Are you a visitor to Montana?
Or have you been here for years?
How much of Montana have you explored?
Montana is a big state, and from rocky peaks in the west to the wide open prairie in the east, there is so much to see! In this exhibit you’ll learn about Montana’s major ecosystems and the plants and animals that call them home.
The Montane Forest has the most plant diversity of these four Montana ecosystems. It includes forests of ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, and western larch; high alpine ridgelines; and damp cedar-hemlock rainforests. Rising above the forested slopes of this ecosystem are the bare, craggy peaks and ridges of the high mountains—the alpine or tundra habitat that is too harsh and cold for trees. The plants and animals here are adapted to the cold, wind, snow, and short growing season.
The Intermountain Foothills provide habitat to more wildlife than any other region in Montana! Mountain lions, Western Meadowlarks, Bald Eagles, and garter snakes are common here. This landscape is a transition from the mountains to the prairie so you’ll see more grasses and open forests. It also includes most of the state’s riparian areas—the vegetated land along lakes and rivers. People are very common in this ecosystem, too. Most of the people who live in Montana live in communities in the Intermountain Foothills.
Plants in the Sagebrush Steppe are well-adapted to grow in this dry climate with hot summers and cold winters. Big sagebrush and Rocky Mountain juniper define the landscape; look closer and you’ll find wildflowers and several kinds of grasses. The smallest of these four ecosystem types, the Sagebrush Steppe is home to the most species of conservation concern, including Greater Sage-Grouse, common sagebrush lizard, and black-footed ferret. You’ll also see animals that thrive across several ecosystems, like mule deer, pronghorn antelope, and Western Meadowlark.
Looking out over the Plains Grassland ecosystem, it is easy to miss the diversity of plants here! Look closely and you’ll see several different species of grasses and even the plains pricklypear cactus. In the pockets of more protected habitat created by the breaks and badlands areas, you can find big sagebrush and other shrubs and the Great Plains ponderosa pine—a smaller version of the ponderosa we see here in western Montana. The warm-water areas of the rivers that span the Plains Grassland contain the most diverse fish communities in the state, home to paddlefish, pallid sturgeon, channel catfish, and more. On land, you’ll find bison, pronghorn antelope, Golden Eagles, Burrowing Owls, and many other bird species.