cascading effects on park resources. Rocky Mountain Network parks include both relatively large landscapes composed of interacting yet heterogeneous ecosystems (Glacier National Park, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Rocky Mountain National Park) and smaller areas that are often critically influenced by the surrounding landscape structure and use (Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument). Although the effects of landscape dynamics differ in scale and intensity, concerns about potential ecological consequences are similar; landscape-scale mechanisms are well-recognized as important drivers impacting all six parks.

Critical management issues and ecological processes extending across parks and beyond their boundaries:

  • Wildfire and fire management (all parks)
  • Large mammal populations (e.g., elk at Rocky Mountain National Park, grizzly bears at Glacier National Park, bison at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve)
  • Abiotic conditions and processes (e.g., ground- and surface water dynamics at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve)
  • Viewshed preservation (especially at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site, and Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, but also along the borders of Glacier National Park, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, and Rocky Mountain National Park)
  • The spread and control of invasive exotic plants (all parks)

The importance of landscape context is underscored by its recognition as a systemic driver affecting all terrestrial and aquatic systems and species in Rocky Mountain parks to some degree. For example, the distribution and activities of animals transcend park boundaries. This has implications on land use for available habitats and influences of animals on habitat conditions, such as the distribution and hydrologic modifications of beaver, ungulate migration and herbivory patterns, and the health and distribution of top-carnivore/omnivore populations. Streams often extend across park boundaries with critical inputs and influences from upstream sources (water chemistry, surface water dynamics, groundwater dynamics, and freshwater communities), but also from downstream sources (esp. freshwater communities and invasive aquatic species). Sources of atmospheric pollutants (e.g., SO2, NOx and heavy metals) and invasive species (terrestrial and aquatic) are heavily influenced by geographic position and spatial connections that are best monitored through wide-area landscape monitoring.

Preliminary Monitoring Objectives

  • Analyze existing land cover and land use data sets at a regional scale to assess composition and configuration to identify issues like habitat conversions (composition change) or incompatible uses (indicated by proximity of "threatening use" such as a source for weeds in immediate proximity to the park border).
  • Determine status and trends in land cover using shifts in multi-spectral signatures and spatial models that integrate remotely sensed imagery with auxiliary data to detect changes not otherwise known. For example, the extent of beetle induced mortality, shifting patterns of seasonal or total "greenness."
  • Determine status and trends in the distribution and connectivity of particular land cover types important to other high-priority Rocky Mountain Network vital signs or resources of concern. For example, analysis of a landscape for habitat quantity, quality, and connectivity for each focal species such as elk, beaver, and grizzly bear.

Potential Measures

  • Size and count distributions for land cover and land use classifications
  • Spatial distribution and proximity measures of cover or use classes of concern
  • Correlation of above (1 & 2) with streams, upland vegetation & soils, and/or wetlands measures.
  • Extent and location of "unexplained, significant temporal shifts"; possible addition of identification of the type/cause/source of the shift
  • Landscape quality with respect to each Rocky Mountain Network focal species (based on habitat quantity, quality and connectivity, etc.)

Protocol Development and Status

The landscape dynamics protocol addresses a single Rocky Mountain Network vital sign: landscape dynamics. The protocol will be implemented in all six Rocky Mountain Network parks (with buffers based on watersheds and/or ecoregion boundaries), but is currently on hold as regional and national examples are developed.

Parks This Protocol is Monitored At

Vital Signs This Protocol Monitors

  • Focal species (beaver, elk, and grizzly bear)
  • Landscape dynamics

Last updated: April 19, 2018