Healthy Ecosystems, Prosperous Communities
Protect Iconic Species
Wild bison were driven to the brink of extinction with the arrival of Europeans to the American West. By 1889, the wholesale slaughter of this iconic species had lowered the population from 30 million to just 3251 shaggy individuals, including 25 in Yellowstone National Park. Most of the 500,000 bison in North America today are crossbred with cattle and fewer than 5,000 bison roam free2 – almost all of which can be found within the areas protected by NREPA.
Woodland caribou are also at dangerously low numbers. Once numbering in the thousands, these populations are shrinking faster than they can reproduce due to habitat loss. At the end of 2015, it was estimated that less than 14 individuals remained in the South Selkirk Mountains herd, which ranges between northeast Washington, northwest Idaho, and southeast British Columbia. Two caribou species went extinct in the early 1900s due to overhunting and habitat loss3, and we risk losing another if we don’t act. Major highways and human development already isolate the remaining herds, but the NREPA could prevent further fragmentation of their native range and give this species a chance at survival.
Endangered & Threatened Species
There are countless other endangered and threatened species within the areas that will be protected by NREPA. Canada lynx stalk snowshoe hares in the winter, and wolverines den in deep mountain snow. The Kootenai River white sturgeon and bull trout find sanctuary in the clear, cold waters of the Columbia and Snake Rivers, which also serve as the breeding grounds of the yellow-billed western cuckoo. NREPA is our chance to save entire ecosystems and the iconic species that represent our nation’s cultural and natural history.
From Large Mammals to Tiny Flowers
Large mammals such as elk, moose, grizzlies, lynx, and caribou make their way across hundreds of miles through thick forests and and over rugged mountain ranges in search of food. They pass through wetlands dotted with the white trumpet-like blooms of water howellia, steep river canyons blooming with MacFarlane’s four-o’clock, and pine forests carpeted with the hardy carnation, Spalding’s catchfly, just as they have for eons.
Why Fragmented Habitats Won’t Cut It
Many of these animals need hundreds of square miles in order to find food and maintain genetic diversity within populations. Species like the bull trout are known to migrate up to 250 km (155 miles) to spawning streams. Species that have lost much of their habitat are forced to alter their migrations, resulting in higher levels of disease and infection4 among the more sedentary populations. The biodiversity of the Rocky Mountains ecosystems relies on species having access to millions of undeveloped acres. NREPA will achieve this by protecting wildlife corridors that span state boundaries and connect national parks and wildlife areas over 23 million acres – acres that otherwise are at risk of becoming isolated by development.
As climate change threatens to force certain species from their habitat, maintaining wildlife corridors is the most effective way to allow these species to move to better habitat and survive. A recent report showed that in the United States the area with one of the highest concentrations of wildlife corridors was in the Rocky Mountains. We have the opportunity to protect the last great expanse of native biodiversity in the contiguous United States so that future generations can know grizzlies, bison, wolves, and countless other species in their natural habitat.
Combat Climate Change
We’re all Connected
Everything is connected, and although not all of us may yet feel affected by climate change, it is impacting all of us. Increased levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have led to warming trends resulting in record lows for both rainfall and snowpack, as well as an increase in the frequency and intensity of natural disasters around the world, like floods, droughts, and wildfires. Now, more than ever, we need large expanses of forest to mitigate these alarming trends.
Offset Carbon Emissions
Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the air and convert it into oxygen, providing us with clean air to breathe – the most efficient and cost-effective way to combat climate change. Forests in the United States offset 10-20 percent of our carbon emissions each year and we can’t afford even a small increase in the amount of fossil fuels in the atmosphere.
Manage our Water Supplies
Forests not only sequester carbon from the atmosphere, they also play a part in managing a steady water supply. When we clear-cut large swaths of forest, the snow is exposed to more sun and it melts earlier in the spring. This results in a water shortage in the summer when both farmland and cities need it most. We have a responsibility to protect these forests from logging to ensure we have enough water to irrigate our crops and flow from our faucets.
Protect our Drinking Water
Logging also introduces large amounts of sediment and pollutants into our water sources, which largely originate in our National Forests. The Northern Rockies are the headwaters to the Columbia, Colorado, and Mississippi Rivers. If we pollute these waters, it contaminates all of the waters downstream – the same water that millions of Americans use for drinking, cooking, and bathing.
Keep Urban Areas Safe
Lastly, climate change has already pushed species to migrate into new territories in search of food and a climate better suited to their biology. As we continue to log and develop wilderness areas, species have fewer and fewer places to go, pushing them into private land where habitat is less secure, and where they are often killed. We need long-term solutions that take into account the impacts on our children and grandchildren – not shortsighted decisions that only benefit a small number of people today.
Honor Our History
Native American Tribes
Native American tribes, such as the Blackfeet, have lived in the Wild Rockies for 10,000 years, subsisting on the ecosystem’s plants, animals, and watersheds and began the story of our deep connection to this landscape. These lands provide an opportunity for spiritual renewal for the Blackfeet people and all who visit. There are important Native American sites including the Blackfeet, Chippewa-Cree, Crow, Flathead, Gros Ventres, Kalispel, Kootenai, Little Shell Band of Chippewa, Northern Cheyenne, Piegan, Salish, Spokane, Bannock, Nez Percé, Palouse, and Northern Shoshoni tribes.
The Lewis & Clark Expedition
200 years ago, the Lewis & Clark Expedition traveled through these mountains and forests, facing the rugged, harsh beauty of the original North American landscape. They were met by millions of wild bison, thundering across the plains, and grizzlies weighing up to 1,500 pounds. These first European explorers and the Native Americans that came before them are both part of our heritage – a reminder of how our country began and the long journey we’ve made to get to where we are today. All the native species encountered during that expedition still exist in the Northern Rockies and should be protected for future generations
Strengthen Local Economies
Support Local Businesses
Protecting the American wilderness benefits plants and animals and the people who live next door. Visitors to the areas protected by NREPA support local businesses such as restaurants, hotels, outfitting stores, transportation companies, and other recreation and tourist-related industries. Visitor spending just within the National Forest System provides over 200,000 jobs, contributing approximately $13.6 billion to the nation’s gross domestic product each year.
Cultivate a Skilled Workforce
A strong economy relies not only on the availability of jobs but also the availability of a skilled workforce. Research has shown that children perform better in school, are more emotionally stable, have better social skills, and are generally more active and experience fewer health problems if they have regular access to nature. Depriving future generations of nature not only denies them a basic right but puts the future of our nation at risk.