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Gunnison Basin Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment

Western Water Assessment, University of Alaska - Fairbanks, The Nature Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, Colorado Natural Heritage Program, Western Water Assessment, University of Colorado Boulder, and University of Alaska - Fairbanks
Created: 4/29/2016 - Updated: 8/06/2019


Climate change is already changing ecosystems and affecting people in the southwestern United States. Rising temperatures have contributed to large-scale ecological impacts, affecting plants, animals, as well as ecosystem services, e.g., water supply. The climate of the Gunnison Basin, Colorado, is projected to get warmer over the next few decades as part of a larger pattern of warming in the western United States. Natural resource managers need to understand both past and potential future impacts of climate change on land and water resources to help inform management and conservation activities. The goals of this vulnerability assessment are to identify which species and ecosystems of the Gunnison Basin, Colorado, are likely to be most at risk to projected climatic changes and why they are likely to be vulnerable. This report is intended to help natural resource managers set priorities for conservation, develop effective adaptation strategies, and build resilience in the face of climate change.

Vulnerability is the degree to which a system or species is susceptible to, and unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes. In this report, we focus on exposure and sensitivity to describe vulnerability. Exposure is the character, magnitude, and rate of climatic change a species or system is likely to experience. Sensitivity is the degree to which a system or species is affected, either adversely or beneficially, by expected climate variability or change. Vulnerability ratings of ecosystems are defined as the proportion of the ecosystem at risk of being eliminated or reduced by 2050 as a result of climate change. For species, vulnerability ratings are defined as the species’ abundance and/or range extent within the Basin likely to decrease or disappear by 2050.

This report summarizes the results of a landscape-scale climate change vulnerability assessment of the Upper Gunnison Basin (above Blue Mesa Reservoir; referred to as Gunnison Basin in this report) to determine the relative vulnerability of 24 ecosystems and 73 species of conservation concern, using methods developed by Manomet Center for Conservation Science and NatureServe. The report also summarizes the results of a social vulnerability and resilience assessment of ranching and recreation sectors in the Basin.

Published On

Saturday, December 31, 2011


Target Climate Changes and Impacts: 
Air temperature
Habitat extent
Species of concern
Type of Adaptation Action/Strategy: 
Natural Resource Management / Conservation
Capacity Building
Conduct vulnerability assessments and studies
Climate Type: 
Sociopolitical Setting: