About the Yaak
There remains a place in the lower 48 where wildlife present since the end of the last Ice Age still exists. Nestled in the Kootenai National Forest, in the extreme northwest corner of Montana, lies the Yaak Valley. The Yaak Valley's low elevation and high precipitation result in a climate described as "modified Pacific maritime" in character. Large larch, cedar, hemlock, spruce, Douglas, grand and alpine fir, ponderosa, lodgepole and whitepine fill the landscape. This forest is home for an abundance of wildlife. It is also a vital link in the chain of wildlands that sweep north into Canada. Inhabitants include grizzly bears, wolves, lynx, mountain lions, wolverine, marten, fisher, mountain goats, great gray owls, bull trout, westslope cutthroat trout and inland redband trout. Nothing has yet gone extinct here - a testament to the Yaak Valley's strength and resiliency. But not a single acre of the Yaak Valley is permanently protected.
The Yaak Valley is located at the southern terminus of the Purcell Mountain Range in northwest Montana. The Yaak Valley is a critical ecosystem in numerous ways, including but not limited to the following:
- The Big Picture - (Click to see map) On a broader level, the Yaak Valley provides essential regional core habitat linkage possibilities essential to larger transboundary programs such as those led by Yellowstone to Yukan Initiative and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The Yaak is considered by many conservation biologists to be key habitat for grizzly bear recovery in regards to providing linkage to other core recovery areas in all directions, including the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (includes Glacier/Bob Marshal populations), Selkirk Ecosystem (North Idaho) and the population in eastern and central Washington, as well as the Bitteroot Recovery Area and the larger grizzly populations in southern British Columbia.
- Biological Diversity - The Yaak ecosystem is the northern geographical transition zone between the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountains, affording the valley a diverse blend of both ecotone habitat types (i.e., forest landscapes ranging from inland temperate rainforest to drier Northern Rockies).
- Roadless Areas - (Click to see map) Core habitat still exist today (roadless areas total approximately 180,000 acres).
- Federal Jurisdiction - (Click to see map)
The Yaak Valley is 97% public land, managed by USFS. This, a double-edged sword. The benefit of this is that excessive commercial development and dramatic increases in human population is prevented; however, resource management activity can degrade habitat by road building and overharvesting the forest.
- Grizzly Bear Recovery - (Click to see map) The Yaak Valley is one of only six grizzly bear recovery areas in the lower forty-eight states, and has a moderate level of scientifically documented grizzly bear activity. With estimates of only 15-30 grizzly bears remaining, the Cabinet/Yaak Grizzly Bear Recovery Area contains the lowest elevation grizzly population, as well as the most imperiled population, in North America.
- Other Rare Species - Aside from the Grizzly Bear, other threatened/endangered/sensitive species occur in this ecosystem including: inland redband rainbow trout, bull trout, wolverine, lynx, fisher, harlequin duck, torrent sculpin, sturgeon, coeur d'alene salamander, great gray owl, westslope cutthroat trout, flammulated owl, short-head sculpin, boreal owl, peregrine falcon, wavy moonwort, mingan island moonwort, towsend's big-ear bat, small lady's slipper, common loon, sparrow's egg lady slipper, kidney-leaved violet, maidenhair spleenwort, black-backed woodpecker, round-leaved orchid, green keeled cotton grass, bog birch, crested shield fern, spalding's catchfly, linear-leaved sundew, northern golden-carpet, northern bog lemming, and water howellia.