POINTS OF VIEW:
Greg Neudecker, Montana Fish and Wildlife Service
The Blackfoot valley lies at the southern edge of what we call the Crown of the Continent ecosystem which includes glacier national park and the Bob Marshall wilderness. Unfortunately that high area is at such a high elevation that it doesn’t’ have the most productive land. And so critters like grizzly bears, while they winter up there— they hibernate up in that high country, they need to come down on the valley floors in the spring time and particularly the fall time for foraging reasons. This Jack link fence that we constructed in 1990 allows for wild life migration such as grizzly bears to pass through this area, while preventing domestic livestock from accessing this riparian area.
This is the only Bull trout spawning site we have in the whole Blackfoot valley and it’s located on private property.And thanks to the rancher here who’s allowed this management change, we have a healthier habitat to a whole host of critters from grizzly bears to migratory song birds to bull trout that spawn in the stream system.
And really trumpeter swans are really a keystone species in that they indicate the health of the water shed or a whole wetland system.
There’s no greater feeling than to see things like trumpeter swans or grizzly bears on the landscape and I believe that feeling also translates to a lot of the American public.
At the Rocky Mountain Front, the grasslands of the Great Plains meet the towering peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Located in northwestern Montana, this is a gateway to the Crown of the Continent — one the largest wilderness areas in North America. Reaching well into Canada, this is home to an abundance of wildlife.
Rocky Mountain Front
Even in this vast seemingly unspoiled wilderness, wildlife habitat continues to deteriorate. As their range becomes more and more limited, animals may be left to either face extinction or to somehow find a way to migrate to newer and safer wilderness areas. But all too often these wildlife corridors have been blocked by human activities.
This is also where grizzly bears still roam free. Two hundred years ago the west was home to over 100,000 bears. Today, there are less than a thousand. Development has turned their feeding grounds into suburban backyards and public sentiment threatens to exile the grizzly bears to isolated wildlife preserves.
Yet it is here, in these remaining patches of wilderness, that the endangered grizzly bear is making its last stand. In a world where game preserves offer little protection — there is a place where much is being done to keep wildlife corridors open.
Montana's Blackfoot River valley is a community of about 2500 families. They are mostly ranchers and they treasure a rural lifestyle that hasn't changed much over the years. Through the center of their valley run the crystal clear waters of the Blackfoot River — celebrated in the book and movie called “A River Runs Through It.” Surrounding the river is one of the most robust animal habitats in the country, which is home to a large Grizzly bear population.
Are the bears and all the other animals living in the natural world ultimately doomed to survive only as popular attractions in our zoos?
Several decades ago, the community decided they'd rather live with Grizzly bears than isolate them into to extinction. To help save the bears — and the valley's ecosystem — they formed a grass roots alliance called "the Blackfoot Challenge." One of its first activities was to find ways to restore and maintain the health of their river.
The Blackfoot Challenge also turned its attention to the vast tracts of trees that surrounded the valley. It wasn't all that long ago that clear-cutting wiped out huge sections of woodlands. Decade after decade old growth trees were torn from the valley's slopes. But in the process, tens of thousands of acres of wildlife habitat were sacrificed to meet the country's growing demand for wood.
Responsible logging near
the Blackfoot River
The sounds of logging still echo throughout the Blackfoot valley. But today trees are harvested using newer techniques. Rather than indiscriminate clear cutting, the forest is thinned out. Left behind is a healthier and larger habitat for birds and other animals.
Another Blackfoot Challenge initiative was the introduction of a species that vanished from the valley over 100 years ago — trumpeter swans. A few years ago ten trumpeter swans were brought into the valley. Collared for identification purposes, today the swans and the entire wildlife ecosystem are thriving.
However difficult it is to protect wildlife, it's a testament to the power of human ingenuity that people are finding ways to co-exist with the animals of the world. Thanks to a community's deeply held respect for the natural world, the grizzly bears of the Blackfoot valley are doing well.
But there still remains a larger and more serious question; on a planet teetering on the brink of the sixth extinction, are the bears and all the other animals living in the natural world ultimately doomed to survive only as popular attractions in our zoos?