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Rocky Mountain Front
10.01.04
Science and Health:
Photo Essay: The Rocky Mountain Front
More on This Story:
NOW's David Brancaccio traveled to Montana to see firsthand what Gloria Flora and other conservationists are trying to protect. Take a desktop trip to one of America's great natural spots by viewing the photo essay of images from Brancaccio's exploration.


Photo Essay The Rocky Mountain Front

Members of the Pikuni (Blackfeet) Nation know it as part of the backbone of the world — its jutting and undulating peaks the vertebrae that form the very face of the Rocky Mountains in Montana from Glacier National Park against the Canadian border southward almost to Lincoln. The Rocky Mountain Front — the "Front" — is a majestic span of rocky crags and fjord-like valleys that edge the Great Plains with startling contrast, its heights abruptly giving way to foothills that flow down into the eastward sprawling expanse of prairie.

Alliance for the Wild Rockies

Valued by locals and visitors alike for its abundant wildlife, vast open spaces and quiet vistas, the Rocky Mountain Front is where the "short-grass prairies of the plains slam into the mountains in northwestern Montana." Located next to Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness, the Front is an integral part of one of the largest and most intact wild ecosystems in the United States, an area of 5 million acres.

Montana's first game preserve, the Sun River Game Preserve, was created here in 1913, starting a long trend of conservation that has left the area vastly unchanged over the past century. The Rocky Mountain Front includes a 400 square mile strip of national forest land, the Lewis and Clark National Forest. Within the Forest lies the Badger-Two Medicine area, which in 1973 was declared "sacred ground" by the Blackfeet Tribal Council.

In addition, about 200 square miles of the Front have been designated as Bureau of Land Management-administered public lands, within which there are three BLM Outstanding Natural Areas, a designation established by Congress "to protect unique scenic, scientific, educational, and recreational values for the enjoyment of current and future generations."

The Front's "remarkably contiguous transformation of peak to prairie" creates an ecological transition zone, sometimes called an ecotone, that provides a suitable sanctuary for a rare array of wildlife. Many endangered, threatened, and sensitive species thrive in the intersection of mountain and grassland found in the Rocky Mountain Front. With the exception of the bison, all of the region's native species still roam there, harboring the country's largest bighorn sheep herd, second largest elk herd, and the largest number of grizzly bears south of Canada.

Threatened and endangered species inhabit the land, including lynx, wolves, wolverines, mule deer, antelope, mountain goats, badgers, mountain lions, Harlequin ducks, bald eagles and peregrine falcons. In addition, populations of moose, black bear, bobcat, fox, beaver, river otter, and numerous hawk and owl species make their homes in the Rocky Mountain Front. For its rich diversity of life, the Front has been called "America's Serengeti."

Sources: Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Bureau of Land Management, Coalition for the Rocky Mountain Front, The Wilderness Society

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