The High Divide is a patchwork of private, state and federal land that connects Yellowstone National Park with the central Idaho wild lands, including the Frank Church Wilderness.
“The main gist is getting wildlife to connect, which is key for long-term viability,” said the Greater Yellowstone Coalition’s Idaho Conservation Coordinator Kathy Rinaldi.
The GYC is one of several groups trying to preserve the landscape, which Rinaldi calls a high priority and vulnerable conservation area. The coalition hosted a recent fly-over of the High Divide with members of the group and scientists.
The small plane passed over rivers, mountains and the St. Anthony Sand Dunes.
“Those habitats are what make it part of a healthy ecosystem,” said Rinaldi.
What makes the area vulnerable, she said, are environmental factors like climate change, but also encroaching development and increased human/ wildlife conflicts that come from more people in the area.
She said managing conflict is about changing the habits of one species in particular, humans.
“That’s really about coexisting,” she said. “[About] people changing their behavior.”
Member of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee and the Idaho Fish and Game Department, Greg Losinksi told the flight about a grizzly in the High Divide that traveled miles to feed on a horse carcass, going so far as to dig it up several times.
One of the other threats to the landscape is development, the flight passed through acres of land that, while empty, were actually home to hundreds of platted subdivision lots. Even though homes haven’t been built yet, Rinaldi said that raises the cost of conserving the land significantly.
Besides using tools like conservation easements to protect land in the High Divide, Rinaldi said they are trying to shape the management of public lands through commenting on documents like the upcoming management plan for Bureau of Land Management property in the landscape.
The GYC has also helped retire some sheep grazing allotments and change others from sheep to cattle. She said cattle are easier to manage in areas that have predators.
She said though the High Divide may not be as well know as two of the iconic areas it connects, Yellowstone National Park and the Frank Church Wilderness, it’s vital to preserving multiple species including grizzly bears.
“They’re really a true indicator of what’s wild,” she said. And to keep that wildness intact, connections are key.
“And that connective tissue is what keeps it all together,” she said.