Scientists paint a picture of change and loss as the Earth grows warmer. But in many ways, the Crown of the Continent offers great opportunity for sustained biological survival in the face of climate change. Some have likened the Crown ecosystem to North America’s ark, a safe haven in which to ride out the rising temperatures. It already has proved remarkably resilient – unlike much of North America, the region retains most of the same plant and wildlife species as it did 200 years ago. Its rivers, by and large, still run clean and cold.
Here, winds from the four corners blow in a diversity of climate regimes from the Pacific and the Arctic, and from the Great Plains and the American Southwest, too. Habitats stretch from low-lying valleys to soaring mountaintops, across the latitudes and across the mountain divides — and these healthy and diverse habitats are often both protected and connected.
That’s in no small part because the people of the United States and Canada have recognized how special the Crown of the Continent is, and they’ve taken steps to keep it that way. The Ecosystem includes wild, core habitat such as the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park and Elk Lakes Provincial Park.
In fact, 80 percent of the Crown is in government ownership — national forest, state and provincial lands or national parks — owned by the people of Canada and the United States. Private land owners have taken conservation steps as well, establishing voluntary stewardship agreements and conservation easements.
The Crown of the Continent also has a population of people intimately tied to the land – ranchers and outfitters, farmers and loggers, gardeners and hunters, conservationists and neighbors accustomed to working across borders. Despite their differences, most all choose to live here for similar reasons, often tracking back to their relationship with the land itself.
Climate scientists cite simple, commonsense steps that conserve clean water, maintain abundant wildlife and help us grapple with the changes associated with a warmer climate:
• Reduce the pressures on the land – avoid misguided developments that would pollute clean water.
• Protect important areas of core habitat and make sure they remain connected, to provide space for wildlife to adapt and/or move as climate shifts.
Engage the local citizens and diverse groups to develop best practices and conservation solutions.
• Boost local economies and improve wildlife habitat by emphasizing forest and wildland restoration.
A rapidly changing climate, scientists assure us, is inevitable. But how we, as people, react to that change is largely up to us.
The good news is, the Crown of the Continent is relatively well positioned to weather the uncertainties of a warmer future. While other places strive to hang on to scraps of damaged ecosystems and restore them, we have the much easier job of keeping our strong and robust ecosystem intact. We face a challenge, but a challenge, as Grinnell and those who lived here long before him would agree, that is surely well worth the effort.
To learn how CCCI is addressing the impacts of a changing climate on the Crown of the Continent, click here.