Working To Preserve The Biodiversity Of Flathead National Forest
April Flowers for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
In far northwest Montana, the Flathead National Forest lies in the heart of the Rocky Mountains just south of the Canadian border. Lynx, grizzly bear and bull trout find their homes in one of the three wilderness areas of the park, which is adjacent to Glacier National Park. Those three compartmentalized wilderness areas are the subject of a new study from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
The study, from WCS Senior Scientist Dr. John Weaver, calls for completing the legacy of Wilderness lands in the park.
The report outlines secure habitats and landscape connections for five iconic species that are vulnerable to loss of habitat from industrial land uses and/or climate change — bull trout, westslope cutthroat trout, grizzly bears, wolverines, and mountain goats. The 2.4-million-acre Forest is an integral piece of the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem, which is both stunning visually and vital in its ecological diversity. Generations of citizens and government leaders have worked since the 1930s to protect this special region through designations of wilderness, wild and scenic rivers, and protection of critical wildlife habitat.
Dr. Weaver cautions that the protections already in place may not be enough to combat the coming challenges such as climate change.
The predicted warmer winters to come will reduce the volume of mountain snow cover and suitable habitat for the rare wolverines, which are highly adapted to persistent snow pack. Other climate change effects will include reduced stream flow and warmer stream temperatures. These conditions will endanger the habitat for native westslope cutthroat trout and bull trout that are well adapted to cold waters — while favoring introduced rainbow trout and brook trout.
The Flathead Forest is a stronghold for these five focal species, which have lost most of their historical range farther south. Weaver’s results reveal that 90 percent of the Forest has a “high” or “very high” conservation value for at least one of the species.
He suggests what he calls a “smart strategy for resiliency.” This strategy protects and connects large wilderness fragments that have high topographic and ecological diversity to provide a range of options for animal movements as climate conditions change. Nearly 25 percent of the best habitats for these species are roadless areas within Flathead that will provide key options for such vulnerable species in a warmer future.
The study suggests that an additional 404,208 acres within the Flathead Forest be designated by Congress as National Wilderness, along with another 130,705 acres to be maintained in their current roadless condition. These acres would be legislated as “Backcountry Conservation.” Specifically, Weaver wants to protect such vital areas as the Whitefish Range adjacent to Glacier National Park and the Swan Range east of Flathead Lake.
“This report will help inform discussions and decisions about future management on the Flathead National Forest,” said Weaver. “These spectacular landscapes provide some of the best remaining strongholds for vulnerable fish and wildlife and headwater sources of clean water. These roadless refugia offer a rare opportunity to complete the legacy of protecting wildlife and wildlands on this crown jewel of the National Forest system for people today and generations yet to come.”