January 27th, 2008

Constructing a Local Cosmology: Two Recommended Resources

By the way, this is one of my paintings..click it to see a larger version...you can learn about it, and see more of my work at The Lance M. Foster Studio.

In addition to the excellent AODA essay Wildcrafting the Modern Druid by Gordon Cooper, I recommend you take a look at two additional resources that can help you get started in constructing a local cosmology.

1. The Art of Conversation with the Genius Loci

First, look at The Art of Conversation with the Genius Loci, by Barry Patterson, as well as his website, Red Sandstone Hill. I bought this book a few years ago, and return to it over and over, not only because of the information there that resonates with my own experiences, but also Patterson's wonderful lyrical writing. A Genius Loci is of course, the particular spirit/intelligence (genius) of a place, that resides or animates that location/land/site (loci). The concept and experience of the Genius Loci is essential to not only my spirituality, but my own work as a landscape architect, landscape historian, and archaeologist.

Here is the table of contents from Patterson's book The Art of Conversation with the Genius Loci:

Foreword: The World by Gordon Maclellan.
1. The World of the Laughing Gull - An autobiographical piece.
Poem: Whitley Grove
2. Basic Approaches - Finding a Place - Other People - Know Thyself - Really Being There - The Power of Giving - Labour of Love - Standing & Sitting Still - The Power Principle - Earthing the Charge.
3. Going Deeper - Working with the Circumstances - Firelight - Games to Play: The Magical Mystery Tour, Tell Me a Story, Mythago Wood.
Poem: Water Worn Stone
4. The Great Directions - What is Actually There? - The Numbers Game - Attributes of the Directions in Different Systems - The Cross Quarters - The Centre - The Temple & the Glade.
5. The Hamlet Syndrome - The World of Animism - The Tree Man - A Warning? - Little Things - The Hamlet Syndrome - Dualism & Mysticism.
6. The Mantic Moment - A Little Bird Told Me - Divination - The Inkblot Test - Oracles of Place -
The Mantic Moment.
Poem: The Edge
7. A Statement of Intent is Not Enough - The Art of Magic - Stuff Happens - Tying Knots - The Western Way? - Approaches to Magic - Singing a Rune - Ecology & Magic - Holistic Magic - Working on Ourselves - A Statement of Intent is Not Enough.
8. The Living Bedrock of the Land - Science, Art & Magic - What Makes a Sacred Site? - Geological Maps - Minerals, Crystals, Stones & Rock - Types of Rock - Shapes in the Land - Practical Work - Danger - In the City.
Poem: In the Yew Wood at Night
9. The Plant Powers - The Barrier - A Relationship of Abuse? - Conscience - Talking to the Trees - The Oak Replies - Getting to Know You - In the Garden.
10. The Animal Powers - Contradictions - Ethics & Awareness - Animal Spirits - A Bigger Picture - Power Animals - Boundaries - Lions & Tigers & Bears! - Honour Living Things - Field Study - Harmony.
Poem: The Hunter
11. Down Between the River & the Railway Lines - Post Industrial Panic - The Old Ones are Among Us! - The Hilltops of South East London - Satori in Blackfriars - Don’t Fool Yourself - City of the Phoenix - This is not a Quest! Dakinis, Djinns & Duppies- Urban Ecology.
12. Another World? - Trance -Questions - Drumming - Exercises - Going Deeper - Taking a Journey - Mediumship - Grounding - Other Worlds? - Faery Lore - Telling Tales - This World & the Next - Little & Big - One World!
13. Weasels, Ghosts & Phobias - The Bogey Man - Shadowy Perspectives - The Spider & the Fly- The Dark Side- Weasels- Fear of Fear- Try to Remember- The Guardian of the Mysteries - Lovelock Meets Lovecraft - Down to Earth.
14. The Art of Memory - Gifts from Faery- Preparation & Uses- The Art of Memory - Overcoming Attachment - Green Wood - The Heart of the Matter.
Appendix 1: Singing a Rune
Appendix 2: Contacts
Appendix 3: The Country Code
Appendix 4: The AsLan Charter
Poem: The Ringses

