Montane riparian forests occur along rivers and streams in Colorado’s foothill and mountain regions, beginning around 6,000 to 7,500 feet in elevation.
Montane riparian forests occupy roughly 1 million acres in Colorado and account for 4 percent of the state’s forested lands. These forests tend to be dominated by alder and blue spruce, but may be imbedded within several other forest types, including ponderosa pine, aspen and spruce-fir. The U.S. Forest Service manages the majority of Colorado’s montane riparian (40 percent) and private landowners (36 percent). Riparian forests may be found within the flood zone of rivers, on islands, sand or cobble bars, and immediately adjacent to streambanks. The health and sustainability of these systems depends on a natural hydrologic regime, especially annual to episodic flooding.
The Importance of Montane Riparian Forests
In a semi-arid state such as Colorado, the benefit of riparian areas to wildlife often is disproportionate relative to their size. The vast majority of species that occupy montane habitats rely on riparian forests at some point in their life cycle. This is especially true of many amphibian species, as well as such water-dependent species as beaver and river otter. Elk, mule deer and moose also favor montane riparian habitats.