Wandering a bit far afield from Greater Yellowstone, I recently had the opportunity to visit some friends in Northern Montana. This region hosts another great ecosystem that spans northern Montana into southern Alberta and British Columbia referred to as the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem.

Toward the end of this page, I’ll summarize some of the characteristics of each of the ecosystems, ( GYE and NCDE) but for now, I want to share some of the highlights of my visit to West Glacier and beyond…..

Early cover from Forest and Stream

Glacier park is the place George Bird Grinnell fell in love with during his travels to the west in the 1870’s. He was raised in a wealthy eastern family, graduated from Yale with a Ph.D. and eventually became a great American naturalist. He referred to Glacier as the “Crown of the Continent”.
Grinnell accompanied an expedition to newly formed Yellowstone in 1875 and wrote about the poaching of many large mammals. His concern was specifically the disappearance of the “Buffalo” (Bison).
He then traveled to the region of what today is Glacier National Park on hunting expeditions and knew this region needed protection. Grinnell worked with Teddy Roosevelt on legislation to preserve wildlife in Yellowstone and beyond.
Grinnell was editor of Forest and Stream magazine for 35 years. Through his writing, he participated in launching the National Audubon Society sponsored the early National Park movement.

If you watch Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan’s recent 2 part film: The American Buffalo, they feature George Bird Grinnell in a number of segments. Watch it, it’s great!

My visit to Glacier Park was on the West side of the Continental Divide. If the Going to the Sun Road had been open, we could have driven the road to the east side of the divide, a very different ecosystem. It is significant that the watersheds here flow to both the Pacific and the Atlantic ( as well as Hudson’s Bay)
Immediately, the noticeable difference from where I am in Yellowstone Country, is the vegetation. Trees on the west side are BIG. Some of the species we passed while walking on the trail of the Cedars in Glacier NP were old growth Hemlock, Cedar, Yew and Douglas Fir.

Haiku about Cedars along the trail

Doug Fir in our part of Montana can grow to be some of the oldest trees, some up to 500+ years. The diameter might be 5-6 feet, and the height can be 150+. On the west side of Glacier the Doug Fir can be almost more than 100 feet taller, without too much more girth. We saw some big “grandma” trees of all varieties, along with some of the most delicate forest floor growth.

Hillsides along McDonald Creek and McDonald lake were ablaze with Aspen and Cottonwood and early Larch turning

Through all of this Avalanche creek was roaring through some of the ancient rock carving out sinuous and smooth patterns along its course

Cloudy moments broke into scrubbed clean blue sky. As the clouds lifted we could see the spectacular Mountains that Glacier Park is known for.

Lake McDonald and mountains to the East

This was a blast back in time for me as I worked for NPS in Glacier 4 summer/fall seasons. Those years we did so much wild hiking and climbing into some spectacular country full of wildlife and wildflowers.
This visit was a reunion of friends who I had not seen, certainly since the pandemic shut down.

Changes in this area are following the same pattern as changes in Greater Yellowstone. Increased growth, development and visitation, climate changes pushing wildlife migration corridors in different patterns, invasive species and many other challenges for regional managers who work to keep these reservoirs of life intact. National Parks are the heartbeat of these Greater Ecosystems that are necessary for the future of wildlands and wildlives. Both the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystems are big. Each are anywhere between 16-20 million+ acres spanning not only state boundaries, but for NCDE, country boundaries.
These regions are considered biosphere reserves…


Biosphere reserves are ‘learning places for sustainable development’. They are sites for testing interdisciplinary approaches to understanding and managing changes and interactions between social and ecological systems, including conflict prevention and management of biodiversity. They are places that provide local solutions to global challenges. Biosphere reserves include terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems. Each site promotes solutions reconciling the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use. Biosphere reserves are nominated by national governments and remain under the sovereign jurisdiction of the states where they are located. Biosphere Reserves are designated under the intergovernmental MAB Programme by the Director-General of UNESCO following the decisions of the MAB International Coordinating Council (MAB-ICC). Their status is internationally recognized. There are currently 738 biosphere reserves in 134 countries, including 22 transboundary sites, that belong to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves.

Map showing large ecosystems in the Rockies with potential for exchanging Grizzly Bear genes! from Vital Ground

The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem crosses the boundaries of Wyoming, Montana, Idaho,
two national parks, portions of five national forests, three national wildlife refuges, Bureau of Land Management holdings, private and tribal lands.
These lands are vital for populations of migrating birds and mammals such as wolves, bison, pronghorn, elk, wolverine and many more. This area has been the recovery zone for the Rocky Mountain Grey Wolf in Yellowstone as well as Grizzly Bear Recovery
Managed by state governments, federal government, tribal governments, and private individuals
This ecosystem lies, on average between 5,000 and 11,000 feet. The headwaters of the Missouri River, Snake River and the Colorado River are found in Greater Yellowstone.

In the US the core of the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem is Glacier Park and the Bob Marshall Ecosystem. In Canada, this spans the Alberta-British Columbia boundary then south into Montana. The ecosystem straddles the major watershed divide between the Pacific Ocean, Hudson Bay and Gulf of Mexico. It consists of a variety of habitat types and elevations, averaging between 4,000-8,000 feet. This area has been the focus of the NCDE Grizzly Bear recovery. Here we have seen government to government consultations with federally recognized Native Indian tribes consulted about their tremendous traditional ecological knowledge and scientific information on this topic.

So much more can be experienced in these great ecosystems. We are fortunate to live in a time they still exist. Without these big wild regions, this planet would lose so many species with which we share our lives.
May they stay “Forever Wild”. (Quoting Walkin’ Jim!)

Best to all of you,

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