2. "Bioregional Animism" Blog/Website/Video

I came to find the attractive and provocative Bioregional Animism blog through Patterson's site. There is also the companion Bioregionalism Animism website. The website has a nice Bioregional Animism video worth watching as well. So far, I like what I have read, although it sometimes overthinks and uses too much academic rhetoric to express very elementary concepts better expressed in traditional stories...and stuff I learned as a kid through our traditional Native ways and my time immersed in the outdoors. As a Native American and instinctive animist from childhood ( but aren't we all instinctive animists? --except most seem to trash their inherent animism by the age of 7-9) ...I also don't like the deconstructionist attempt to create a more intellectual neologistic "neo-animism" more compatible with a more rationalist viewpoint, but that would probably appeal to many others in the larger part of our contemporary society who are trying to (re)connect to nature from the intellectual/skeptical mainstream.

This blog is very compatible with Gordon's essay in many ways. The author(s) of the blog are really trying to connect bioregional ecosystems with animistic thinking. One thing I like about it, is that while it retains the animistic recognition of Persons in nature (as they term it "Other-Than-Human-Persons"...though I read the use of Persons (capitalized) in the same usage as a nonhuman spiritual being back in high school while reading Plenty Coups, the story of the Montana Crow chief, written by Plenty Coups and Frank Bird Linderman...great book! Plenty Coups used the term "Persons" when speaking of spirits up above, underwater beings, and the like). I also like that they have recognized that you cannot have shamanism without animism; that has always bugged me about contemporary self-styled "shamans"...they neglect the theological underpinnings of bioregionally-based cosmologies. So at least that is being grappled with at last. The other part of shamanism "neoshamans" have not gotten right yet, is that traditional societies are not me/I focused to the ridiculous extent that the neo-shaman/New Age people of our society often are (me, me, me is their mantra...thou in me, all nature in me, God in me...me, me, me). Traditional societies are about US, not me...me only in the sense of essential to US.

Here are a couple of quotes from the Bioregional Animism blog I like:

Animism is the view that human beings on the earth live — whether they know it or not — in community with persons who are not human beings. These other-than-human persons may include animals, plants, trees, rocks, clouds, thunder, and stars. The phrase other-than-human persons was coined by anthropologist Irving Hallowell to describe the world of the Ojibwe, in which humans, animals, fish, birds, and plants — and some rocks, trees, and storms — are all relational, intentional, conscious, and communicative beings. ...Other-than-human persons may be helpful, harmful, callous, malicious, indifferent, or tricky, just like human persons. It is often helpful or necessary to enter into personal relationships with them; such relationships with other-than-human persons may be comforting, demanding, or dangerous, just as with human persons. As a result of such relationships, other-than-human persons may provide information, insight, power, vision, healing, protection, songs, and ceremonies. The receipt of such gifts entails reciprocal obligations, just as with human persons.

Remember, not all spirits are nice. And there is always a price...they that rhymes! A new mnemonic for the seeker... "Not all spirits are nice; there is always a price." Another good quote:

...Modern culture has lost its animism because of the emergence of the text. In the Phaedrus, Plato quotes Socrates as warning that writing “will introduce forgetfulness into the soul,” because people will come to trust in the static, written word, rather than “the words of an oak,” or a stone. When text replaces the world as the communicator of truth, then the text is treated animistically, as having its own voice, its own spirit. "The animating interplay of the senses has been transferred to another medium," says Abram, "another locus of participation. It is the written text that provides this new locus. ... The 'inert' letters on the page now speak to us. This is a form of animism ... as mysterious as a talking stone. And indeed, it is only when a culture shifts its participation to these printed letters that the stones fall silent." As an alternative to being "hypnotized by a host of human-made technologies that only reflect us back to ourselves," Abram proposes a return to animism. "Only by affirming the animateness of perceived things do we allow our words to emerge directly from the depths of our ongoing reciprocity with the world."

Reciprocity is one of the most ancient of human values, as old as our species itself...sharing meat, to bond with the other, and ensure meat will be shared with you when the other has, and you have not. I am continually astounded at the lack of reciprocity, this essential quality of humanity, in our contemporary world of me, me, me. One last quote (you really need to visit the blog!):

"I have long struggled with the conflict between the imperialism of my European heritage and the need to reconcile with a foreign land. the truth is that our DNA is a construct of thousands of ancestors before us who walked upon the land. For Native people this land is the same land their people have inhabited for thousands of years, which gives them an inherent intimate relationship with it. Those of us of colonial ancestors have a different dynamic to deal with, in that our genetics may not be of the land, but our experiences and culture is. We are the accumulation of personal experience, ethnic experience, of not only our ancestors but the living we interact with on a daily basis. We are more a result of our culture then our DNA.

