Elements are defined as a biodiversity unit worthy of conservation attention and action for which a Heritage Conservation Status Rank is assigned. These are typically recognized as individual species and ecological communities. An Element Occurrence (EO) is defined as a specific example of an Element at a geographic location characterized by a habitat capable of sustaining or contributing to the survival of the species, or by a landscape that supports the ecological integrity of the biological community.

The classification scheme that CNHP uses to track rare species and natural communities is a standardized ranking system that allows the CNHP and other organizations to target the most at risk species and ecosystems for inventory, protection, research, and management. Species and ecosystems are ranked on the Global (G), National (N), and State (S) levels.

The basic ranks used to classify species and ecosystems are: 1 = Critically Imperiled 2 = Imperiled 3 = Vulnerable to Extirpation 4 = Apparently Secure 5 = Demonstrably Widespread, Abundant, and Secure This map shows the general locations where globally rare species and natural communities have been identified throughout the heritage area. Due to the sensitive nature of these data, actual species and natural community locations have been generalized to 7.5-minute USGS quadrangles. As can be inferred from this map, the rarest species and habitats are found in and around the Great Sand Dunes National Park, the San Luis Lakes area, the Baca NWR, the Alamosa NWR, the Monte Vista NWR, the Blanca Wetlands, the Sangre de Cristo National Forest, the Rio Grande, Sangre de Cristo Creek, Medano Creek, Alamosa River, and Conejos River.