FLBSCollage

The FLBS Role in the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem

Three great rivers of North America begin on the flanks of Triple Divide Peak in the Rocky Mountains of northwestern Montana. Pacific Creek flows west to the Flathead River and then on to the Columbia. Atlantic Creek flows southeast into the Marias Fork of the Missouri-Mississippi. Hudson Bay Creek begins on the northeast side of the peak and is the headwaters of the Saskatchewan River.


View of the Crown from Mt. James

Explorer and geologist George Bird Grinnell referred to the glacially sculptured peaks and magnificent valleys of the Triple Divide Peak area as the Crown of the Continent. Today we call it the Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park and it is an International Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site.

The landscape encompasses the short grass prairie and limber pine savannah of the Rocky Mountain Front in the rain shadow on the east side.  On the wetter west side, lush coniferous forests are arrayed along the 3,000m altitudinal gradient from Triple Divide Peak to Flathead Lake and the intermountain prairies of the valley bottoms. The area is bounded on the South by the Clark Fork of the Columbia and the low passes to the plains plied for centuries by the Blackfeet and the Salish-Kootenai Indians and travelled by Lewis and Clark in 1805-1806. The mountain and valley terrain continues to the north into Canada and merges with Banff-Jasper National Parks.

Biodiversity is very high, owing to the transition zone between continental and Pacific maritime climates.  Biota more common in the colder climes of northern mountains and Arctic intermingle with plants and animals also found in the southern and coastal ranges.  Indeed, nearly all of the large mammals of North America, including the grizzly bear, mountain goat, bison and elk, are at home in the habitats of the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem. The imposing peaks of the Crown have always been a source of inner energy for people, native and immigrant alike.  All thinking people are moved by this majestic resource and we extract a wealth of goods and services from this unique environment. Some 100,000 people are permanent residents and millions of others visit annually.  At what point does human use diminish the goods and services we take for granted?  Almost all of the old growth timber outside the protected wilderness areas has been harvested. Some of the rivers are dammed. Lakes and streams are polluted by decades of human activities and invasions of non-native biota.  Air pollution seeps in from adjacent areas and the glaciers have retreated to mere snow fields, perhaps in part due to global climate change mediated by greenhouse gases from the worlds burgeoning human population.


Mountain Goat in Glacier National Park

How can we provide maximum access to this priceless resource and still retain the pristine attributes that make it so valuable?  The answer lies in using keen scientific knowledge to manage human activities in ways that sustain environmental values.  An informed conceptual foundation of this resource must embrace not just the ecology of charismatic plants and animals, but the myriad of biophysical interactions that characterize the dynamic nature of this complex ecosystem.  At the Flathead Lake Biological Station, we are working with colleagues in the Division of Biological Sciences at The University of Montana and other institutions, including the National Park Service, to quantify ecological and human processes that interact to form the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem.  Our research is not only adding new scientific knowledge daily, we are also providing a vision of the future based on various scenarios of resource use and conservation.

We invite your participation.