This is where new animism diverges from the attitudes of modern paganism. The ancient culture simply do not exist, and the are brutal aspects of it that are no longer applicable. Animism is the base for all human expression, and it is buried in the mythology of our genetic ancestors, whether it is the Celts, Germans, Norse, Slavs. Romans, or Greeks, Africans, or Chinese. Animism is preserved to be rediscovered by the new animist. One has to be mindful that culture context these mythologies were persevered in, no longer exists but gives us valuable information on HOW to develop an animist model that is distinct to all that we are. Many look at the old myths and think "this is what we do and believe to express earth religion" - the animist sees in them "this is how the ancient came to their conclusions and world view, and this is how we can find a unique world view that reconciles our genetics and culture with the land we inhabit." This may seem a subtle to some but it is a very fundamental difference between the modern pagan and the new animist; However, a modern pagan can be a new animist."

Few people are speaking of these ideas, except for native elders trying to remind us that we are missing the point when we adopt another's traditions. Most teachers of shamanism aren't teaching this point of view, they skip the entire process of becoming animist and go straight to the power, the healing, and the mystery. They forget that shamans are healers and diviners employed by animist people with preexisting cosmologies developed by first hand experiences with their land as a bio-region. Bio-Regional Animism addresses this, attempting to inspire us to develop a Bio-Regional Animist cosmology from our personal relationships with the land and its people through communing with them.

...If you want to learn about healing and divination ask the teachers that animist peoples have asked for millions of years - the spirit of the land and sky and all of the other-than-human-persons that share the land and sky with you. If you want to learn how to live in harmony with the land, and sky, and all the other-than-human-persons you live with, then ask them. Don't ask those that live somewhere else, ask the locals! find your own way, create your own relationships, and do it with a community of friends and family. Bring all of the-other-than-human persons in your bio-region into your concept of family and friends, by developing relationships with them, you will find quickly that you are already related, interconnected, and one.

I would suggest that there is nothing incompatible between Christianity and animism...I have reconciled them for myself anyways. Has to do with the fall of mankind bringing about the fall of nature...man caused the fall of nature, not the other way around...God created it all, "and it was GOOD"; fall in this sense does not mean damnation, but loss of perfection. A diamond with a flaw, is still beautiful, but certainly less so. And the flaw, once there, can be the point of the diamond's fracture...so it is with both mankind and nature... the flaws provide the breaching point for possible destruction. But that's another post.

'Nuff already. Good stuff, Maynard! I will be visiting both of these sites often. This is getting to the meat of existence...

Constructing a Local Cosmology: Bioregions

It is vital when constructing a local cosmology to begin with your own bioregion and then ecosystems, and associated habitat types.


I refer the reader to United States, Canada and Mexico Bioregions/Ecoregions (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ecoregions).

Nearctic: The Nearctic is one of the eight terrestrial ecozones dividing the Earth's land surface. The Nearctic ecozone covers most of North America, including Greenland and the highlands of Mexico. Southern Mexico, southern Florida, Central America, and the Caribbean islands are part of the Neotropic ecozone, together with South America. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nearctic)

The other site that is of immense help in breaking the maps into more detailed maps for many (but not all) Nearctic bioregions is at http://www.cas.vanderbilt.edu/bioimages/ecoframe-map.htm.

I will go through these steps using my locale of the Helena Valley which is defined by surrounding mountains (the Belts, the Continental Divide, and the Elkhorns/Boulder Batholith) in Montana, to give an example as to how this is done.

Within the Nearctic Ecozone are several bioregions. Montana is located in the Western North America bioregion:

The Western North America bioregion includes the Temperate coniferous forests of the coastal and mountain regions of southern Alaska, western Canada, and the western United States from the Pacific to the Rocky Mountains, as well as the cold-winter intermountain deserts and xeric shrublands and temperate grasslands and shrublands of the western United States. In terms of floristic provinces, it is represented by the Rocky Mountain Region. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nearctic)

According to the map from Vanderbilt, the state of Montana is within five different bioregions: North Central Rockies forests, South Central Rockies forests, Montana valley and foothill grasslands, Northern short grasslands, and Wyoming Basin shrub steppe. The Helena Valley and its surrounding mountains is a place where three of these bioregions meet: North Central Rockies forests, South Central Rockies forests, and Montana valley and foothill grasslands. The Wikipedia article lists these under the following headings.

