Climate: Fish and Wildlife

George Bird Grinnell visited Montana in 1895 to hunt bighorn sheep. The snow-white mountain goat is the icon of the Great Northern Railroad and a lucky sighting today in Glacier National Park. Much of our most treasured wildlife is mountain wildlife – and is at risk as the climate warms.

Consider the diminutive pika – a short-eared relative of the rabbit that can fit in the palm of one’s hand. These creatures can sweat to death on an 80-degree summer day.

Similarly, white-tailed ptarmigan are alpine birds, adapted to thrive in bitter cold; yet even the coldest, highest reaches are becoming too warm. Other bird species (56 percent in the U.S.) have moved northward since the 1960’s, and ptarmigan may as well, leaving Glacier Park without yet another iconic resident.

The Crown of the Continent is one of the few places that still plays host to rare wildlife such as Canada lynx and wolverine. These cold-adapted species need deep snowpack to survive, to find food and to raise their young.

Consider the snowshoe hare, which turns white in winter and brown in summer; scientists are studying these animals, to learn whether they can adapt their coat-change timing as quickly as the timing of snow melt and snow fall change.

Native fish – such as cutthroat and bull trout — cannot survive if water temperatures grow too warm. Likewise, warmer water temperatures impact the entire food chain of microscopic and invertebrate aquatic life.