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.
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
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.