Temperate coniferous forests
North Central Rockies forests (Canada, United States) (WWF ecoregion NA0518)
South Central Rockies forests (United States) (WWF ecoregion NA0528)

Temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands
Montana valley and foothill grasslands (United States) (WWF ecoregion NA0808)
Northern short grasslands (Canada, United States) (WWF ecoregion NA0811)

Deserts and xeric shrublands
Wyoming Basin shrub steppe (United States) [a small finger into s. Montana]

Once you have the bioregions for your area, in my case, three pertain to my area (North Central Rockies forests, South Central Rockies forests, and Montana valley and foothill grasslands), then you go to the summary at Vanderbilt in the right pane (there are further details in the window linked to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) numbers/site).

For the Helena area, I collated the following from the two sites (Vanderbilt and WWF):

1) Montana valley and foothill grasslands (WWF ecoregion NA0808)

The Montana Valley and Foothill Grasslands ecoregions occupies high valleys and foothill regions in the central Rocky Mountains of Montana and Alberta. The ecoregion occupies the Rocky Mountain Front, the uppermost flatland reaches of the Missouri River drainage, and extends into the Clark Fork-Bitterroot drainage of the Columbia River system....

Located in the Chinook belt, this ecoregion is characterized by dry, warm summers and mild winters. Mean annual temperature is 3.5°C, mean summer temperature is 14°C, and mean winter temperature is -8°C. Annual precipitation is approximately 425 mm (ESWG 1995).

The dominant vegetation type of this ecoregion varies somewhat, but consists mainly of wheatgrass (Agropyron spp.) and fescue (Festuca spp.). Certain valleys, notably the upper Madison, Ruby, and Red Rock drainages of southwestern Montana, are distinguished by extensive sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) communities as well. This is a reflection of semi-arid conditions caused by pronounced rain shadow effects and high elevation. Thus, near the Continental Divide in southwestern Montana, the ecoregion closely resembles the nearby Snake/Columbia shrub steppe...

Historically, heavy grazing by native herbivores–mainly bison (Bison bison)–was a major influence on most of this ecoregion. Periodic fires were also part of the disturbance regime. Some characteristic wildlife species of the Foothill Grasslands include white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra americana), coyote (Canis latrans), rabbit (Sylvilagus sp.), and grouse (Dendragapus sp.). The ecoregion supports endemic and relict fisheries: Westslope cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus lewisi clarki), Yellowstone cutthroat (Oncorhynchus clarki), and fluvial arctic grayling (Thymallus arcticus), a relict species from past glaciation.

The moderating effects of strong chinook winds results in a high diversity of vegetation communities in close proximity to one another. Certain sites contain relatively high levels of species richness. The Centennial Valley of southwestern Montana supports 487 vascular plant taxa (Mahr 1996). This valley supports large breeding populations of trumpeter swans (Cygnus bucinator) and sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis). Owing to its highly productive wetlands and juxtaposition to nearby montane habitats, the Centennial Valley may also be a candidate site for grizzly bear (Ursus arctos) recolonization of grassland habitat. This valley and other undeveloped valleys provide critical linkage habitat for grizzlies and other species moving between separate mountain ranges. Such areas also provide critical seasonal range for ungulates like elk (Cervus elaphus) and bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis).

Approximately 25 percent of the ecoregion remains as intact habitat. Less than 10 percent of the Canadian portion of this ecoregion is estimated to remain as intact habitat. Most of the ecoregion has been heavily altered. Domestic stock grazing, draining of wetlands, and conversion to row crops have been major anthropogenic changes to the ecoregion. Replacement of native species with exotic grasses, and noxious weed invasions, are serious problems.

More recently, development for residential homes has been a major threat to the ecoregion. Most of the tremendous population growth in the Rocky Mountains naturally ends up in this ecoregion, because it is largely privately-owned and lends itself to homebuilding.

