Nitrogen Pollution from Denver Area Threatens Rocky Mountain National Park

The National Park Service believes that pollution from Denver and its suburbs is taking a toll on the fragile ecosystems of nearby Rocky Mountain National Park. If left unchecked, ecologists worry that effects similar to those of acid rain will wreak havoc on the park’s alpine environments.

After two decades of research, Park Service officials believe that nitrogen compounds from regional automobile, power plant and agricultural emissions are acidifying waters and soils at higher elevations.

According to Christine Shaver, chief of the Park Service’s air resources division, nitrogen deposition has reached a “critical load” in Rocky Mountain National Park. “When the fish are floating belly up, it’s too late,” says Shaver. “We want to find some way to see if we can halt or reverse the harm we’re seeing now, before it gets to that point.”

The Park Service has begun working with Colorado state health officials on solving the problem. One solution floated by Park Service officials would be for the state to mandate reductions in nitrogen emissions similar to mandates already in place for emissions of ground-level ozone.

“It is our responsibility—under our own statutory mandates—to preserve our resources unimpaired for future generations,” Shaver concludes.

Meanwhile, state officials better act quickly: nitrogen levels, which began to surge in the 1950s, are still on the rise today.