Arizona Wildlife Conservation Strategy

Subalpine Grasslands

Found at elevations above 8,500 feet, this high-elevation lush grassland habitat is dominated by perennial bunchgrasses, including Arizona fescue, timothy, mountain muhly, pine dropseed, black dropseed, and mountain brome. Forbs are also abundant with cinquefoil, paintbrush, harebells, yarrow, fleabane daisy, aster, and vetch among the most common species.

Subalpine grassland habitats see an average annual precipitation of 20-35 inches, with nearly 50% occurring during the summer monsoon season, which occurs July through September (Brown and Makings 2014). subalpine grasslands occur as small meadows or large open parks in relatively flat, high-elevation areas surrounded by conifers. In Arizona, only the White Mountains, Kaibab Plateau, and a few isolated areas in the sky islands in the southern reaches of the state have well developed subalpine grassland habitats. Some subalpine grasslands have been affected by livestock grazing, invasive species such as Kentucky bluegrass, or fire, which occurs less commonly. These pressures can lead to changes in the vegetative communities, in particular reductions in native bunchgrasses and increases in shrubs and woody plants in some areas (Coop and Givnish 2007).

Significant Habitat Features

The following describes habitat features or microhabitats that are unique to this habitat type and are of particular importance to certain species:

  • Ciénegas, springs, sinkholes, natural, and man-made shallow wetlands are important as they can provide important sources of water and feeding and nesting habitat for many species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians in an otherwise xeric environment. Some of these habitats include sinkhole ponds and wetlands on the Kaibab Plateau and southern edge of the Mogollon Rim, ciénegas in the White Mountains, and collapse depression lakes on the Chuska Mountains. These features are especially important for migratory stopover habitat for wading birds and waterfowl.

Strategy Species

The following list represents SGCN in this habitat type that AZGFD actively manages or are watching closely due to some level of concern:


Chiricahua Leopard Frog, Northern Leopard Frog


American Kestrel, Bald Eagle, Lincoln's Sparrow, Prairie Falcon, Savannah Sparrow, Sora, Virginia Rail


Allen's Lappet-browed Bat, Big Free-tailed Bat, Fringed Myotis, Greater Western Mastiff Bat, Hoary Bat, Mexican Gray Wolf, Spotted Bat

Sensitive Plant Species

The following list represents plant species that are known to occur in this habitat type:

Goodding onion, White Mountains paintbrush, Blumer's dock

Additional Influential Species

The following are other wildlife species, native and non-native, that can have particular influence in this habitat type. Influential species can affect SGCN and their habitats directly and indirectly, for example altering predator/prey interactions, overgrazing, outcompeting natives, creating microhabitats, and others.


Arizona Tiger Salamander


Merriam's Turkey


American Pronghorn, Arizona Myotis, American Bison, Coyote, Long-legged Myotis, Rocky Mountain Elk, Silver-haired Bat


Kaibab Indian Paintbrush


The following describes the primary threats facing this habitat type, adapted from Salafsky et al. (2008). First-level threats (i.e. Agriculture, Climate Change) represent broad categories while second-level threats reflect more specific stressors to the system. For detailed information on threats to this habitat type and conservation actions being taken, see Chapter 8: Threats and Conservation Actions.

1. Agriculture

1.3: Livestock farming and ranching
Agricultural practices (primarily livestock grazing) can adversely affect the subalpine grasslands through loss of plant cover, erosion, and conversion to non-native species.

3. Climate Change and Severe Weather

3.1: Habitat shifting and alteration
3.2: Droughts
3.3: Temperature extremes
Climate change is leading to warmer ambient temperatures which may exceed species’ temperature tolerances, causing local extirpations, or changing the distribution of less heat-tolerant species towards cooler climates. Climate change also results in altered precipitation patterns which alter hydrological regimes and affect species distribution.

6. Energy Production and Mining

6.3: Renewable energy
As the need for renewable energy sources increases, grassland habitats are the likely location for wind farm development. The impacts from wind development include loss of habitat from road construction, pad construction, and introduction of non-native species.

