North America Program
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High Divide - Montana and Idaho

The Northern Rockies landscape is anchored by three large, relatively intact and relatively protected ecosystems: Greater Yellowstone on the south, Crown of the Continent on the north, and Salmon-Selway on the on the west. As important and impressive as each of these ecosystems is separately, it is only together with the intervening public and private lands that the true conservation value of the northern Rockies is realized. It is only at this scale that grizzly bears, wolverines, lynx, cutthroat trout, golden eagles and a myriad of other native species have room and resources required to maintain viable and genetically healthy populations. The ‘High Divide’ is a broad and crucial region of small mountain ranges, valleys, and sagebrush steppe across which the large ecosystems of the northern Rockies must be interconnected to conserve species native to the northern Rockies.  

Goals

WCS is using field research, state-of-the-art GIS analysis, and cooperative actions with a wide range of public and private land stakeholders to protect and interlink crucial habitats with wildlife corridors across the High Divide. We are also working to:

  • Employ WCS’ renowned scientific expertise and the latest in GIS spatial analysis to identify and assess threats to crucial wildlife corridors.
  • Influence federal, state, and county policies and legislation to ensure that policy, incentives and funding support wildlife corridor conservation.
  • Work with county and city governments to plan growth in ways to protect wildlife habitat and corridors.
  • Work with government transportation agencies to ensure safe passage of wildlife across busy highways, railroads and other transportation infrastructure.
  • Assist private landowners to conserve wildlife corridors across their property.
  • Work with communities, private landowners, business owners, hunters and hikers to avoid and resolve human-wildlife conflicts.

Activities

Carnivore Connectivity and Wildlife Conflict Resolution

As roads and rural sprawl increase so does grizzly bear mortality. Only a small percentage of the mortality increase results from vehicle collisions however as overwhelmingly increased mortality is the result of human-bear conflict. To forestall a pattern of increasing human-bear conflict and the likelihood of resulting bear mortality, WCS, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, and Caribou-Targhee National Forest have joined in formal partnership to employ a carnivore conservation specialist tasked with reducing conflict through a combination of education, outreach, promotion of the use of bear-proof canisters, and working with the Interagency Grizzly Bear Team. In 2010,while other portions of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem witnessed one of the worst years of human‐grizzly bear conflict, thanks in part to the joint WCS‐IDFG‐USFS conflict outreach efforts, no human or bear mortalities occurred in the region where we are working.

Maintaining Wildlife on Private Lands

In Southwest Montana and Central Idaho the wide open spaces, and wildlife habitat are undergoing dramatic changes. The private lands in the valleys of the High Divide provide critical connectivity for wide-ranging species such as grizzly bear and wolf. Yet as carnivores move through the rich landscape, they can come into conflict with livestock holders. WCS is integrating, socio-economic data with wildlife and land-use planning concerns to help communities make informed decisions to protect their livelihoods and quality of life while also protecting wildlife habitat. Read More >>

Conserving Water and Wildlife as Climate Changes in the Northern Rockies

To ensure the resilience of wildlife and wild places as climate changes, WCS is facilitating climate change planning efforts with managers and private landowners. As part of this effort, WCS is conducting scientific assessments of range shifts, possible changes in water regimes, and wildlife needs, and is conducting educational outreach on how climate change will impact wolverine and grizzly bears. As an innovative step to see how natural systems can retain surface water and preserve stream flows, WCS is examining the role of beavers in maintaining wetlands and riparian zones during drought conditions, which are expected to increase in this region.

Safe Passages for Moose and Motorists

WCS, in partnership with the Idaho Department of Transportation and the Idaho Fish & Game, is collaborating on a three-year project to identify where, when, and under what circumstances moose and elk are being struck by vehicles on U.S. Route 20. The study will inform whether and how the road is affecting ungulates’ ability to move through the landscape to find seasonal habitats and breeding grounds.

Accomplishments

  • WCS conducted the only field-based, scientifically rigorous assessment of threats to carnivore movement along the Centennial Range wildlife corridor. As a result, the BLM has closed 40% of the roads on lands under their jurisdiction along the Centennials Mountains to protect carnivore habitat connectivity identified by the WCS Centennial Carnivore Corridor project. 
  • WCS science identified crucial corridors for wolverines and bears across the High Divide.
  • WCS provided site-specific science in this region to aid Fremont County, Idaho to prepare a comprehensive growth and subdivision plan that considers the importance of protecting biodiversity and wildlife migration corridors. 
  • The WCS Madison Valley Conservation Assessment is being used by the Madison County, Montana planning board to limit rural residential sprawl in one of the most ecologically intact valleys in Greater Yellowstone. It has also become a model adopted by the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

Latest 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 >>

Partners Include

Greater Yellowstone Coalition
Big Hole Watershed Committee