critical habitat for animals that need room to roam. John Weaver, senior scientist for the Wildlife Conservation Society, has found seventeen carnivore species here, a number unmatched elsewhere in North America, including in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and Alaska. According to Weaver, the Crown of the Continent matters for three principal reasons. First, because of its large, intact wildlands that provide habitat security for carnivores compared to other ecosystems with greater human development. Second, because of its connection to northern ecosystems with abundant large carnivores. Third, because of its physical and biological diversity. The Crown of the Continent has four climatic influences: Pacific Maritime in the west, prairie in the east, boreal in the north, and Great Basin in the southwest. Coupled with a tremendous range of elevation from prairie to peak, these influences support a variety of ecological communities, from shortgrass prairie to old-growth rainforest. Within this ecosystem, rivers have incised narrow, fertile valleys, which represent the last bastions of wildness, where a grizzly bear can travel easily, finding abundant food and little trace of humanity. I live in one of these valleys, in a place where the large carnivore population outnumbers the human population. Yet much is at stake, even in a place as wild as this. For example, some of these animals are having their travel corridors cut off by logging, natural gas extraction, and backcountry recreation (e.g., use of snowmobiles).
Lynx using a wildlife overpass over Highway 1 in Banff national Park Photo credit: Anthony Clevenger.Today, Yellowstone to Yukon (Y2Y), Crown Managers Partnership, Wildlands Network, Headwaters Montana, and other organizations are helping keep the Crown of the Continent wild and connected. In the weeks to come I will be posting stories about some of their efforts, which include wildlife overpasses that enable grizzly bears, wolverines, lynx, and wolves to cross busy highways safely, and epic treks by conservation leaders Karsten Heuer in the 1990s and Island Press author John Davis in 2013. To learn more about the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem and the importance of keeping it wild and connected, I recommend John Weaver’s Wildlife Conservation Society reports and the recently published book, Crown of the Continent: The Wildest Rockies by Steven Gnam, which contains Gnam’s evocative photographs and essays by Douglas Chadwick and Michael Jameson.