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Animals on the Move

Local Voices
The Crown of the Continent is a stronghold for grizzly bears and other large animals, largely because vast wilderness areas have been protetected and wildlife is able to move across large landscapes. – Chris Servheen, courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Grizzly bears, wolverines, lynx, wolves, elk and mountain goats are among the critters that move freely across human borders and jurisdictions. Their ability to do so explains why the Crown of the Continent is one of the richest natural ecosystems in the temperate zones of the world.

The transboundary region is home to the healthiest population of grizzly bears in North America aside from those lucky bruins who live along salmon-bearing rivers of Alaska and British Columbia.

“When someone asks us what our grizzly bear population is, we tell them we don’t have one. We share them with our neighbors," says Cyndi Smith, a conservation biologist for Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta. "The average home range of an individual grizzly bear is larger than this park. Bears and most large mammals need a variety of food sources during the year. The fact that they move freely across borders is why this is one of the few places where grizzly bears survive.”

This is also a great place to watch other rare wildlife. “There is no better place in the world to view a wolverine than Glacier National Park, especially along the Highline Trail," says Jeff Copeland, a Forest Service biologist who is a foremost expert on this elusive member of the weasel family. "They thrive here because there are great sub-alpine habitat and so many prey species, such as mountain goats, marmots, and squirrels.”

Freedom to roam for big mammals—lynx, wolves, bighorn sheep, moose, and elk—brings you great wildlife viewing. Underwater, native bull trout and cutthroat swim up to 100 miles (161 kilometers) between lakes and mountain brooks to spawn.

The Crown of the Continent provides outstanding habitat for a great diversity of healthy wildlife populations, including wide-ranging species not found in such abundance elsewhere. This is largely due to the sheer diversity of ecological zones and climatic regions, plus the foresighted protection long ago of vast tracts of parks and wilderness. Relatively low human densities, fairly high human appreciation and tolerance for wildlife, and the ability of animals to move across valleys and ownerships have enhanced the abilities of animals to survive and thrive.

The four top challenges to wide-ranging animals on the move include:

  1. Residential encroachment on key habitats that currently are managed as working forests and ranches.

  2. Increased use and expansion of transportation corridors, especially Highway 2 in Montana and Highway 3 in British Columbia and Alberta, and associated real estate development.

  3. Expanded conversion of traditional land uses for industrial purposes, in particular, oil and gas drilling, coalbed methane development, and open-pit coal mining.

  4. Overlaying all of the region's habitat issues is global warming, which may require plants and animals to move or adapt to changing habitat conditions. At the broad scale, the Crown of the Continent may be big enough, connected enough, and intact enough to allow species to shift habitats with changing climatic conditions. However, that assumes that the other three major factors don't block the passage of animals on the move.

Background Links

Citizens, groups and government agencies are working together to maintain a connected ecosystem for animals. One example is the creation of an effective wildlife underpass below Highway 2 in Glacier National Park east of Essex. Mountain goats and other wildlife use this crossing west of Essex.

On the Flathead Reservation, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have worked with the Montana Department of Transportation have reconstructed Highway 93 with crossing structures for wildlife ranging from grizzly bears and deer to turtles and frogs.

In the Crowsnest Pass area of Alberta, citizens are working with the University of Calgary on a program called Road Watch in the Pass. This program allows you to report sightings of wildlife crossing Highway 3. The goal of this project is to collect, analyze and communicate information highlighting crossing locations of wildlife along the highway based on local knowledge and observations. This is intended to help the transportation and land-use planners develop plans that are wildlife-friendly.