Long-term environmental pollution from hard rock mining is a major concern. The ecoregion contains the nation's largest Superfund toxic waste site, stretching along the Clark Fork and Blackfoot Rivers from the Continental Divide west to Missoula, Montana.

There are still major tracts of relatively intact habitat in the ecoregion. Along the East Front of the Rockies, from Great Falls to near Calgary, it is possible to find large tracts of grassland that have only experienced grazing. ...In the southwestern corner of Montana, there are vast expanses of undeveloped foothills and valley bottoms. In these remote areas, homebuilding is not an immediate large-scale threat, although some key riparian areas are being subdivided and developed. ...Rapid subdivision in some locales is contributing to wholesale fragmentation of habitat. With subdivision and homebuilding come new beachheads for exotic plant invasions, whether intentional or not. Homebuilding also leads to loss of travel routes and winter range for ungulates and other fauna....

Possible oil and gas development on the Rocky Mountain Front in Montana and Alberta could have direct habitat impacts as well as impair connectivity between mountains and grasslands for ungulates, large predators, and other species.

Conversion of native habitat to homesites is a serious localized threat, although the boom appears to be levelling off. The loss of undeveloped riparian forest linkages across valley bottoms could have serious impacts on the long-term viability of sensitive species like the grizzly bear. Spread of exotic and noxious plant species could be a major long-term threat. Conversion of forest to grazing lands has a major impact on forest species.

Distinctiveness (1=highest,4=lowest): 4 (nationally important)
The region has a high diversity of vegetation communities in close proximity to each other. The undeveloped valleys provide critical links between mountain ranges, allowing for dispersal of large mammals, including Ursus acrtos (grizzly bear).

Conservation Status (1=most endangered, 5=most intact): 3 (vulnerable)
Approximately 25% of this ecoregion remains intact. Grazing, draining wetlands, conversion to row crops, and residential development are major threats. Subdivision for homes results in fragmentation and facilitates the introduction of invasive species.

Characteristic species:
Agropyron (wheatgrass) species
Fescuta (fescue) species
Artemisia (sagebrush) species
[The dominant tree in this region is either the Ponderosa Pine on dry, sunny slopes, or Cottonwood near rivers in valleys. -LF]

2. North Central Rockies Forests (WWF ecoregion NA0518)

The North Central Rockies Forest is an extensive montane ecoregion stretching roughly 600 miles from north to south. It is virtually contiguous from southeastern British Columbia and the extreme southwestern corner of Alberta to west-central Montana and south-central Idaho. The ecoregion comprises some of North America's best-known wildlands [including]...Montana's Glacier Park/Bob Marshall Wilderness complex. ...This ecoregion is distinct from the drier 'interior' to the west, the cooler boreal forests to the north, and the drier foothills to the east. [The Bob Marshall Wilderness complex connects to the Belt Mountains to the north of the Helena Valley area. -LF]

Climate varies extensively from west to east in the ecoregion, with the western edge experiencing the moderating effects of maritime influence and the eastern edge experiencing a harsher, more continental regime. Climate likewise varies from north to south, with local topographic change. The mean annual temperature in the Canadian portion of this ecoregion ranges from 3.5°C in the east to 5.5°C in the west. Mean summer temperature ranges from 12.5°C to 14.5°C, and mean winter temperature ranges from -3.5°C to -6.5°C, following the pattern of warmer temperatures in the west and cooler temperatures in the east. Mean annual precipitation ranges from 500-800 mm in the valleys, to over 1000 mm at higher elevations. In the southeast region, frequent chinooks moderate winter temperatures. Permafrost occurs in isolated patches in some alpine areas. Valleys are characterized by warm, showery summers and mild, snowy winters, and subalpine summers are cool, showery and prone to frosts, with moderately cold and snowy winters. Generally, the climate in the North Central Rockies Forests is a combination of alpine, subalpine and montane southern Cordilleran (ESWG 1995).

...This region is composed of folded sedimentary and volcanic strata and massive metamorphic rocks of Palaeozoic and Mesozoic age. Glaciation has shaped great valleys and filled them with glaciofluvial and morainal sediments (ESWG 1995).

