A vast diversity of plants and animals make their home in Montana. But a few are also in peril, struggling to survive. As you enjoy the wilds of the state, it’s worth being aware of the threatened and endangered species in residence so you can join in the fight to preserve and protect them and their ecosystems.
First, let’s break down the difference between threatened and endangered species. Endangered species have become so rare that they’re at risk of going extinct in all or a significant portion of their range. Threatened species are at risk of getting to that point, likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future.
Endangered and threatened species find federal protections under the Endangered Species Act. That means that listed animals can’t be hunted, traded or sold. And for plants, they can’t be collected. That means that folks out recreating in Montana should have an idea of what species they’re interacting with to know when you need to be more careful, practice catch and release, or avoid trampling sensitive plants.
Grizzlies are officially threatened at this point, found in high alpine areas and surrounding foothills in the western and south central parts of the state. They used to range the plains along with the higher alpine areas when bison roamed. When the bison declined due to overhunting, the grizzlies took a hit too.
Their cousins the black bears are not considered threatened or endangered at this point. If you’re out in the Montana woods, you’ll want to be able to tell the difference. Black bears can range in color from deep black to lighter cinnamon or blond, so you can’t go off of color alone. Look for the grizzly’s characteristic humpback and short, rounded ears—though generally, if you’re in a position to take in their ear shape at close range, you’re probably a bit close for comfort.
Bull trout are threatened across the US, fully extinct in California and considered secure in only 2 percent of Montana’s streams where they reside. They have a few factors to blame for their decline: rising water temperatures due to agriculture, poorly draining roads that add too much sediment to the waterways, and low river levels due to seasonal irrigation that cuts them off from spawning locations.
When you’re out fishing Montana’s rivers, keep in mind that it’s illegal to target bull trout. And if you do catch one by accident, you should release it immediately. You’ll recognize them by the light yellow spots along their backs, with red or orange spots down their sides.
These fish species have been around since the time of the dinosaurs, but after making it this far they’re now on the endangered list. These two species are so closely related that they were only recently separated into separate species, and that’s still up for debate. As ancient fish, they have a skeleton made from cartilage instead of bone.
People occasionally catch these critters out fishing on the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers in Montana, though only in a portion of their former thousands-mile range. If you happen to catch one of these while you’re out fishing, you need to release it immediately.
This little orchid relative is currently threatened, though it’s likely to move onto the endangered list if its current situation continues. Its white flowers can reach up to 20 inches from the roots, and you may be lucky enough to spot them in just a few locations in Jefferson, Gallatin, Beaverhead and Madison counties when they bloom between July and September. They’ve likely declined because of changing river management with dam control that has led to less of the seasonal flooding that helps them thrive.
These are just a few of the threatened and endangered species found in Montana. From black-footed ferrets to least terns, whooping cranes and Canada lynxes, we have a whole lot of unique animals to protect in our state. Join Highline Adventures in the conservation effort to do your part for the environment, helping the habitat of these unique species.