About The Wild Yaak

The wild Yaak is a rugged and remote landscape in northwestern Montana, deep in the Kootenai National Forest. Carved out of the Southern Purcell Mountains by the Yaak River and its many tributaries, the Yaak Valley is a biologically rich landscape harboring an astonishing variety of wildlife and pockets of old-growth forests. Continental weather patterns collide in the Yaak as colder and drier Rocky Mountain ecosystems meet a steady onslaught of storms and moisture from the Pacific Ocean.

The resulting high-precipitation, number of cloudy days, and deep winter snowpack create a “modified Pacific maritime” climate that supports small pockets of rare inland-temperate rainforest dominated by western red cedar and western hemlock. All that moisture filters through the many streams and pockets of marshy-wetlands found in the wild Yaak, working its way into the Yaak River watershed and creating areas of climate refugia, parts of the landscape uniquely resilient to climate change.

Yaak Falls
Yaak Falls.

Climate Refuge

The Yaak Valley is home to an astonishing level of biodiversity and acts as a refuge for many threatened plant and animal species. The Yaak Valley Forest Council Climate Refuge Program seeks to identify, preserve, and protect the landscape and species of the Yaak that are uniquely resilient to the effects of climate change. We utilize climate-relevant topographic, hydrologic, and species-based criteria to locate these climate refugia, guide conservation goals, inform management action, and conduct habitat restoration.

Roadless Areas and Intact Forests

The wild Yaak has approximately 180,000 acres of undisturbed, rugged, and remote roadless areas home to a fascinating variety of tree species, including an abundance of western larch and pockets of sub-alpine larch. These fire-resilient trees have soft, bright green needles that light up the Yaak with a brilliant gold in the fall and cover the forest floor by winter. The Yaak’s forests are incredibly regenerative and resilient to fire and have survived many fire seasons, including the historic wildfires of 1910. The Yaak Valley’s forests and roadless areas have endured years of habitat fragmentation and the clearcutting of the ’80s and ’90s. The landscape of the Yaak has persevered through these challenges, exemplified by rapid growth, complex ecology, and an untouched core of wild forest lands that dominates the landscape.

A map of the Yaak area.
Grizzly Bear Family
A grizzly bear family (photo courtesy of FWP).

Grizzly Bear Recovery

The wild Yaak’s forests and roadless areas offer prime habitat for grizzly bears and provide connectivity to other core grizzly habitat in all directions, making it one of only six grizzly bear recovery areas in the lower forty-eight states. Estimates show there are 18-25 grizzly bears remaining in the Yaak Valley. On a broader level, the Yaak provides regional linkage to nearby grizzly refuge populations, making maintenance of healthy grizzly populations in this valley essential to larger transboundary grizzly conservation programs, such as those led by the Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

To view maps and other downloadable materials, please visit our resources page.

Biological Diversity

The wild Yaak acts as a refuge for a broad array of climate-sensitive species reliant on intact mature forests, ephemeral-water sources, and a topographically diverse ecosystem unique to this valley. Westslope cutthroat trout (A) populations are at risk from stream sedimentation, stream barriers to migratory corridors, warming stream temperatures, and hybridization. Western toad (B) life-history requires over-ridge habitat corridors that need special consideration when planning for timber harvest. An English sundew (C) population in the Yaak is one of only two dozen known in Montana and requires untrampled peat mats to prosper. Much of the English sundew’s moist habitat in the Yaak Valley is under threat from clearcutting the currently proposed US Forest Service Black Ram timber project. Salvage logging and clearcutting in the wild Yaak reduces habitat for the pileated woodpecker (D) and other cavity-nesting bird species. Pika (E) are particularly susceptible to climate change and population fragmentation. Yaak populations of pika require conservation of cool peak-to-peak migratory routes. Northern Alligator lizards (F) are unique, moisture and cool-temperature-adapted reptiles found in Yaak that require habitat protection.

All species were photographed in the Yaak by Yaak Valley Forest Council Field Crew Leader Anthony South. All wildlife featured in these photos, except pika, are state-listed Montana Species of Concern.

(A) Westslope Cutthroat Trout, (B) Western Toad, (C) English Sundew, (D) Pileated Woodpecker, (E) Pika, (F) Northern Alligator Lizard