Crown of the Continent Ecosystem
The 'Crown of the Continent' ecosystem is one of North America's most ecologically diverse and jurisdictionally fragmented ecosystems. Encompassing the shared Rocky Mountain region of Montana, British Columbia and Alberta, this 28,000 square mile / 72,000 square kilometre ecological complex spreads across two nations; across one state and two provinces; and across numerous aboriginal lands, municipal authorities, public land blocks, private properties, working and protected landscapes.
The Crown is internationally recognized for its biodiversity and landscape form. In relatively short distances and small areas, landscapes range from flat grasslands to soaring peaks; from rock and ice to lush forests; from uninhabited wilderness to densely-populated settlements. This varied landscape sees a likewise varied range of wildlife species and vegetation communities. A full complement of large carnivores and ungulates can be found in the region, and valleys in the Crown of the Continent serve as important wildlife movement corridors, representing one of the last areas with the potential for such large-scale connectivity.
The headwaters of three of North America's major river systems, flowing to three different oceans are encompassed within the Crown ecosystem: the Saskatchewan flowing to the Hudsons Bay; the Missouri flowing to the Gulf of Mexico; and the Columbia flowing to the Pacific Ocean.
The productive landscape has drawn people to the region for millennia, with the last century seeing an dramatic increase in industries and residents. This relatively narrow slice of the continent now sees upwards of two million people using its landscapes. The last century has seen dramatic increases in protection as well, with the designation of numerous parks, wilderness and other protected areas.
The region has a long and accomplished history of cross-border cooperation, notably the International Peace Park at its centre (designated a World Heritage Site and surrounded by a Biosphere Reserve), state-provincial memoranda of agreement, the International Joint Commission, several interagency committees, and most recently the Crown Managers Partnership.
Issues and Needs
The long term ecological integrity of the region is challenged because the region faces intensification in all areas of human activity, including urban and rural residential expansion, increased and diversifying recreational use, intensified demands for resource use and extraction, and the growth of the physical infrastructure needed to support all of these. These pressures exist at different intensities in different locales throughout the region. The effectiveness of responding to these issues is complicated by jurisdictional fragmentation.
The result has been increasing fragmentation and loss of wildlife habitat, decreased quality of wilderness-oriented recreational experiences, degradation of important ecological goods and services such as clean air and clean water, uncertainty and frustration for both industrial and protection efforts, and increasingly unhealthy local communities.
In order to maintain essential ecological processes and manage human presence within this landscape, a need exists for transboundary collaborative approaches to ecosystem management at a regional scale. Political, financial and technical barriers impede this type of management. These barriers are magnified when numerous political borders divide a landscape. No single agency has the mandate or the resources to focus upon the entire region.