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The pollution comes from both near and distance sources. Nitrogen levels began to soar in Rocky Mountain National Park beginning about 1950, and they now increase 2 per cent annually.
Agriculture accounts for 21 per cent of the nitrogen, scientists say. The nitrogen comes from farms, where irrigation has rapidly increased in order to grow corn and alfalfa, which are fed to cattle in feedlots. Another 34 per cent of nitrogen emissions come from coal-fired power plants and other smokestack-type "point sources."
But the largest contributor of nitrogen compounds to the alpine tundra and subalpine forests are the cars and trucks from Colorados rapidly expanding population. The urbanized corridor from Denver northward has expanded by one million people during the last 20 years. Scientists say vehicle emissions are responsible for 45 per cent of the nitrogen.
But even if all these sources were cut in half, according to one state health official, problems would remain. "There are a lot of out-of-state sources that we need to factor into this California would be a good place to start to try to determine what our pollution would be like," said Douglas Benevento, executive director of the Colorado Department of Health.
If the problem continues to grow, researchers fear nitrogen pollution will mimic the effects of acid rain, which has killed forest and sterilized waterways in the eastern United States, central Europe, and Scandinavia. Among the most immediate effects on the alpine tundra would be loss of the diversity of wildflowers as they are replaced by grasses and sedges. On Niwot Ridge, an above-treeline area between Boulder and Granby, 40 per cent of the plant species are also found in the Arctic.
The National Park Service says it intends to push for more efforts to check sources of air pollution. If state officials dont comply, they say, they will use the stick of federal coercion. Still, environmental groups told the newspaper that the Park Service is moving too slowly.
Caribou declining rapidly
REVELSTOKE, B.C. A new census shows the woodland caribou in British Columbia may be declining more rapidly than was previously suspected. The caribou are a subspecies of mountain caribou.
A caribou expert, Bruce McLellan, told the Revelstoke Times Review that there is no single cause for the decline. One critical concern is that cougars and other predators have shifted from deer to caribou. Other causes include shifting weather patterns that have affected forage, habitat modification caused by logging, and increased recreation.
"I dont think its hopeless, but its not going to be easy." McLellan said. "There is no simple solution."