12-22-16 CLA: Fugitive Nitrogen

Over the past 10 years CLA has been actively involved in discussions surrounding nitrogen deposition in Rocky Mountain National Park. The stakeholder group has been working together to develop BMP’s for crop and livestock agriculture to mitigate the impact of nitrogen deposition.

Over the past 10 years CLA has been actively involved in discussions surrounding nitrogen deposition in Rocky Mountain National Park. The stakeholder group has been working together to develop BMP’s for crop and livestock agriculture to mitigate the impact of nitrogen deposition.

CLA: Fugitive Nitrogen

CLA - Colorado Livestock Association logoPerhaps nowhere is ammonia from livestock under greater scrutiny than along the Front Range of Colorado. Increased levels of atmospheric nitrogen deposition are having a negative impact on the ecology of Rocky Mountain National Park, a crown jewel of the National Park System. While studies suggest many different sources are contributing to nitrogen deposition in the park (e.g., urban, out of state sources), much attention has been directed to the beef feedlots and dairies that populate the plains just east of the mountains.

Once ammonia enters the atmosphere it can convert to an aerosol and travel long distances from the source. Most of this fugitive nitrogen is eventually deposited back to the ground when scavenged from the air by precipitation. Unfortunately, this unintentional nitrogen transport and fertilization is having a negative ecological impact on pristine ecosystems around the globe. Thus, it is not surprising that livestock ammonia is an area of growing public concern and regulatory debate.

Over the last 10 years Colorado Livestock Association has been actively involved with the issue of nitrogen deposition and recently engaged Dr. Jay Ham, a micrometeorology and environmental physics expert as the lead principle investigator for a pilot project known as the Early Warning System. In 2013, Colorado’s livestock and crop producers and researchers at Colorado State University, with funding from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the National Park Service, began developing a weather based “warning system” to inform crop and livestock producers of impending weather events that have a high likelihood of moving nitrogen emissions from eastern Colorado into RMNP. The goal of the Early Warning System is to study the effectiveness of the implementation of best management practices (BMPs) and their effect on reduction of nitrogen deposition in Rocky Mountain National Park. The warning system gives producers the opportunity to voluntarily apply certain conservation management practices to reduce ammonia during strategic times when they will be most beneficial.

Originally published in the 2016-2017 Colorado Livestock Association Vision Magazine and Member Directory. Contributed by Dr. Jay Ham, PhD, Colorado State University.

Colorado Livestock Association (CLA) was formed in 1998 through a restructuring of the then 43-year-old Colorado Cattle Feeders Association (CCFA). CLA members are cattle and sheep feeders, cow/calf producers, dairy farmers, swine operations, and industry partners. CLA works on behalf of its members in the regulatory and legislative arenas in Colorado. For more information about CLA visit www.coloradolivestock.org.