Crown of the Continent — Landscape in a time of Change
One hundred years ago, George Bird Grinnell clambered high among snow-capped spires along Montana’s mountainous border with Canada. This wild open country, Grinnell declared, was North America’s true seat of power, a place Native Americans had long known as the “Backbone of the World.” Grinnell christened it the Crown of the Continent, and became known as the father of Glacier National Park.
The Crown of the Continent Ecosystem encompasses 18 million rugged and bi-national acres (7.3 million hectares), including the spectacular Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.
The Ecosystem follows the Continental Divide, where British Columbia, Alberta and Montana meet. Home to thousands of people, the region also plays host to the additional millions who visit each year to experience its natural wonders, and supports a unique and cherished way of life that reaches back generations.
Recently, a citizen-based partnership teamed with National Geographic to visit the region’s small towns, asking the people who call this place home just what it is that they value about the Crown of the Continent. They answered from the heart: they cherish the freedom to roam vast public lands, to hunt elk and to catch trout, and they take great pride in their tight-knit communities and in the beauty of their land, its abundant wildlife, and its clean lakes and rivers.
In 2010, a diverse U.S.-Canadian coalition followed up, asking the Crown of the Continent’s leading scientists what issues threaten those community values, and how climate change might impact traditional lifestyles. They produced a peer-reviewed report, “A Climate-Impacts Assessment of the Crown of the Continent,” compiling the best science available. Recognizing the complexities of climate modeling, and the large number of variables that can impact short-term climate and weather patterns, scientists nevertheless stress that long-term trends are both identifiable and predictable.
The Crown of the Continent, they concluded, is world famous for its scenery, internationally cherished for its wildlife and sets the global gold standard for clean water. And the very things that make the region so spectacular to the eye – its fluted topography, free-flowing rivers, lush riparian zones – create the diversity making it one of the most potentially resilient ecosystems in North America.It is raw, solid, unyielding. And it is experiencing tremendous change.