The dominant vegetation type in the ecoregion is coniferous forest. Species composition and associations reflect the influence of maritime weather systems that penetrate from the Pacific. Thus, tree species found in the Cascades and Pacific coastal ranges are also strongly represented here. Hemlocks (Tsuga spp.), Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia), and larch (Larix spp.) are found here, yet are absent from other Rocky Mountain forests.... [There are none of these species in the Helena area. -LF] Montane forests include western hemlock (T. heterophylla) and western red cedar (Thuja plicata), with white spruce (Picea glauca) and alpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa) forests more prevalent to the south [The first two species are not found near Helena. -LF]. Montane areas also include stands of lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) and Douglas-fir (Psedotsuga menziesii), with some western white pine (P. monticola) and western larch (L. occidentalis). The subalpine forests are characterized by Engelmann spruce (P. engelmannii) and alpine fir, and stands of lodgepole pine that develop after fire. Fire is probably the most important disturbance regime, although the rugged terrain results in high precipitation and flash floods and landslides in some areas.

In addition to expansive conifer forests, the ecoregion contains several other vegetation communities. Mountain meadows, foothill grasslands, riparian woodlands, and upper treeline/alpine communities exist throughout the ecoregion. The ecoregion is characterized by dramatic vertical zonation of vegetation and asssociated fauna. This zonation is a consequence of abrupt elevational gradients between flatlands and mountains. Secondary climatic effects of topographic relief (e.g., rain-shadow effects, exposure to or shelter from prevailing winds, and thermal inversions) likewise influence zonation....

The area has noteworthy populations of large carnivores, including wolves (Canis lupus), grizzly bears (Ursus arctos), and wolverines (Gulo luscus). There are also populations of rare woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus ssp. caribou), the only caribou to live in areas of deep snow. Other wildlife include: black bear (Ursus americanus), mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus), grouse (Dendragapus spp.), waterfowl, black and white-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus and O. virginianus), and moose (Alces alces). In the southeast, marten (Martes ameriana) and bobcat (Lynx rufus) occur, while in the northern part of the Southern Rocky Mountain Trench, coyote (Canis latrans) and cougar (Puma concolor) are found.

Logging, hard-rock mining, oil and gas development, and recreational-residential construction are all major anthropogenic threats to the ecoregion. Domestic livestock grazing and introduction of exotic species are altering species compositions. Burgeoning recreational use of remote areas is also affecting the ecoregion.

Transportation corridors such as ...US Highway 2, and I-90 are major fragmentation areas that may reduce the long-term viability of the ecoregion's carnivore populations. Major mining sites, large clearcuts, and other high-impact resource extraction activities have also reduced connectivity within the ecoregion and among neighboring ecoregions.

The ecoregion has a substantial amount of protected areas.... However, these are not optimally configured for long-term viability. Thus, major changes and disturbances in relatively small areas could have the disproportionately large effect of isolating these protected areas from one another....

The major threats are loss of connectivity among habitat blocks due to resource extraction and development, and increased human activity within habitat blocks as more people occupy the region. ...The highest priority activity should be to implement a comprehensive large carnivore conservation strategy for the ecoregion.

3. South Central Rockies forests (WWF ecoregion NA0528)

The South Central Rockies Forest is centered primarily on the Yellowstone Plateau and the mountain ranges radiating outward from the plateau. This unit lies mainly in western Wyoming, extending into eastern Idaho and central Montana. A second large unit comprises the mountains of central and eastern Idaho south of the Clearwater River. The ecoregion also exists in two additional isolated units: the Bighorn Mountains of north-central Wyoming / south-central Montana, and the Black Hills of western South Dakota / northeastern Wyoming.

...The ecoregion is characterized by dramatic vertical zonation of vegetation and asssociated fauna. This zonation is a consequence of abrupt elevational gradients between flatlands and mountains. Topographic relief is quite dramatic; for example, the Bighorn Mountains rise 2,794 m over the surrounding lowlands (Knight 1994). The range of biotic zones is greater in the higher mountains (e.g., Wind River and Teton Ranges in Wyoming; Madison Range in Montana). Secondary climatic effects of topographic relief (e.g., rain-shadow effects, exposure to or shelter from prevailing winds, and thermal inversions) likewise influence zonation (Peet 1988).

