The Rocky Mountains

It took over 300 million years for the Rocky Mountains to take the form we see today. Tectonic forces and the glaciers of various ice ages pushed and carved the massive rock into the mountains and valleys that currently exist. The Rocky Mountains can be thought of as having three distinct ecosystems, each with its own climate, vegetation and animal life.

The lowest vegetative zone called the Montane Forest occurs between 6,000 and 9,000 feet in elevation. It is characterized by varying moisture and dense forests dominated by Ponderosa Pine and Douglas Fir. The mammals found here include numerous bat and squirrel species.

Montane Forest                                                         Subalpine Zone                                                            Alpine Region

Increasing in altitude, the next ecosystem is called the Subalpine Zone, occurring between 9,000 ft and 11,500ft (the tree line). Typical vegetation includes the Subalpine Fir and the Engelmann Spruce. The snowshoe hare is an animal native to this region.

The highest zone is the Alpine Region, which occurs above 11,500ft in a tundra-like climate. Since this habitat lies above the tree line, plants consist mostly of small grasses and forbs which can root in thin soil and survive the high winds and bitter cold. The North American Pika is a common mammal to this region.

A mandate from congress established Rocky Mountain National Park in 1915 in order to preserve its many important and diverse ecosystems. The park was established in order to protect the region from the negative effects of human settlement. Today, park managers hope someday to return it to an approximation of its natural, pre-European condition.

Content provided by Canisius College students under the direction of Michael Noonan, PhD.