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As part of WildEarth Guardians’ continued focus on the Spine of the Continent, the Wild Places Program has broadened its reach to include the Northern Rockies. Bridging the Continental Divide is a public lands campaign in southwest Montana and surrounding areas to protect and restore wildlife habitat, water quality and fisheries. The main goal is to improve habitat connectivity and increase ecological integrity by reducing habitat fragmentation and degradation resulting from Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management activities. The campaign includes two landscapes: The Greater High Divide and the Bitterroot – Sapphire Country.
The Greater High Divide
This part of the Northern Rockies includes a diverse array of habitats ranging from vast sagebrush steppe in wide open valley bottoms all the way to high elevation lodgepole pine forests. Of course it also includes the Continental Divide traversing several mountain ranges.
The landscape is crucial for wildlife migration, linking the Greater Yellowstone, the Crown of the Continent and the Central Idaho Ecosystems. These biological linkages are crucial for grizzly bear and wolverine survival and expansion. The area is home to an unparalleled diversity of wildlife including lynx, fisher, mountain goat, big horn sheep, elk, moose and wolves; key fish species includes bull trout, arctic grayling and Westslope cutthroat trout.
Key Mountain Ranges and River Valleys
As the name suggests, Bridging the Continental Divide focuses on linking ecosystems, which is why it also includes the Bitterroot, Sapphire and John Long Mountains, all of which are north and west of the Greater High Divide. The Bitterroots follow the Idaho/Montana border, and includes the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness just north of the Frank-Church River of No Return Wilderness. The Sapphires and John Long are rolling, gentle mountains and have a history of logging, mining and road building but also contain key wildlife corridors for wolverine and habitat for mountain goat and bighorn sheep. This area includes Rock Creek, a famous blue-ribbon trout stream, and the Welcome Creek Wilderness.
The Bitterroots have long been considered an ideal location for grizzly bear reintroduction, and along the southern Idaho/Montana border there are significant cultural and recreational values with the presence of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail and the Nez-Perce National Historic Trail.
In short, the Greater High Divide Ecosystem and the Bitterroot-Sapphire Country contains some of the wildest and imperiled country in the Northern Rockies.
- High road and motorized route densities
- Winter motorized use in key biological linkage zones
- Spread of invasive, non-native species
- Degradation of important habitats for lynx, wolverine, grizzly bear, elk, mountain goat and big horn sheep.
- Degradation of riparian and aquatic habitats
The Bridging the Continental Divide Campaign will work to address
these threats by focusing on key issues and engaging in opportunities to
protect crucial wildlife habitat.
Top opportunities include:
- Leading travel management efforts to reduce the road system and protect habitats from motorized use;
- Advocating for the listing of wolverine under the Endangered Species Act and the designation of critical habitat to ensure full protecting of denning habitat;
- Promoting a connected and protected Continental Divide National Scenic Trail;
- Working to ensure projects do not lead to further habitat fragmentation and degradation from management activities for key species (lynx, grizzly bear); and
- Engaging in collaborative efforts to promote sound ecological restoration focusing on increasing habitat connectivity for key terrestrial species, and increasing water quality and fish passage.
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