recent decades, conservation biologists have learned that
large interconnected or proximate chunks of wild country are
essential for maintaining viable populations of large wide-ranging
carnivores. If we can maintain enough habitat for these species,
most other wildlife will be conserved, too.
Large wide-ranging carnivores (grizzly,
gray wolf, mountain lion, wolverine, lynx) help to maintain
the health of game herds and the vegetation consumed by herbivores.
As wildlands shrink and become fragmented - by roads, logging,
fences, dams, towns, farms, power lines and even by backcountry
ATV trails - wildlife populations are forced into increasingly
small enclaves and are less able to mix with other populations
of their kind. This habitat fragmentation affects large carnivores
that require millions of acres of intact habitat, as well
as smaller animals such as amphibians, flying squirrels and
marten, which often won't cross even minor roads or small
artificial breaks in forest cover.
In general, as populations become fragmented,
inbreeding depression and other genetic problems decrease
the species' resiliency. Small isolated populations are much
more vulnerable to disease or to climate change or geologic
perturbations than are those that remain large and interconnected
in big chunks of unfragmented habitat.
The Yellowstone Ecosystem is unique in
many ways, but perhaps its greatest value is that is still
supports all native vertebrate species known to have existed
here prior to European colonization. Make no mistake, though,
Yellowstone National Park maintains its fauna only because
large protected national forest Wilderness areas buffer most
of its boundaries.
Of the major mountain ranges immediately
surrounding Yellowstone Park, only the Gallatin Range lacks
protection as part of the National Wilderness Preservation
System. It is precisely this protection that has enabled the
GYE to survive as one of the wildest and most intact wildland
domains within the Earth's temperate latitudes.
The Northern Gallatin Range is the key
to maintaining the unbroken wildland domain that extends outward
from Yellowstone Park's core. Should the wild Northern Gallatins
be severed from Yellowstone, or further reduced in size, various
Yellowstone species will likely suffer. Moreover, as the major
northwest extension of greater Yellowstone wildlands, the
wild and roadless Gallatins are a potential biological corridor
linking Yellowstone with wildlands to the north, including
the greater Glacier National Park - Bob Marshall Wilderness