Conservation Overview

Montana supports some of the last best intact landscapes on the North American continent. The Northern Rockies and Rocky Mountain Front comprise one of the last great places where grizzly bears still roam onto the plains and where -- except for bison -- the entire diversity of mammals that Lewis and Clark encountered is still present. Three major streams – the Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin – flow from Montana's mountains to form the headwaters of the mighty Missouri, the big river of America's northern Great Plains. From the grayling and cutthroat trout in their upper tributaries, to the paddlefish and sturgeon in the warmer waters of the Missouri where it flows through the prairie, this great river system provides habitat for an incredible diversity of fish and invertebrates, as well as riparian birds and bats. 

Rare Species and Characteristic Habitats

Much of eastern Montana, as well as the high valleys of the southwest, support extensive sagebrush and short-grass prairie ecosystems in which large numbers of greater sage grouse and black-tailed prairie dogs – species in serious trouble elsewhere – still thrive in large numbers. In northeastern Montana, a rich mixed-grass prairie ecosystem sustains one of the last great strongholds for native grassland birds in North America, with healthy populations of species such as McCowan’s longspur, Sprague’s pipit, and mountains plovers.

Public and Private Conservation Efforts 

A variety of conservation partners have worked closely with private landowners to help safeguard Montana’s special landscapes for both people and wildlife. For example, along the Rocky Mountain Front, a combination of federal wilderness, national park, state wildlife areas, and conservation easements are helping to ensure that this magnificent and diverse landscape remains intact. In northeastern Montana, The Nature Conservancy operates the 60,000-acre Matador Ranch as a working conservation model, which also serves as a grass bank to help neighboring ranchers maintain healthy, diverse grasslands on their properties. 

Threats

Many challenges remain, foremost among them the continued subdivision of rangeland habitats for residential development, as ranchers face the modern economic challenges of continuing their traditional way of life. Invasive weeds also pose huge problems, in sagebrush and grassland ecosystems as well as riparian habitats, where dams have also reduced flooding that once brought nutrient-rich renewal. 

These and other threats loom large on a landscape as enormous as Montana’s, but through the continued efforts of citizens, assisted by conservation groups and state and federal agencies, strong progress is being made. For example, in the high, remote Centennial Valley of southwest Montana – headwaters of the Jefferson River – local ranchers, The Nature Conservancy, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have joined forces to create a massive weed management effort as well as put in place conservation easements that protect 43,000 acres of private lands. Similar cooperative projects are being undertaken all across the state, spurred by a passion for the land and its amazing diversity.

Courtesy of Montana Natural Heritage Program. MNHT maintains extensive information about Montana’s species, landscapes and conservation areas, online field guides, and the Montana Natural Heritage Tracker.

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