Montana Valley And Foothill Grasslands
The Montana Valley and Foothill grasslands are an ecoregion of northwestern North America within the northern United States and Canada.
This area is made up of rolling grassy hills and river valleys of the Rocky Mountains foothills within the US state of Montana and the Canadian province of Alberta. The area largely consists of the Rocky Mountain Front, where the Great Plains rise to meet with the Rockies, and is therefore close to the Continental Divide. The foothills are drained by the upper Missouri River and the Clark Fork/Bitterroot River systems among others. The ecoregion contains outlying disconnected regions of similar habitat as well, such as valleys of the Bow River in Alberta. The area has a moderate climate, warmed by the Chinook wind which provides dry, warm summers and winters that are quite mild for this latitude.
While the dominant vegetation are grasses such as rough fescue with Parry’s oatgrass and Koeleria, the foothills are rich with plant life with, for example, 487 species of plant that was counted in southwest Montana’s Centennial Valley. The ecoregion contains sagebrush country as well in the higher and drier valleys in the rain shadow of the Rockies such as the upper Madison, Ruby and Red Rock Rivers, which have a habitat much like that of the neighboring Snake-Columbia shrub steppe egoregion. Finally, the ecoregion contains parts of the Prairie Pothole Region, large regions of wetland and rich grass on the Rocky Mountain Front steppe. Traditionally, the grassland was reduced and then renewed by a combination of ungulates and regular fires and of heavy grazing by bison.
The usual wildlife of this area includes the large herds of American bison, elk and bighorn sheep that were observed during the Lewis and Clark Expedition in the early 19th century but which now remain in small numbers. Another iconic mammal that is found here are the grizzly bears, which come down from the sides of the mountains to forage for food in the rich habitats of grasslands and rivers. This is the last remaining area in the United States where grizzlies come down towards the Great Plains. Other mammals of the valleys include wolves, mule deer, mountain lions, pronghorn, ground squirrels and White-tailed deer. Birds that are spotted in the Centennial Valley include grouse, trumpeter swan and sandhill crane.
Image Caption: Five bison part of a larger herd lying down on a grassy slope at the National Bison Range in Moiese, Montana. Credit: Jesse Achtenberg, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Wikipedia