Wildlife Corridor Projects

Wild Things Unlimited has been involved in numerous projects related to documenting wildlife presence and acitvity within wildlife corridors, and providing information to regional conservation organizations and resource management agencies.  Our fieldwork involves getting out on the ground in core habitat and potential corridor areas, and documenting levels and specific locations of wildlife activity, particularly for the umbrella species grizzly bear, cougar, and elk, but also for other important carnivores such as wolf, lynx, bobcat, black bear, marten, and fisher, and for prey species such as snowshoe hare, moose, and mountain goat. We also evaluate habitat conditions and human uses and activity levels in order to assess the potential for future wildlife use of these areas. From 2001 through 2003, we collected wildlife use data along the Gallatin-Bridger-Big Belt Wildlife Corridor (which provides potential connectivity between the GYE and the NCDE to the north) , in order to provide up-to-date information to conservation organizations and government agencies that are working to protect wildlife and habitat within the southern portion of the Yellowstone To Yukon (Y2Y) region.         During 2005 and 2006, we assessed wildlife and habitat values of several private properties in the Bozeman Pass area of the Gallatin-Bridger-Big Belt Corridor, in cooperation with the Gallatin Valley Land Trust.         From 2006 through 2008, we conducted a three year study of wildlife on the     B-Bar Ranch and surrounding Tom Miner Basin, in the southern reaches of the Gallatin Mountain Range.           Between 2008 and 2010, we conducted grizzly bear surveys in the Hub Conservation Area (western Montana), in an attempt to document movement of bears among major ecosystems of the Northern Rockies.                 Since 2006, we have been conducting an on-going study to document the expansion of grizzly bear range in the Gallatin Mountains; as of 2011, we have documented the presence of 28 different grizzly bears in the Gallatin Range north of Yellowstone National Park, through DNA sampling.       Since winter 2005-06, we havebeen documenting carnivore (wolverine, lynx, besrs) use in the MacDonald Pass Corridor, along the Continental Divide on the Helena National Forest.           Beginning in winter 2007-08, we havbe been helping to develop and implement citizen science projects focused on the Monida Pass (Montana-Idaho), Bondurant Pass (Wyoming), MacDonald Pass, and Gallatin Range wildlife corridors.       A bit about Y2Y -- The term Yellowstone to Yukon (Y2Y) refers to both a biogeographic area and a concept or rallying point for wildlife and wildland enthusiasts. Geographically, we’re talking about the Rocky Mountains, stretching from Yellowstone National Park (YNP) to the Yukon Territories. More specifically, the southern end of the Y2Y region is anchored by the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE), ranging south of YNP to include the Wind River Mountains, the Wyoming Range, and some of the critical winter range between those two mountain systems. The northern boundary of this ecological region is described by the Peel River south of the Arctic Circle in the Yukon Territory. Y2Y stretches almost 2,000 linear miles, encompasses nearly half of a million square miles of area, and includes 11 national parks in two countries, a multitude of reserves, preserves, forest units, wilderness areas, state parks, and private lands. Approximately 60% of the region is forested, 20% is composed of tundra and exposed rock, less than 3% is agricultural lands, and the rest is a mix of other habitat types including homes and parking lots. The Y2Y area includes a very nearly intact (compared to pre-European settlement) community of wildlife, and is home for charismatic species such as grizzly bear, wolf, lynx, cougar, wolverine, fisher, elk, bald eagle, trumpeter swan, and mountain goat. Most of these far-ranging wildlife species are being forced to live in increasingly isolated pockets of wild habitat: the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE), the Salmon-Selway Ecosystem (SSE), and the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE). These core areas are being isolated from each other by encroaching development associated with roads, resource extraction projects, and recreational and residential areas. We are essentially creating islands of wildlife habitat separated by oceans of development. The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative is based on the goal of making sure that animals in the ecosystems of the Y2Y region are able to move between these islands, and thereby have a reasonable chance of long-term survival. Groups involved in the Initiative are not trying to designate a single, huge mega-park, but are looking at ways to protect enough habitat and links/bridges/corridors between the islands of habitat to allow for natural movement and mixing of animals. If wildlife populations are isolated in small tracts, they face genetic bottlenecks and threats of extirpation by local natural disasters. Connecting populations reduces this risk by expanding the gene pool, putting the eggs in several, connected baskets, and allowing for refilling a basket from adjoining baskets, if it gets emptied. The initiative recognizes that humans are part of the ecology of the Y2Y, and seeks to make meeting the needs of our species more compatible with the needs of wildlife. Organizations within the Yellowstone To Yukon Conservation Initiative are working to identify the best, most viable corridors and then find ways to conserve and restore them, so that we might continue to enjoy bountiful wildlife and wildland resources. American Wildlands identified key potential corridors based on “least cost” modeling (“Wildlife Corridors in the Northern Rockies - The Corridors of Life Program”), using grizzly bears, mountain lions, and elk as umbrella species. These species are of particular significance because their members have large home ranges and travel significant distances; if we are able to provide conditions that favor their survival, we will also likely provide benefits to a host of other species. The Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative. Y2Y is a joint Canadian-US network of over 80 organizations, institutions, and foundations, plus individual scientists, conservationists, economists, and environmental advocates who have recognized both the necessity and the advantages of coordinating their efforts transnationally, on a scale that mirrors the area they seek to conserve. Their area of focus includes the Rocky Mountains from the Grand Tetons (Wyoming) north to the Yukon border, adjacent ranges in Idaho and British Columbia (the Cabinet Yaak, the Selkirks, Purcells, Monashees) and the Mackenzie Mountains in Yukon and the Northwest Territories.