Grizzly Bear, Bob Chinn  photoMoose, Bob Chinn photoBighorn Sheep. Bob Chinn photo

Encompassing approximately 16,000 square miles, much of it protected wilderness, national park and national forest, the Crown of the Continent is home to more than 62 species of mammals. Historically prolific throughout the west, some, such as the wolf and grizzly bear, now find this to be their last stronghold in the continental US. Wolverine, mountain lion, moose, red fox and beaver populations can also be found here, while herds of elk make long treks across hundreds of miles throughout the year. High in the alpine, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, marmots, and pikas find refuge far from human disturbance. This unique collection of mammals shows us how nature can flourish in undisturbed ecosystems.

Researchers make use of this living laboratory to study mammals both large and small. Grizzly bear population studies are being conducted using DNA from hairs taken from rub trees. The effect of pocket gophers on alpine tree line dynamics is under investigation, as is the adaptability of bighorn sheep to shrinking mountain grasslands and the pika’s ability to deal with increasing summer temperatures. Research into these, and other animal species, will provide a clearer picture of how humans and nature are affecting their chances for continued survival.