WCS Report Maps Out a Future that Protects Wildlife and Landscapes in Montana “Jewel”

(BOZEMAN - June 23, 2014) A new report from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) calls for completing the legacy of Wilderness lands on the Flathead National Forest in Montana. The report identifies important, secure habitats and landscape connections for five species—bull trout, westslope cutthroat trout, grizzly bears, wolverines, and mountain goats. These iconic species are vulnerable to loss of secure habitat from industrial land uses and/or climate change.

Located in northwest Montana adjacent to Glacier National Park, the 2.4 million-acre Flathead Forest is a strategic part of the stunning and ecologically diverse Crown of the Continent Ecosystem. From the 1930’s to the present, generations of citizens and government leaders have worked to protect this special area through designations of wilderness, wild and scenic rivers, and protection of critical wildlife habitat.

In his report, “Conservation Legacy on a Flagship Forest: Wildlife and Wild Lands on the Flathead National Forest, Montana,” WCS Senior Scientist Dr. John Weaver notes that these protections may not be enough in the face of looming challenges such as climate change.

For example, warmer winters will reduce mountain snow cover and suitable habitat for the rare wolverine - a species highly adapted to persistent snow pack. Reduced stream flow and warmer stream temperatures will diminish habitat for native westslope cutthroat trout and bull trout that are well adapted to cold waters - while favoring introduced rainbow trout and brook trout.

Weaver found that the Flathead is a stronghold for these fish and wildlife species that have been vanquished in much of their range further south. His analysis shows that 90 percent of the Flathead has a “very high” or “high” conservation value for at least one of the five focal species.

In his recommendations, Weaver employs a “smart strategy for resiliency” that protects and connects large landscapes that have high topographic and ecological diversity. Such a strategy will provide a range of options for animal movements as conditions change. Importantly, remaining roadless areas account for nearly 25 percent of the best habitats for these species. In particular, these higher-elevation areas will provide key options for such vulnerable species in a warmer future.

In total, Weaver recommends 404,208 acres of roadless area on the Flathead Forest for Congressional designation as National Wilderness, and another 130,705 areas be conserved in roadless condition as legislated “Backcountry Conservation.” Vital places with particular concentration of present and future habitat include the Whitefish Range adjacent to Glacier National Park and the Swan Range east of Flathead Lake.

“This report will help inform discussions and decisions about future management on the Flathead National Forest,” said Weaver. “These spectacular landscapes provide some of the best remaining strongholds for vulnerable fish and wildlife and headwater sources of clean water. These roadless refugia offer a rare opportunity to complete the legacy of protecting wildlife and wildlands on this crown jewel of the National Forest system for people today and generations yet to come.”

To download a copy of this report, please click here.

This important conservation assessment was generously supported by the LaSalle Adams Fund, Cross Charitable Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Wilburforce Foundation. The opinions expressed in the report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the supporters.

CONTACTS:
SCOTT SMITH: 1-718-220-3698, ssmith@wcs.org
JOHN WEAVER: 1-406-745-0169, jweaver@wcs.org


Wildlife Conservation Society
MISSION: WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature.
VISION: WCS envisions a world where wildlife thrives in healthy lands and seas, valued by societies that embrace and benefit from the diversity and integrity of life on earth. To achieve our mission, WCS, based at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its Global Conservation Program in more than 60 nations and in all the world’s oceans and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people annually. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos, and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission. Visit www.wcs.org and www.wcs-heal.org. Follow: @thewcs.

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