Dispersal routes connecting core areas:
Given this situation, taking this basic model, we decided to try to determine if there might still be dispersal routes with adequate habitat to permit Grizzly Bears and other large carnivores to disperse between these three large core areas in the Northern Rockies. I worked on this project with Richard Walker, who's now teaching at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point. We wanted to see if there might be a possibility for a regional metapopulation of large carnivores such as Grizzly Bears. This was done as a corridor analysis project for a group called American Wildlands in Bozeman, Montana.
Before this was started, there was a wilderness bill proposed by groups in Montana, such as the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, entitled the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act. That just was introduced again in the House of Representatives as H.R. 488, introduced by two Representatives from the east; Christopher Shays (R-CT) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY). They couldn't get anybody in Montana to introduce it, which is always the case in these resource rich states. Politics are not favorable.
What we wanted to do as scientists: NREPA is a political solution but it's based on the expert opinion of biologists and activists - which areas are important and what might be connecting routes. We wanted to try to do a science-based analysis of a similar problem and see what habitats we could delineate that might also provide connecting routes. So to begin with, we mapped all of the region to see what habitat might potentially support Grizzly Bears. We used an approach that was similar to a cumulative effects model that was being developed by the Federal Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee. The cumulative effects model is still being refined. The basic problem was that they made it way too complicated. We probably erred in the other direction, we made ours way too simple. But there's an old adage in modeling: KISS, Keep It Simple, Stupid. So, that's how we tried to start out.