Keeping the crown of the continent connected: An interagency US2 connectivity workshop report

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Abstract

At over 2.5 million acres, Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness complex form one of the largest protected areas in the continental United States. Straddling the Continental Divide, these two areas form a vital linkage between vast areas of public land to the south towards Yellowstone, and contiguous protected areas north of the US-Canada border. However, US Highway 2 (US2) and the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad separate Glacier National Park to the north from the Bob Marshall Wilderness complex to the south. While this narrow ribbon of development passes through primarily public land, it is bordered in some areas by narrow strips of private land. Many of these private parcels are developed as ranches, campgrounds, or seasonal and permanent home sites and businesses.


Currently, two of the defining characteristics of this portion of the US2 corridor are relatively low highway traffic volume, but relatively high railroad traffic volume. The highway had a 2017 annual average daily traffic volume (AADT) of 1859 vehicles, far less than other interstate highways around the region which often have AADTs well over 10,000. Conversely, the BNSF railroad line currently carries about 33 trains per day, making it one of the busier railroad lines in the northwestern US.


While wildlife movement patterns across this corridor have not been well studied, the existing data suggests that wildlife can still make frequent and successful crossings at current railroad and highway traffic levels. However, as the region’s human population grows, we expect that connectivity to diminish. Over the past decade (2000-2017), based on census data, Flathead County has grown by 10% and Glacier County has grown by 1.5%. A study on loss of open space found that Flathead County alone accounts for 15% of the new homes built in Montana since 2000 (https://headwaterseconomics.org/economicdevelopment/local-studies/montana-home construction/). Outdoor recreation and tourism have also been breaking participation records (source: GPI record passengers https://flatheadbeacon.com/2018/01/24/glacier-park-international-airport-sees-record-passengers-2017/, GNP record visitation https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/montana/articles/2018-01 15/glaciernational-park-breaks-visitation-record-in-2017). This growth has been accompanied by a ~50% increase in highway traffic volume in the corridor over the past decade (Waller and Miller 2015). This increased traffic is decreasing the time available for wildlife to cross the highway and appears to be increasing the frequency of wildlife killed by vehicles (Fig. 1 and 2).


In addition, the Middle Fork of the Flathead River is a favored river for recreation, and this also appears to be growing. In the summer of 2017, researchers recorded 136 boats per day in July and 93 boats per day in August. Although the river does not extend along the entire highway, it extends along 31 miles of the highway corridor.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype Other Government Series
Title Keeping the crown of the continent connected: An interagency US2 connectivity workshop report
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher NPS
Contributing office(s) Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center
Description 30 p.
Country United States
State Montana
County Flathead County
Other Geospatial Bob Marshall Wilderness complex, Glacier National Park