With its pristine peaks stretching toward the
sky, much of Montana’s Crown of the Continent
ecosystem has remained intact—uninterrupted
by development. WCS’s John Weaver recommends it stay that way. He says continuous wild areas are the way to go for this majestic place on the U.S.-Canada border.
Weaver is particularly concerned with the growing threat of climate change
adding to the pressures on North America’s last great wild places and its wildlife.
After four months spent exploring the
landscape on foot and on horseback, the senior conservationist developed a
strategy to aid the region’s wildlife in adapting to climate change. Gathering
data from 30 biologists and nearly 300 scientific studies, Weaver synthesized a
plan for 1.3 million acres of public land. Roads are not in the picture.
What is in his vision for the future? A
climate refuge for grizzly bears, wolverines, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, bull trout, and westslope
cutthroat trout. These species dwell within continuous wild areas that stretch
for 250-plus miles along the Rocky Mountains, from Montana’s Glacier National
Park and Bob Marshall Wilderness Area into Canada. Since the early twentieth
century, citizens, conservation groups and government representatives fought to
keep the region’s wild core intact.
“These visionary leaders left a great gift
and remarkable legacy,” said Weaver. “But new data and emerging threats like
climate change indicate it may not have been enough. There is a rare
opportunity now to complete the legacy of conservation for present and future
Weaver mapped out the areas essential to the
six species’ continued survival in the Crown. These included the animals’
current habitats, the places they would likely move to when the climate
changes, and the corridors they would pass through to get there.
Native bull trout, for example, require
colder water than other fish, especially for spawning and for young fry to
survive. With waters warming due to climate change, clear, cold, and
interconnected streams at higher elevations will serve as refuge for this
threatened species. On land in the high country, wolverines rely on snow for
denning and rearing their pups during spring. But milder winters would mean
“To help vulnerable fish and wildlife cope
with new challenges, we need to build upon existing protected areas and enhance
connectivity across diverse habitats,” said Weaver. “These conservation
actions would better protect year-round habitats for these vulnerable species,
safeguard genetic integrity, enhance connectivity between key areas, and
provide options for movement in response to climate change.”
In his report, Weaver ranks the region’s
remaining roadless areas. He recommends adding 888,000 acres (67 percent of the
roadless lands) to the National Wilderness system, which would better guarantee
their protection. He suggests managing another 310,000 acres (23 percent) as ‘backcountry’
for non-motorized recreation and conservation.
“The Crown of the Continent Ecosystem is one
of the great wild landscapes remaining in the world,” said Jodi Hilty, director
for WCS-North America Program. “We believe that Dr. Weaver’s unique synthesis
and comprehensive report will provide critical information for those discussing
and deciding the future of the Crown.”
For more information, see the press release.