Spine of the Rockies: Exploring Conservation from New Mexico to Montana 

As human-dominated environments expand in the Rocky Mountains, habitat for wildlife shrinks. At the same time, it becomes ever more difficult for Americans to experience the wild places for which the Rocky Mountains are famous. Through these expeditions we have explored some of the remaining wild places in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana and speak with the leaders in the effort for large landscape conservation.  

We have explored the Sangre de Cristo, the Thompson Divide, Greater Yellowstone, Crown of the Continent, and the Gila Wilderness.


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Trailer for Spine of the Continent, a documentary film by the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project.

Information about the release of the film is up-coming.


Large landscape conservation in the west is accomplished as multiple stakeholders cooperate to conserve ecosystems and watersheds that expand beyond the bounds of any one organization's jurisdiction. These large watersheds and ecosystems serve as essential wildlife corridors that support the continuing biodiversity of the region. The Spine of the Continent initiative is one of the most ambitious conservation efforts ever undertaken as a host of government agencies, businesses, communities, and individuals attempt to preserve crucial wildlife corridors across political boundaries.

Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area

Background: In the southern Rockies of Colorado, the Sangre de Christo Mountain range forms a sharp spine that extends from Poncha Pass in Colorado to Northern New Mexico. Now, in addition the the Sangre de Christo Wilderness Area and Great Sand Dunes National Park, many private land owners are donating conservation easements in order to create a more extensive Sangre de Christo Conservation Area that will protect vital wildlife habitat. 

June 13 - 27, 2013The State of the Rockies team traversed the Sangre de Christo Range by foot, moving through the landscape that continues through the jurisdiction of private conservationists and government agencies alike. 

Thompson Divide Roadless Area

Background: Near the city of Glenwood Springs lies Colorado's largest unprotected roadless area. After the BLM sold oil and gas drilling leases on this land, local businesses and community members formed a coalition to oppose the development of the leases.  The broad-based group asserts that the Thompson Divide's contribution to the local economy and quality of life through agriculture, recreation, hunting, watershed protection and wildlife habitat far outweighs the short term benefits of natural gas development.  Today, the Thompson Divide has drawn national attention including a bill in the US Senate to protect the area.  As a critical wildlife corridor between Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness Area and Grand Mesa, the development of the Thompson Divide threatens the larger surrounding landscape.

 May 13 - 29, 2013The State of the Rockies trekked across the roadless area and documented the struggle between the community and natural gas interests attempting to drill in the area. The route took us to the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness, across the Thompson Divide Roadless Area, and on to the heavily drilled public lands near Rifle, Colorado.

Greater Yellowstone

Background: The ecosystems, watersheds, and unique geological features that make Yellowstone a world-renowned destination extend beyond the official boundaries of the National Park. Wolves and grizzly bears have a natural range that extends far beyond the park boundary but don't always have adequate protections elsewhere. As keystone predators, these species' health remains crucial to the viability of the entire ecosystem.

July 8 - 20, 2013Beginning in the Teton Wilderness, our team traversed across the entirety of Yellowstone National Park, following the Yellowstone and Lamar rivers. 

Crown of the Continent

Background:  The area surrounding Glacier National Park bustles with wildlife activity. Its amazing high alpine landscape and wildlife populations have caused this area to be dubbed the Crown of the Continent. Over 100 agencies and non-governmental organizations are working to create a network of protected land in the region. The Flathead Valley in southern British Columbia and Northern Montana will be the starting point for our visit to the Crown region. The area is adjacent to Glacier National Park and lacks protection from road building and resource extraction. In addition to providing critical habitat for wolves, wolverine, and grizzlies, the water in the Flathead is some of the cleanest in North America and is often used as a control when sampling water quality elsewhere. 

July 22 - August 6, 2013: The State of the Rockies Project floated the North Fork of the Flathead from near its source across the international border. From there, the team moved into the Glacier National Park, hiking back toward the Canadian border through the high country and documenting the receding glaciers for which the area is named. 

Gila Wilderness

Background: The world's first designated wilderness area is in southern New Mexico, where 9000 foot peaks provide habitat for a variety of important predators and endangered species. In the 1990's scientists reintroduced the nearly extinct Mexican gray wolf, a species that remains controversial today. From the endangered gila trout to the occasional jaguar, the Gila is truly a unique landscape in the United States and demonstrates the ways in which interagency cooperation can create large enough habitats for keystone predators like the gray wolf to begin their road to recovery. 

October 12 - 26, 2013: Our team investigated the wildlife protection efforts underway in the region and the ways in which government agencies and private landowners must cooperate to preserve wildlife corridors and populations.