Conserving connectivity ensures that core habitats and the routes wildlife use to move between them are all protected, like for these migrating elk in the Upper Wind River
Courtesy of Jackson Hole Land Trust. By Robinett.
“Private lands are the connective tissue of the landscape, the ligaments and tendons that make it function well as a whole. We will not sustain our wildlife populations by accident. We will have to be deliberate and intentional.”
– Steve Schmidt, Upper Snake Regional Supervisor, Idaho Department of Fish & Game
From Yellowstone to Banff, the Rocky Mountains are visually stunning and rich with wildlife. Vast open spaces and healthy wildlife populations are symbols of the West, but our expanding footprint of land-uses is fragmenting the landscape and threatening these symbols that embody the heritage and legacy of the region.
When a landscape is fragmented, blocks of habitat are reduced in size and the pathways between them are cut off. This isolates wildlife populations and limits their ability to move around the landscape to meet their needs for food, water, shelter, and reproduction. “Connectivity” refers to the ability of the landscape to provide the movement necessary for wildlife to meet those needs.
Connectivity on a large landscape scale means many different things:
- It means ensuring crucial habitat and migration corridors for big game and large carnivores are protected. Enabling this movement around the landscape allows wildlife to meet their seasonal needs, like the pronghorn that migrate more than 120 miles between their summer and winter ranges. It also allows wildlife to expand their ranges and mix among new populations, like the young grizzly bear and wolverine that range far and wide in search of new mates.
- It means securing watershed habitat connectivity with uninterrupted streams of clear, cold water and complex structure for seasonal migrations of native Chinook salmon, steelhead, bull trout, and cutthroat trout.
- It also means protecting the connectivity that will allow species to shift their geographic ranges over time in response to a changing climate.
Why private land matters in connectivity …
Private lands contain many of the critical links between core habitats. The Rocky Mountain West has a long tradition of protecting essential core areas like Yellowstone National Park and Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, wilderness areas and wildlife refuges, but none of these core areas are complete ecosystems in and of themselves.
Private lands are the connective fabric that ties these core area together.
Private lands tend to be lower in elevation with productive wildlife habitats, river valleys, and along transportation corridors. Conserving these strategically important keystone private lands is critical to sustaining the rich wildlife heritage and vast natural ecosystems of the Central Rockies.