...The dominant vegetation type in the ecoregion is coniferous forest. Küchler (1985) classifies the potential vegetation type as Douglas-fir / spruce-fir forest, which would be dominated by Engleman spruce (Picea englemannii), subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa), and Douglas-fir (Psuedotsuga menziesii). As Peet (1988) points out, however, most forests in the Rocky Mountains "are in some stage of recovery from prior disturbance . . . climax stands [are] less common than seral communities." Thus, instead of one or all of the expected fir species, large areas of the ecoregion are dominated by lodgepole pine. To some extent, the preponderance of lodgepole pine reflects the greatly altered (via fire suppression) disturbance regime in the ecoregion (Knight 1994). Whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) is an important species at the upper treeline / krummholz zone.

In addition to expansive conifer forests, the ecoregion contains several other vegetation communities. Mountain meadows, foothill grasslands, riparian woodlands, and upper treeline / alpine communities exist throughout the ecoregion. In the Yellowstone unit, unique biotic communities occur in association with geothermal features (e.g., geysers, hot springs), due to the micro-environments created by varying chemical compositions and relatively warm temperatures (Knight 1994).

Relative to other Rocky Mountain ecoregions, the South Central Rockies is dry, experiencing a predominantly continental climate. Summers are brief and winters long and cold. Significant precipitation occurs in the higher elevations, typically as snow.

Fire, snow avalanches, major seismic disturbances, and wind are major disturbance patterns in this ecoregion. Prevailing winds alter distribution and morphology of tree species at higher elevations, while periodic "blowdown" events can topple several hundred hectares of mature forest at a time. These blown-down areas in turn can fuel stand-replacing fires during dry seasons. Herbivory is also a significant influence, particularly on aspen and riparian willow communities (Knight 1994).

...Logging, hard-rock mining, oil and gas development, and recreational-residential construction are all major anthropogenic threats to the ecoregion. Domestic livestock grazing and spread of exotic species are altering species compositions. Burgeoning recreational use of remote areas is also affecting the ecoregion....Many of the ecoregion's mountain ranges are still relatively intact, though most have been altered somewhat by historic mining, logging, grazing, and fire suppression. The mountains in and immediately adjacent to Yellowstone NP have seen only minor human influence in the last century.

...The following are mostly intact:

The Bridger - south-central Montana
Big Belt - south-central Montana [This range defines the eastern edge of the Helena Valley. -LF]
Little Belt - south-central Montana
Crazy Mountains - south-central Montana
But these areas show the effects of being isolated ranges near large population centers. Mountains to the south of YNP, including the Wind River, Wyoming, and Salt River Ranges, are rugged, remote, and relatively intact.

...Intensive development in valley bottoms, combined with existing transportation corridors, is beginning to disrupt connectivity within the ecoregion. Low elevation development (often in ecoregions 57, 75, and 77) has eliminated winter range or blocked off migratory routes for ungulates. Massive clearcuts, particularly on the Targhee National Forest, have similarly caused fragmentation. Development of the high alpine environment has been limited to date, with only four major downhill ski resorts throughout the entire area.

...The degree of protection in the ecoregion is fairly high, relative to some other Rocky Mountain ecoregions. Parks like Yellowstone and Grand Teton embrace a broad elevational and climatic gradient. Combined with adjacent wilderness areas, they form large blocks of protected habitat for many species. More work, however, still needs to be done to meet the needs of wider ranging species like grizzly bears.

...Indiscriminate logging, and especially associated roadbuilding, are major problems. Existing road networks in nonwilderness areas are quite dense and contribute to an overall loss of habitat security. Rapid development of low elevation areas is another threat, although concentrated mainly in other ecoregions. Mortality to grizzly bears and possibly to wolves through ungulate hunters in the fall is unacceptably high and could well be making the difference between a growing and a declining grizzly population in Greater Yellowstone.

Identifying and maintaining critical linkage habitats within the ecoregion and among other ecoregions is vital....No more forest roads should be built, and seasonal closures and obliteration projects should be implemented to reduce motorized access. ...Management of visitor / recreationist behavior in parks and wildernesses should be increased. YNP should consider abandoning and obliterating part of its extensive paved road network.

Distinctiveness (1=highest,4=lowest): 3 (bioregionally important)
The abrupt elevation changes in this region create a variety of vegetation zones. Unique communities are associated with the geothermal features of Yellowstone National Park.

