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Regional habitat connectivity analysis: Crown of the continent ecosystem

  • Williamson, E. R.
  • Olimb, S.

In 1997, Dr. Lance Craighead and Dr. Richard Walker spearheaded the American Wildlands’ Corridors of Life (COL) program by designing one of the first intensive regional habitat connectivity models of the U.S. Northern Rockies. The COL model uses Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and the best available data on habitat and human use to identify priority areas that maintain connectivity between large protected areas.Over the last decade, American Wildlands has expanded the model, using the results to identify and prioritize key habitat corridors for protection and leading the regional conservation community in corridor recognition and preservation. This project was designed to update the decade-old portion of the COL model (the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem of western Montana), visualize the change in corridor status over the last 10 years, and expand the model to cover the entire ecosystem by including portions of Canada instead of only the U.S. portion. To complete this, the analysis boundary was expanded to include the Canadian portions of the Crown of the Continent (CoC) and Purcell-Cabinet Ecosystem. The Purcell-Cabinet Ecosystem was included in order to evaluate habitat connectivity between the CoC and surrounding ecosystems. The U.S. portion of the CoC Ecosystem was re-examined using the same methodology as the original model, but with recent transportation data and expanded boundaries. The method balances the factors of habitat quality and barriers with the shortest possible distances between core habitat areas.The high quality lands, suitable for long term wildlife foraging and reproduction, were identified as core areas. In the United States and Canada, the Crown of the Continent core habitat area occurs in all jurisdictional possibilities including federal, provincial and private lands.  There were varying degrees of connectivity between the core areas. Areas without cores or corridors are either outside the study area or areas with low connectivity (i.e., below the threshold of our scale). Based on connectivity and location, six major corridors in the U.S. portion of the CoC as high priorities for protection or restoration were identified: 1) Purcell-Cabinet – Crown Corridor 2) Interior Glacier N.P. Corridor 3) Glacier – Great Bear Corridor 4) Mission Mountains – Bob Marshall Corridor 5) Scapegoat – Helena N.F. Corridor 6) Salmon-Selway – Crown Corridor. Since the ground work is limited to the U.S., individual corridors in Canada were not identified at this time.

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    American Wildlands: The Corridor of Life Program report, 2006