Conservation Biology

In 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 Ecosystem.