Grand Teton NP, © Kari Funk
© Kari Funk

Northern Rockies

Threats to the Northern Rockies

While the Northern Rockies host a wide array of wildlife species, they were once home to an even more abundant and highly diverse wildlife community.

Wolves, grizzlies, native trout, elk, hawks and eagles and wild bison all thrived in abundance here. Wildlife still remain part of the daily fabric of life in the Northern Rockies, contributing to the region’s economy, recreation and culture. But European settlement in the 19th and 20th centuries resulted in the extermination of many species. Wolves and grizzlies were killed by the thousands out of fear and to make way for human settlement and a growing livestock community. Elk, deer, bison and moose were heavily hunted, and furbearers like fishers and wolverines were trapped to near extinction. Luckily, some species rebounded thanks to concerted efforts by conservationists, agencies, sportsmen and volunteers. Yet there is much work to be done. 

Predators in Peril

Wolves are kept artificially low as a result of opposition from a few special interests. Grizzlies are slowly rebounding, but have a long way to go to reach healthy numbers. Smaller predators like Canada lynx, wolverine and fisher are also slowly rebounding, but face threats from habitat loss, climate change and other human-related activities.  

Expanding Human Activity

The Northern Rockies are also quickly becoming an even more popular place to visit and live. Human development is filling prime valley bottom wildlife habitat and the places where our towns border wildlands are becoming primary sources of conflict between people and wildlife. Oil and gas drilling remains a concern, and motorized recreation is booming in habitats previously inaccessible to machines. Wildlife must now navigate neighborhoods, highways, livestock and people as they spread across the landscape. 

Climate Change

Research is just starting to broach the effects of climate change on the habitat, precipitation, forest fires, agriculture and recreation in the Northern Rockies, and how these changes may in turn affect wildlife in the region. Habitats will change and some species may not be able to modify their behaviors in response. Species that depend on significant amounts of snow, such as wolverines and Canada lynx, will likely end up with less habitat available to them. Stream flows are expected to decline and water temperatures will warm, impacting cold water-loving species such as bull trout.  

Defenders is working throughout the Northern Rockies to address these threats and conserve wildlife as a prominent part of western life now and into the future. Where human welfare and thriving wildlife populations are often viewed as an either/or situation, we are working to create win-win solutions for people, native species and the habitats and ecosystems we share.