7. Human Intrusions and Disturbance

7.1: Recreational activities
Recreational activities, such as illegal OHV use, can damage habitats by altering or damaging vegetation. In upland areas, poorly-managed OHV use can cause erosion. These types of alterations can negatively affect species abundance and distributions.

8. Invasive and Other Problematic Species

8.1: Invasive non-native species
Invasive and problematic species, such as feral horses, can compete with native fauna, over-utilize native grassland species and cause habitat damage similar to livestock. This can alter the structure of these habitats making them less desirable or unusable to native species and change food availability for native species.

11. Transportation and Service Corridors

11.1: Roads and railroads
Transportation corridors through subalpine grasslands can be a direct threat to species. Vehicles traveling those roads can be a significant cause of mortality while also creating noise and visual disturbance which alters wildlife behavior. Road construction and maintenance may result in the direct loss of habitat and disrupt migration corridors.

Conservation Actions

The following describes specific conservation actions that can be taken to reduce or eliminate threats to this habitat type, adapted from Salafsky et al. (2008). Level 1 conservation actions (i.e. Land and Water Protection) represent broad categories of potential actions, while the Level 2 conservation actions (i.e. Resource and habitat protection) are more specific.

2. Land and Water Management

2.2: Invasive/problematic species control
2.3: Habitat and natural process restoration
  • Remove non-native, undesirable, and/or invasive species. Monitor the success of removal efforts. (Threats 5, 8.1)
  • Implement projects focused on improving the quality of altered habitats and/or habitat features that are not degraded by livestock grazing. (Threat 1.3)

3. Species Management

3.1: Management of specific species of concern
3.3: Species reintroduction
3.4: Ex situ conservation
  • Develop and implement projects for repatriation of wildlife populations that are currently unsustainable or extirpated, or to improve genetic resilience throughout their historical range (including refuge populations). (Threats 1.3, 3.1, 5, 7.1, 8.2, 9.1)
  • Establish and maintain captive populations and provide progeny to meet conservation needs. (Threats 1.3, 3.1, 5, 7.1, 8.2, 9.1)

4. Education and Awareness

4.3: Awareness and communication
  • Increase education and outreach efforts and partner with NGOs and OHV user groups to reduce damage to sensitive habitats through recreational use. (Threat 7.1)

7. External Capacity Building

7.2: Alliance and partnership development
  • Collaborate with partners across different geographies (e.g., statewide, regional, national, and international) to develop and implement management plans, conservation agreements, recovery actions, research, and to determine the effectiveness of specific management efforts. (Threats 1.3, 3.1, 3.2, 9.1)

Conservation in the Context of Climate Change

The following describes some of the conservation strategies that may mitigate the effects of a changing climate for this habitat type. Strategies have been adapted from guidelines by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA 2009).

  • Conserve a variety of habitats that support healthy populations of fish and wildlife as climate changes.

  • Identify and improve the connectivity of natural landscapes to better link wildlife populations and allow for range shifts.

  • Conduct research targeting species and habitat types likely to be vulnerable to climate change impacts.

  • Restore and/or improve diverse habitats to support a broad range of species assemblages that account for range shifts.

  • Implement long-term monitoring protocols for vulnerable species and habitats to inform adaptive management.

Other Conservation Actions

The following describe other routine or on-going conservation actions AZGFD regularly performs in this habitat type:

  • Conduct surveys and monitor populations of SGCN as specified in work plans and job statements.
  • Survey the influential species (when there is survey and management direction and protocols) within the subalpine grasslands to minimize negative impacts to habitat and associated species.
  • Fund or work with partners to conduct conservation-related species research.
  • Manage recreational activities and OHV use of grassland habitat to minimize negative impacts to habitat and associated species.
  • Collect specimens or samples for taxonomic analysis, genetics, research, and/or disease testing.

Conservation Opportunity Areas (COAs)

The following represents identified COAs where conservation efforts would benefit wildlife and their habitats.

Potential Partnerships

The following is a list of the organizations and agencies that AZGFD regularly partners with on conservation efforts in this habitat type:

Important Conservation Resources

The following are relevant conservation agreements, plans, and other documents or particular interest regarding wildlife in this habitat type: