Keeping All the Parts

One of the primary missions of Rocky Mountain National Park is to protect and maintain naturally functioning ecosystems. This involves protecting a wide variety of species, from the common to the rare ones, including those like mosquitoes that people may dislike. Each species is a piece of a naturally functioning ecosystem, and they are interconnected in ways we still don't fully understand. Plants and animals depend on other species for a wide array of service - for food, as homes, to provide cover, to hide them from predators, to keep their numbers from becoming overabundant, and so forth. Humans depend on naturally functioning ecosystems for their survival on this planet.

In reference to maintaining all the species that constitute biodiversity, Aldo Leopold said in A Sand County Almanac "To save every cog and wheel is the first precaution of the intelligent tinkerer." Resource managers at Rocky Mountain National Park have a responsibility to keep all the "parts" or species, as we proceed with managing the park.

Scientists are actively studying ecosystems and their components - the biodiversity, or range of species - in the park, but they have just scratched the surface. Most research projects result in more questions and more sophisticated questions than they answered. We have, however, begun to understand a little about how park ecosystems function. As a result, while park management must occur, we approach it carefully and after acquiring as much knowledge as possible.

Why is caring for naturally functioning ecosystems important? Thomas Lovejoy's view is "... the choice is not between wild places or people, it is between a rich or an impoverished existence for Man." An alternative view of the reason we preserve naturally functioning ecosystems is because the services they produce worldwide have an estimated value of $33 trillion a year or twice the value of all the goods and services produced by humans in the same period of time (Constanza et al. 1977). Or perhaps the reason for keeping all the parts is even simpler. We didn't create this world, but we depend on it for our own continued survival.

Last updated: March 31, 2012

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