written by: Finn Orfano•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 6/27/2011
The Montana Rocky Mountains invite visitors, new residents and commercial interests year-round. As development becomes more aggressive, the Montana Rockies frontier is shrinking. Loss of land, environmental impact, and critical loss of habitat call for immediate attention.
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Regions Under Seige
It impossible to list every threatened region in Montana, nor every wildlife habitat at stake as Montana's stunning wilderness beckons developers and settlers from around the United States. A few examples highlight Montana's challenges to preserve and defend its stretch of the Rocky Mountains. Wild places and wildlife on the Rocky Mountain Front and Glacier National Park are in danger. The Nature Conservancy describes the Rocky Mountain Front, which runs through Montana as an "ecosystem [with] some of the greatest biological diversity in the lower forty-eight states." (See Resources, Nature Conservancy) Canadian drilling enterprises threaten Glacier National Park and nearby Flathead River. (See Resources, NPCA) If oil and gas development goes forward in Canada, it would invade with roads, loss of habitat and introduction of non-native plant species.
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Most of the wild and plant life Lewis and Clark mapped in the now, Montana Rockies have survived, with the exception of wild buffalo. Grizzlies, wolves,cougars, moose and elk are some of the animals indigenous and free ranging along the Rocky Mountain Front. In addition to wildlife, the Rocky Mountain Front is an alpine habitat supporting rare plants, "including two species that occur nowhere else on earth."(See Resources, Nature Conservancy) What will the next two hundred years, even the next twenty years, hold for these and so many other life forms in the region? Threats to habitat press on.
Male grizzly bears, for example, range up to 250 miles. Meanwhile ranchers struggle in tough economic times. If Montana ranchers begin to sell of their lands in parcels to developers, subdivisions will create a sudden and dangerous conflict between human beings and grizzly bears. The raw power of the grizzly will never win against human interlopers. Look to the south, to the Colorado Rockies. Development along the Front Range and the Western Slope is unabated. Bears, mountain lions and coyotes are in conflict with residents in subdivisions on a weekly basis. The animals are either displaced beyond the reaches of their young or they are euthanized.
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Glacier National Park is threatened by more than controversial Canadian drilling. According to a March 2, 2009 article in National Geographic News, aerial surveys and photography show that the life-supporting glaciers in the park will be gone by 2020--ten years earlier than originally estimated. Glacier National Park's receding glaciers join melting non-polar glaciers in the Andes, and the Himalaya. (See Resources, National Geographic News) According to a NPCA Center for State of the Parks Report, Glacier Bay's waters, mountains, and tidewater glaciers are among habitat areas are homes to great numbers of species. Bald eagles, brown bears, humpback whales and king salmon are among wildlife populating Glacier Bay. Daniel Fagre, a U.S. Geological Survey ecologist is concerned for plant life at the boundaries of glaciers. The impact on plant and wildlife habitat is complex. Initially, retreating glaciers will expose create more plant growth. However, unabated plant life threatens water supplies down hill. Glacier-fed streams will dry up. That is certain doom for all creatures relying on streams for life.
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Education and action are keys to change. The following organizations are committed to protecting the stretch of Rocky Mountains gracing Montana. Most offer opportunities to participate in calls to action. When the public puts pressure on government, often government responds. Without grassroots involvement, the only change will be habitat devastation and its dire ripples throughout the Rocky Mountain ecosystem.