The Montana Valley and Foothill Prairies Ecoregion comprises numerous intermountain valleys and low-elevation foothill prairies spread across the western half of Montana, on both sides of the Continental Divide (Omernik, 1987; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1997). The ecoregion, which covers approximately 64,658 km2 (24,965 mi2), includes the Flathead Valley and the valleys surrounding Helena, Missoula, Bozeman, Billings, Anaconda, Dillon, and Lewistown (fig. 1). These valleys are generally characterized by shortgrass prairie vegetation and are flanked by forested mountains (Woods and others, 1999); thus, the valleys’ biotas with regards to fish and insects are comparable. In many cases, the valleys are conduits for some of the largest rivers in the state, including Clark Fork and the Missouri, Jefferson, Madison, Flathead, Yellowstone, Gallatin, Smith, Big Hole, Bitterroot, and Blackfoot Rivers (fig. 2). The Montana Valley and Foothill Prairies Ecoregion also includes the “Rocky Mountain front,” an area of prairies along the eastern slope of the northern Rocky Mountains. Principal land uses within the ecoregion include farming, grazing, and mining. The valleys serve as major transportation and utility corridors and also contain the majority of Montana’s human population. The Montana Valley and Foothill Prairies Ecoregion extends into 17 mostly rural counties throughout western Montana. Only three of the counties—Carbon, Yellowstone, and Missoula—are part of a metropolitan statistical area with contiguous built-up areas tied to an employment center. Nearly two-thirds of Montana residents live in nonmetropolitan counties (Albrecht, 2008). Ten of the counties within the ecoregion had population growth rates greater than national averages (9–13 percent) between 1970 and 2000 (table 1). Ravalli and Gallatin Counties had the highest growth rates. Population growth was largely due to amenity-related inmigration and an economy dependent on tourism, health care, and services. Counties that had population declines, such as Deer Lodge, Silver Bow, and Meagher Counties, also had declines in agriculture and mining activity, and they had railroad closures as well. Climate varies from north to south and from the east side of the Continental Divide to the west side. However, all areas are semiarid with long cold winters and short growing seasons. In the western part of the ecoregion, Beaverhead, Bitterroot, Flathead, and Lolo National Forests provide the natural resources, particularly timber, that form the economic base for towns within nearby valleys. Mineral resources from mines in and around Anaconda, Deer Lodge, and Butte have long provided an economic base for these towns (fig. 3).