WCS North America

Maintaining Wildlife and Private Lands in Southwest Montana and Central Idaho

Low density (exurban) residential development is the fastest growing land use in the United States, and is particularly prevalent in areas of high amenity value surrounding protected areas, including the private lands of the Adirondack Park and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE).  Consisting of homes located on large lots of 5 – 40 acres, it is a particularly consumptive development pattern, and, although not always visually obtrusive, it has major and irreversible impacts on wildlife.  Specialized species that are intolerant of humans are displaced by generalist species; human-wildlife conflict may increase due to intrusion by human settlement into prime wildlife habitat; and wide-ranging species suffer the incremental loss of habitat caused by expanded road and driveway networks and the development itself. In southwest Montana and central Idaho, the wide open spaces, friendly communities, and wildlife habitat isn’t what it used to be.  This region is undergoing dramatic changes and these changes are likely to continue as growth and development continue and it becomes increasingly difficult to make a living in agriculture.



  • Establish socio-economic and cultural baselines in the communities of the GYE
  • Merge our social understanding of the local communities with our long-term wildlife data. 
  • Integrate the findings into local decision making such that communities are empowered to make informed choices about their futures.
  • Maintain connectivity for wildlife to move between the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the Selway Bitterroots – keeping historical migrations intact, ensuring species can fulfill their ecological roles, and leaving options to respond to the growing threats of climate and land use change. 
  • Benefit communities by increasing tourism opportunities, maintain higher property values, and improving quality of life through nurturing aesthetic and recreation values as well as capturing ecosystem services like watershed protection and more productive agricultural landscapes.
  • Integrate the needs of wildlife into local land-use decision-making the region to reduce the effects of development on private land by identifying local natural resources; situating development away from those resources; and supporting changes in subdivision regulations, zoning practices, clustering policies. 
  • Improve quality of life of local people by maintaining open space, wildlife habitat, agricultural and working forest potential by thwarting poorly planned developments and reducing hidden infrastructure costs through improved land-use practices in the region.
  • Build a constituency for conservation through regular communications in meetings and workshops with local residents, landowners, and community officials to think about the future of their communities with respect to existing natural resources. 
  • Work with landowners and local officials in Greater Yellowstone such that any changes in land-use planning can be sustained via local acceptance.


Landowner Survey

The Wildlife Conservation Society and Cornell University, with funding from the Brainerd Foundation, conducted a mail survey in the Fall of 2009 to learn about landowners’ attitudes toward wildlife, planning and land-use in three communities: Island Park, Idaho; Big Sky, Montana; and the Upper Big Hole, Montana. Development in the region along with the conversion of large tracts of ranchlands or undeveloped lands into housing has brought the issues of wildlife, land-use, and planning into the forefront of many community discussions. The survey was an independent research effort not connected to any county planning office or on-going land-use planning efforts. However, we are making the results available to local landowners, local governments and groups working in the region as these groups may find the information useful for guiding discussion about development and wildlife conservation efforts on private lands. The survey was an opportunity for landowners to express opinions about wildlife and private lands management in the region. Communicating the results of this survey is a critical step for enabling residents to decide how well the information reflects the community and what questions are most critical for future decision making around land-use issues facing the Southwest Montana and Central Idaho region.


WCS North America Program
212 South Wallace Avenue, Suite 101 Bozeman, MT, 59715 USA
(406) 522-9333

Key Staff

Heidi Kretser
Conservation Social Scientist

Partners Include

Brainerd Foundation
Cornell HDRU Logo
Future West