Front Range Project

Restoring grasslands, working with bison, and conserving American pika

Get Involved!

Front Range Pika Project

To learn more about how you can contribute to the conservation of pika across Colorado as a citizen scientist, please visit the Front Range Pika Project website.

Colorado Corridors Project

To assist with identifying wildlife on Vail Pass as part of the Colorado Corridors Project, please visit our project page on the Zooniverse website.

About the Front Range

The Front Range refers to the eastern slope of the southern Rocky Mountains—the majestic “purple mountains” in the song, America the Beautiful—and neighboring grasslands. From mile-high plains to snow-covered peaks topping 14,000 feet in elevation, this transition zone is renowned for both its natural beauty and its recreational offerings, attracting outdoor enthusiasts from around the world all year long. Stretching from southern Wyoming through Colorado, the Front Range provides critical resources to both wildlife and people, including one of the fastest growing metro areas in the United States—Denver, Colorado.

Why the Front Range?

The mountain-plains interface along the Front Range of Colorado (hereafter called the Front Range) is home to a diversity of important wildlife species—from those inhabiting the short-grass prairie to those living exclusively in high-elevation alpine tundra—and their key movement corridors. It also provides valuable natural resources and recreational opportunities for human communities living in the Denver Metropolitan Area (Metro Denver) and beyond. Exponentially increasing human populations, expanding development, and increasingly variable precipitation and temperature patterns across the Front Range, however, have put wildlife, ecosystems, and natural resources at risk.

A trusted member of the Denver community, Denver Zoo works across the Front Range to support city, state, and federal agencies manage protected areas in a way that reduces threats and promotes the resilience of Colorado’s wildlife and ecosystems. We accomplish this by applying robust ecological and social science to identify sustainable management strategies, by collaborating with partner organizations and stakeholders, and by engaging the Colorado community in research and conservation action. This includes working with partners to conserve and restore the function of grassland ecosystems across the state through bison restoration and management, monitoring wildlife to support the development of Colorado’s highest elevation wildlife byway over Interstate-70 on Vail Pass, and by empowering outdoor enthusiasts to become citizen scientists in the quest to understand and mitigate the effects of climate change on American pika and alpine ecosystems.

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Conservation Approach in the Front Range

Denver Zoo harnesses our reputation as a trusted leader in the Denver community for over 120 years to mobilize the public to engage in wildlife research and conservation across Colorado. Building on our successful model of multi-stakeholder collaboration at Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge (learn more here), we work closely with city, state, and federal agencies to understand real-time threats to wildlife and their ecosystems such as expanding human populations and climate change. Then we help those agencies implement land management strategies needed to promote the conservation and resiliency of wildlife, ecosystems, and natural resources across the Front Range.

We apply the following approaches to conserve and build the resiliency of alpine and shortgrass prairie ecosystems and to restore wildlife connectivity along the mountain-plains interface across the Front Range.

Grassland Restoration Through Bison Management

Applying our expertise in partnership building, grassland restoration, bison management, and landowner engagement from our work at Rio Mora NWR, Denver Zoo partners with Denver Mountain Parks (DMP), federal agencies, and private landowners to promote the conservation and restoration of grasslands through bison management across the Front Range.

Citizen Science on the American Pika

The American pika is believed to be an indicator of certain impacts of climate change on alpine ecosystems. Denver Zoo partners with Rocky Mountain Wild, CU Boulder, and several state and federal agencies in the Front Range Pika Project (FRPP) to track how it’s doing. To do so, we train citizen scientists to document key characteristics that tell us about the pika’s distribution, population, and habitat. We use this state-wide data to help state and federal agencies implement management strategies that promote the resilience and conservation of alpine ecosystems and natural resources threatened by climate change. Photo Credit: Dick Orleans

Working With Stakeholders to Mitigate the Impacts of I-70 on Wildlife

Denver Zoo partners with Rocky Mountain Wild and several state and federal agencies in the Colorado Corridors Project (CCP) to engage volunteers in wildlife monitoring along Vail Pass. The wildlife data collected as part of the CCP is used to support the Summit County Safe Passages regional initiative to develop and construct several structures, including a wildlife overpass, to mitigate the impacts of traffic on wildlife populations and improve driver safety along I-70.

Citizen Science in Action

Engaging our Local Community

Denver Zoo knows that engaging our local community in these strategies is key to their success and sustainability. As such, we use citizen science to expand the impact of our research and to build community support for conservation. Citizen science, which refers to data collection and analysis completed by the general public, allows us to gather information across large spatial scales and fine temporal scales that would not be possible by a small team of field ecologists alone. It also serves as an effective tool for educating and inspiring our community to take action on behalf of wildlife.

Over the last 10 years, Denver Zoo has engaged 500+ Coloradoans in our work across the Front Range. In total, these volunteers have dedicated over 5,000 hours to the conservation of wildlife. Through this process, we have worked closely with city, state, and federal agencies to ensure these projects provide robust, reliable data those agencies can actually use, and our model has been used to train a number of other organizations in designing effective citizen scientist projects.

Conservation Rocky Mountains Conservation Success

Partnerships

Conservation cannot be done alone, and Denver Zoo is thankful for our strong network of collaborators that contribute to conservation in the Rocky Mountain/Great Plains - Front Range Project.

  • Denver Mountain Parks
  • Rocky Mountain Wild
  • Denver Mountain Parks Foundation
  • US Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Big City Mountaineers
  • University of Colorado-Boulder
  • Colorado Parks and Wildlife
  • Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory at CSU
  • Walking Mountains Science Center
  • US Forest Service
  • Rocky Mountain Field Institute
  • Colorado Fourteeners Initiative
  • Colorado Mesa University
  • Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Colorado Department of Transportation
  • Summit County Safe Passages Stakeholders
  • Zooniverse

Conservation Success across the Front Range

Highlights of conservation success across the Front Range

  • Engaged 300 middle and high school students from Colorado in field-based education programming at Denver Mountain Parks focused on the restoration of grassland ecosystems from 2016-2018.
  • FRPP has contributed to the longest running citizen science database on the impacts of climate change on pika in North America. Having engaged over 300 volunteers across the Front Range, this research has been used in peer-reviewed journal articles and helped support management decisions by state and federal agencies.
  • Results from 3 years of wildlife monitoring at Vail Pass are being used by the Summit County Safe Passages committee to build community support for mitigating the impacts of I-70 on wildlife populations and to advocate and inform the construction of a wildlife overpass.