Published: September 2007
Did you Know?
In Did You Know? the National Geographic magazine team shares extra information we gathered to expand your knowledge of our featured subjects.
Though Waterton–Glacier International Peace Park may be the jewel in the Crown of the Continent, it is merely the centerpiece of a much wider ecosystem needed to sustain the park's wildlife—grizzlies, wolverines, elk, eagles, bighorn sheep, trout, and much, much more—which obeys neither park boundaries nor national borders.

The Crown of the Continent ecosystem is an immense stretch of mostly natural areas about three times the size of Connecticut. It reaches 250 miles (402 kilometers) north to south, from the headwaters of the Elk and Highwood Rivers in British Columbia and Alberta down into Montana's Blackfoot River Valley, and encompasses mountain ranges to the west of the Continental Divide as well as the edge of the plains to the east.

About one-third of this ecosystem is protected in its natural state, including two national parks (Glacier and Waterton Lakes), the Castle Wilderness north of Waterton, and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex south of Glacier. But the rest of the territory is largely unprotected and includes a mix of private land and land managed as national or provincial forest, which leaves it open to activities such as logging, mining, grazing, or hunting. 

One particularly vulnerable area is the southwestern corner of British Columbia, the mirror image of Alberta's Waterton Lakes National Park across the Continental Divide. It also touches the western half of Glacier National Park at the Canadian border. This area contains Canada's portion of the Flathead Valley, an as-yet undeveloped low-elevation valley with a high concentration of grizzly bears. A move is afoot to protect this area by making it an addition to Waterton Lakes National Park, thus enlarging that jewel in the Crown. For more information go to www.flathead.ca.


— Elizabeth Snodgrass