Conservation Status (1=most endangered, 5=most intact): 4 (relatively stable)
The mountain ranges are relatively intact, although disturbed by mining, logging, and fire suppression. Development in the valleys has contributed to fragmentation of the blocks of protected areas.

Characteristic species:
Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas fir)
Picea engelmannii (Engelmann spruce)
Abies lasiocarpa (subalpine fir)
Pinus contorta (lodgepole pine)
Pinus albicans (whitebark pine)

Distinctiveness (1=highest,4=lowest): 3 (bioregionally outstanding)
The ecoregion contains a variety of vegetation communities. Large carnivores, including Canus lupus (wolf) and Ursus arctos (grizzly bear) are present.

Conservation Status (1=most endangered, 5=most intact): 3 (vulnerable)
There are a substantial number of protected areas, such as national parks and wilderness areas. However, Fragmentation by transportation corridors may reduce the viability of the ecoregions large carnovires. Mining and logging are also threats.

Ground-truthing the information found on the two sites, I found the information very good. Variations are accounted for by local habitat types, exposure to sun, geomorphology, and altitude, in addition to various disturbance types.

Some folks are pretty knowledgeable about their own areas, but for those who live in heavily urbanized areas, or who move to a new locale, this process can be the important first step that can be done in an evening, to get you up to speed for local bioregion/ecological information very quickly.


Some of the important things you can do with this information in relation to your local cosmology and Druidry:

1. The characteristic species for your area will help with ogham symbolism for your local area's cosmology as well as the species spirits for your area you might want to prioritize for spiritual connection.

In the Helena area, the characteristic species mentioned in toto from all three region types include:

Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos)
Wolf (Canis lupus)
Wolverine (Gulo luscus)
Black Bear (Ursus americanus)
Pine Marten (Martes ameriana)
Bobcat (Lynx rufus)
Coyote (Canis latrans)
Cougar/Mountain lion (Puma concolor)
Mountain Goat (Oreamnos americanus)
Mule Deer (aka Black-tailed Deer)(Odocoileus hemionus)
White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus )
Moose (Alces alces)
Elk (Cervus elaphus)
Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis)
Woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus ssp. caribou) [Not in the Helena area. -LF]
Bison/Buffalo (Bison bison)
Pronghorn Antelope (Antilocapra americana)
Rabbit (Sylvilagus sp.)

Grouse (Dendragapus spp.)
Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis)
Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus bucinator)

Westslope Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus lewisi clarki)
Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarki)
Fluvial Arctic Grayling (Thymallus arcticus)

Douglas-Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)
Engelmann Spruce (Picea engelmannii)
Subalpine Fir (Abies lasiocarpa)
Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta)
Whitebark Pine (Pinus albicans)
White Spruce (Picea glauca)

An important note: The lists missed a large number of other characteristic species for the Helena area, some of which have counterparts already in the ogham system of Europe: Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa), Rocky Mountain Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum), Limber Pine (Pinus flexilis), Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides), Cottonwoods (Populus spp.), Alder (Ulnus spp.), Birch (Betula spp.), Green's Mountain Ash (Sorbus scopulina; related to the Rowan), Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), Black Hawthorn (Crataegus douglasii), Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius), Rocky Mountain Maple (Acer glabrum), and Boxelder (Acer negundo).

On the other hand, the following tree species from the list are not found in general or are uncommon in the Helena area to my knowledge, because our locale is generally too dry:
Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia), Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata), Western White Pine (P. monticola), Western larch (Larix spp.)

Wheatgrass (Agropyron spp.)
Fescue (Fescuta spp.)
Sagebrush (Artemisia spp.)

2. Climatic/meteorological information...this will help determine directions of winds, and significant issues about water, storms, etc. for rites, invocation, annual cycles etc.

For example, Helena is within the chinook belt (occasional warming winter winds), and is in a rain shadow for the west winds bearing precipitation, creating dry local conditions, with the resulting summer thunderstorms often resulting in forest fires.

3. Disturbances in the areas, both natural and anthropogenic, which will help you decide about what workings might be appropriate, what energies to consider for invocation or banishment.

Local natural disturbances include forest fires, flashfloods, landslides, snow avalanches, etc. Anthropogenic disturbances include residential developments, hardrock mining, grazing and row crops, invasive species, and habitat fragmentation.