North America Program
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Northern Rockies

From the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem on the south to the Crown of the Continent on the north to the Salmon-Selway Ecosystem on the west, the northern Rockies is home to an amazing variety of native species including grizzly bears, wolverines, gray wolves, elk, moose, pronghorn, trumpeter swans, Greater sage grouse and cutthroat trout. Moreover, this region provides room for large-scale ecological processes such as fire, flood, long-distance migration and predator-prey interactions to fully function and revitalize the ecological health of the northern Rockies.

The goal of the WCS Northern Rockies Program is to safeguard the ecological integrity and resilience of the northern Rockies by conserving and interlinking populations of species native to the region, and securing an abundance, variety and quality of wild lands and wild waters. To do so, WCS is conducting scientifically rigorous field research to provide accurate and reliable information to help assess the ecological health of the region, identifying threats to this health, and helping to develop and implement effective, practical conservation actions in consort with a wide-range of partners to ensure a robust future for the wildlife and wild lands of the northern Rockies.

WCS has a long and successful history of wildlife conservation in this region. In the early 20th century, at a time when fewer than two dozen wild bison remained in Yellowstone National Park, WCS founded the American Bison Society to save bison from extinction. Through a dedicated effort of captive breeding of pure bison and working to establish refuges and reintroduce bison to reserves in South Dakota, Montana, and Oklahoma, WCS helped bring this iconic species back from the brink of extinction. As early as the 1920s, WCS campaigned to protect grizzly bears and wolves. Throughout the 1950s - 60s, WCS owned and operated the Jackson Hole Research Station and supported the groundbreaking research of John and Frank Craighead to conserve grizzly bears in the region including and surrounding Yellowstone National Park (the region the Craighead brothers termed the ‘Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’). More recently, WCS successfully campaigned to create the first federally designated wildlife migration corridor, known as the Path of Pronghorn, between Grand Teton National Park and the Upper Green River Valley on Wyoming.

Northern Rockies Program Map


Today, WCS conservation scientists are working in every corner of this landscape to gather vital information on the natural history and biology of sensitive species like wolverine and sage-grouse, identify crucial wildlife habitat and habitat linkage zones and develop effective conservation strategies that ensure a robust future for the wildlife and wild lands of the Northern Rockies.

Conservation Challenges

Climate change, energy development, human-wildlife conflict, and exurban development (also called “rural sprawl”) are increasingly altering this wild region. The future of the landscape and the incredible array of plant and animal species it supports depends on continued conservation efforts and devising creative ways to help people and wildlife coexist.

Conservation Approach

Today, as in the past, WCS’ approach to conservation is to identify priority issues and information needs, to place scientists in the field to obtain answers to pressing conservation questions, and to work cooperatively with the public and private sector, especially local communities, to craft solutions that will help the Yellowstone Rockies remain a lasting symbol of wildlife and wild places.

To save the wilds of the Yellowstone Rockies, WCS is working to:

  • Protect sensitive species, populations and ecological communities;
  • Conserve and interconnect crucial habitats; and,
  • Safeguard vital ecological processes.

Activities

Northern Rockies Aquatic Conservation Project

Wild waters and native aquatic species are fundamental to the ecological health of the northern Rockies. Since coldwater aquatic habitats are the primary freshwater habitats available within the northern Rockies region, WCS is focusing efforts to conserve these habitats and native coldwater species such as cutthroat trout, bull trout, redband trout, arctic grayling, and white sturgeon. Climate change will likely have a major impact on these coldwater habitats as all predictions suggest a warming climate that will warm waters and change flow regimes. Many other anthropogenic activities also threaten native coldwater communities in this region, including introduction and invasion on nonnative aquatic species, human population expansion, agriculture and timber practices, water use, and energy development. To improve understanding on impacts of climate change and other stresses on coldwater habitats and aquatic species, WCS is conducting long-term aquatic conservation research across the northern Rockies. With this information, WCS is building conservation partnerships with state and federal agencies, conservation non-profits, and private landowners to improve coldwater habitat and species management.

Crown of the Continent

The remaining roadless areas surrounding Glacier National Park and wilderness areas in the Montana section of the Crown of the Continent ecoregion are continually jeopardized by industrial development. The next few years, however, present a window of opportunity to decide whether or not these landscapes are allocated to resource extraction or preserved for future generations. WCS is undertaking research in this region to assess the ecological importance of these remaining roadless areas for a special group of fish and wildlife species. Focused on grizzly bears, wolverines, lynx, elk, mountain goats, bull trout, and westslope cutthroat trout, we are examining the species distribution and relative abundance, while taking a closer look at the effects of climate change, species’ movements and connectivity relative to other wilderness/park lands. The results of the study will ideally prompt more protected wilderness lands to harbor these vulnerable fish and wildlife. Read More >>

High Divide Corridor - Montana and Idaho

The ‘High Divide’ is a broad region of small mountain ranges, valleys, and sagebrush steppe between the GYE and the large ecosystems of the northern Rockies – the Salmon-Selway of central Idaho and Crown of the Continent in northern Montana. Using field research, state-of-the-art GIS analysis, and cooperative actions with a wide range of public and private land stakeholders, WCS is working to protect and interlink crucial habitats with wildlife corridors across the High Divide. These wildlife corridors will provide the resources and security wildlife need to move to and from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Read More >>

Pronghorn Field Program

For almost 6,000 years, pronghorn have made yearly migrations between their summer range in Grand Teton National Park and their winter range in the Upper Green River Valley in western Wyoming. Their migration corridor, the Path of the Pronghorn, is one of the longest large mammal migration corridors remaining in North America, and the longest left in the GYE. WCS is leading the effort to secure recognition and permanent protection for this fragile migration route. Using field-based research, outreach and cooperative actions to inform and change land-use policies and practices, we are working to ensure that pronghorn will be able to make this spectacular migration for another 6,000 years. Read More >>

Sagebrush Steppe Conservation Project

Greater sage grouse, pygmy rabbits, and many other species depend upon healthy sagebrush steppe habitat for survival. Extensively degraded by over-grazing, fire, and conversion to agricultural production, sagebrush steppe is one of the most threatened habitat types in the northern Rockies. To protect sagebrush obligate species, WCS is working to improve sagebrush steppe conservation by conducting research on one of the best remaining examples of intact sagebrush steppe on the grounds of the Idaho National Laboratory, and using what we are learning to improve sagebrush steppe and sagebrush obligate species management. Read More >>

Wolverine Program

Wolverines may be fierce and fearless but they are also vulnerable to warming climate, habitat loss and loss of connectivity. To help save these remarkable animals, WCS is engaged in a long-term study and conservation effort. Before 2001 when WCS initiated our intensive, long-term study and conservation actions, little was known about the wolverines in the Lower 48. Lack of reliable information on such basics as population size, reproductive rate, threat types and severity, and habitat and habitat connectivity needs, was hindering conservation efforts. As WCS continues our research, we are using what we’re learning to improve wolverine habitat management, secure wolverine corridors and develop climate change adaptation strategies. Read More >>

Recent Publications

All Yellowstone and Northern Rockies Publications >>

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Contact

WCS North America Program
301 North Willson Avenue Bozeman, MT, 59715 USA
(406) 522-9333

Key Staff

Jeff Burrell
Northern Rockies Program Coordinator
All Yellowstone and Northern Rockies Staff >>