The NPS Air Resources Division, Rocky Mountain National Park, and several federal, state, university, and agricultural partners received a State of Colorado environmental leadership award on October 2nd.
The award recognized partnership efforts to develop and pilot an early warning system to help protect the park from excess nitrogen deposition. The system is designed to advise Colorado agricultural producers when to voluntarily avoid high nitrogen-emitting activities, such as manure handling and crop fertilizing, during specific weather events that could readily transport nitrogen into the park.
The NPS is collaborating with Colorado agricultural producers to voluntarily reduce their ammonia emissions through use of science-based best management practices. The collaboration includes research, monitoring, outreach, and development of the early warning system.
Partners that also received the environmental leadership award for this system included the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, Colorado State University, Colorado Livestock Association, Colorado Corn Growers Association, and Colorado Wheat Growers Association.
Over 25 years of scientific research indicates that atmospheric nitrogen deposition in the park is approximately 15 times greater than the natural background deposition rate. Three-quarters of the park has high elevation ecosystems, including alpine tundra, that are especially susceptible to impacts from excess nitrogen deposited by rain or snow.
About half of the excess nitrogen comes from nitrogen oxides (NOx) emitted by fossil fuel use by automobiles and industry; the other half comes from sources of ammonia, the largest source category being agriculture.
Through a memorandum of understanding, the park, with assistance from its partners, developed and is working collaboratively to implement a 2007 nitrogen deposition reduction plan.
While the plan will also help improve park visibility and ozone conditions, its focus is to reduce the ecological impacts of excess nitrogen through reducing nitrogen deposition by approximately 50% (to 1.5 kg/ha/yr) over 25 years (by 2032). An effective early warning system may assist in achieving this long term goal and help to preserve and protect the park for future generations.