Keep The Northern Rockies Wild
Ongoing resource extraction and development threatens to tame a rare American wilderness
The Wild Rockies is the largest intact ecosystem in the lower 48 states and one of the few remaining intact temperate ecosystems on Earth, but this rugged wilderness is in danger.
Development threatens to fragment it into a patchwork of smaller habitats, inadequate to support large mammals like the grizzly and bison, and lack of effective laws leave native species with little protection when they cross ambiguous political boundaries.
Without permanent protection, special interests will be able to destroy these beautiful landscapes that belong to all of us. Below are the main threats to the Northern Rockies:
Decades of research show that large carnivores like grizzlies, critical to the overall health of the Northern Rockies ecosystem, require huge expanses of connected wilderness to survive.
Roads fragment wild landscapes, opening access to illegal off-road travel by ATVs and inviting the potential for increased conflict with humans. This greatly limits an animal’s range, challenging individuals to survive in isolated habitats that have a limited food supply and choice of mates. The health of each individual, and eventually, the health of the entire population, is compromised as genetic diversity decreases and disease and damaging genetic defects rapidly spread throughout the isolated population.
NREPA’s protections for the Wild Rockies ecosystems would prevent the development of more roads, saving taxpayers money and putting Americans to work removing existing roads and restoring habitat.
In the lower 48 states less than 1% of large contiguous virgin forests remain. The Northern Rockies is part of this 1% but is at risk everyday from the logging industry. Past logging in the area on one proposed timber sale in the Cabinet-Yaak bioregion left 22,000 acres clearcut, destroying critical grizzly habitat, and the logging companies plan to clearcut thousands of acres more throughout the area that would protected by NREPA unless the area is given permanent protection. The Forest Service estimates that these logging proposals will cost taxpayers over $2.5 million dollars per timber sale and they want to log hundreds more.
Erosion from clearcuts threatens sedimentation that cements the clean rocky streambeds, leaving eggs exposed to predation and suffocating the insects the trout, salmon, and young fry eat. “Freestone” rivers allow the eggs to drop between the stones and sediment fills those interstices.
Logging hurts taxpayers and native species but NREPA would benefit both.
Without proper management, wilderness areas like the Northern Rockies are threatened by the effects of climate change. Logging speeds these effects by decreasing the size of our forests, one of the most important agents for carbon sequestration. The threats of climate change range from an increase in catastrophic wildfires and a decrease in snowmelt, to unprecedented spikes in certain species’ populations, like the pine beetle.
In a stable climate, the pine beetle helps naturally thin stands of whitebark pines by killing trees already weakened by disease, drought, or old age. The warmer climate, however, has extended the pine beetle’s breeding season, allowing these native insects to decimate entire forests of whitebark pines – a staple food source for the grizzly. Warmer winters also encourages spruce bud worm, which kills the new growth on spruce trees.
Much of the Wild Rockies habitat is still intact, providing valuable research opportunities that could help us understand how to stabilize and even slow the effects of climate change.
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies has met pushback from organizations that believe the lands have potential value to the mining industry. If extractive interests determine that valuable minerals lay beneath the mountains tops, the wilderness will be lost for the short-term benefit of only a few individuals, instead of benefiting all Americans for generations.
Lack of Political Protection
When a species begins to recover, it is often downlisted from endangered to threatened or is no longer considered to be at risk. The concerted efforts of wildlife biologists and cooperation from nearby communities has helped to restore the grizzly, wolf, and bison populations in the Wild Rockies, but they’re not in the clear yet. When these large mammals come in contact with humans, whether inside or outside of park boundaries, they are at risk of being killed.
In 2015, wildlife managers killed 3 percent of the grizzly population in Yellowstone due to dangerous interactions with humans and their property. The grizzly was listed as threatened just 40 years ago.
Congress removed wolves from the Endangered Species Act protections in Montana and Idaho because of the rise in their populations, even though just two decades ago not a single wolf roamed the Northern Rockies.
National Park and state officials have killed thousands of bison that roam outside Yellowstone National Park’s borders each year in search of spring calving grounds.
Wild populations of threatened and endangered species have struggled to recover, even with Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act protections. But politicians continually weaken those bedrock laws to benefit extractive industries.
We have fought hard to protect what’s left of this critical landscape, which is now one of the few remaining functioning temperate ecosystems on the planet. It would be a tragedy to lose it when we have the ability to protect it.