Purple Mountains’ Majesty
The North Central Rockies Forests ecoregion includes some of North America's best known and loved wild areas, including the Rocky Mountain parks of Alberta and British Columbia, Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness complex in Montana, and the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in Idaho. This mountainous ecoregion, which stretches roughly 600 miles (960 km) from north to south, is home to cougars, grizzly bears, moose, and wolverines. It is also one of the few places on Earth you can find woodland caribou, the only species of caribou able to live in areas of deep snow.
From the western side of the Rocky Mountains to the east, climate varies dramatically in the North Central Rockies Forests and creates quite varied habitats for wildlife. The western edge of the mountains experiences the moderating effects of the sea, while the eastern edge faces inland and is exposed to much harsher weather conditions. In general, the valleys are characterized by warm, showery summers and mild, snowy winters, while the subalpine areas are cooler and even prone to frosts in the summer. The Columbia Mountains that cover most of this ecoregion have many peaks higher than 9,900 feet (3,000 m), with rugged rock and glacier outcrops. Throughout the ecoregion, the rugged landscape is affected by disturbances ranging from fire to flash floods and landslides.
At moderate elevations, the Rocky Mountains support forests of western hemlock, western red cedar, white spruce, lodgepole pine, and Douglas fir. Higher up in the mountains, stands of Engelmann spruce and alpine fir provide shelter for redpolls-a bird that winters here. Recently burned areas have been taken over by lodgepole pines. Many of the animals in this ecoregion are well adapted to the rugged terrain. Mountain goats are agile climbers, moving easily up and down the steep mountain cliffs in search of tender young plants. Bobcats hide among the rocks and thick brush, crouching low waiting for their prey. Cougars and wolves move quietly through snow-covered forests in search of woodland caribou.
Cause for Concern
From logging and mining to oil and gas development, this ecoregion is facing growing threats from humans. Domestic livestock grazing and the introduction of exotic species alter natural communities in valleys and in riparian areas. And growing recreational use of remote areas disturbs grizzly bears. Although there are large blocks of habitat left in this ecoregion, scientists are worried that increased human activities such as road building and housing development, particularly along valleys, are breaking the important connections among these habitat blocks. As more and more people occupy the region, it will become more and more important to ensure that wildlife is able to move safely between protected blocks of habitat.
For more information on this ecoregion, go to the World Wildlife Fund Scientific Report.All text by World Wildlife Fund © 2001