Vital Ground is the premier grizzly bear conservation organization in the world. We work to ensure the recovery and long-term survival of grizzly bears, together with the many native species that share their range, through the protection and restoration of core habitats and landscapes.
Our mission is to protect and restore North America’s grizzly bear populations for future generations by conserving wildlife habitat and by supporting programs that reduce conflicts between bears and humans.
We protect crucial lands that grizzlies need to survive – not only for the bears themselves, but for birds and butterflies, elk, lynx, trout and all the other creatures that share their world. Vital Ground believes the grizzly bear, as an umbrella species, is nature’s barometer of a healthy and complete ecosystem. Because a grizzly’s home range covers several hundred square miles – encompassing habitat types that range from alpine meadows to low elevation valley bottoms – protecting grizzly country benefits entire plant and animal communities in the wildest, most scenic places left on the continent.
Grizzly and other brown bears inhabit some of North America’s last wild places. But development pressure on private lands existing both inside and in between large protected natural areas are fracturing many of these once-open landscapes.
Habitat links between these wild grizzly sanctuaries – private lands that provide food, shelter and security for seasonal foraging and movement – are the focal point of grizzly survival and recovery. Many of these lands still feature streamside willows and cottonwoods, pastures, grasslands, wet meadows, clear water, and coniferous forests – habitat for innumerable species. If not protected, they could be inundated with far-flung residential development and other sprawl that puts grizzlies at risk.
This is where Vital Ground targets its resources and efforts. Acre by acre, we work with willing landowners to protect those pieces of habitat that maintain lifelines between grizzly-occupied ecosystems. Links that will help permanently sustain bears and the robust variety of plants and animals that thrive in grizzly country.
Our Approach to Conservation
As a small (but thriving) land trust with a unique mission, Vital Ground has to be both selective and strategic to effectively carry out its primary goal of reconnecting isolated fragments of wildlands that are important for grizzly recovery and biodiversity. As such, Vital Ground uses its financial resources and real estate expertise to identify and protect those parcels of private land crucial to the survival of the grizzly.
Acreage size is not the critical determining factor in our conservation endeavors, but rather overall habitat value for the endangered grizzly. We place special emphasis on protecting private lands where grizzly bears reside or could possibly expand, especially spring and fall range habitat; private lands adjoining or adjacent to public lands or existing protected private lands; and linkages between grizzly bear ecosystems.
Vital Ground endeavors to preserve a wildlife legacy for future generations in spite of a rapidly urbanizing society, which has altered the face of North America. We focus on grizzly habitat because the grizzly is nature’s umbrella species and the barometer of a healthy and whole environment. If we can permanently enable the long-term survival and growth of grizzly bear populations, we truly can preserve North America’s wild heritage for our children and beyond.
Vital Ground seeks and accepts donated lands and conservation easements on lands possessing crucial habitat for grizzly and other wildlife. Our goal with every landowner is to build a solid, interactive relationship that will help foster long-lasting and meaningful conservation. We fully recognize the importance of partnerships with other conservation organizations, community groups, and agencies; and believe it to be entirely possible and desirable to preserve the ecological integrity of grizzly range alongside informed human communities and vibrant economies.
Vital Ground’s conservation easements and land acquisitions permanently safeguard the core wildlife habitat characteristics unique to each property, while concurrently maintaining and enhancing essential grizzly habitat and wildlife corridors on a landscape scale.
Since its founding in 1990, Vital Ground has help to protect and enhance nearly 600,000 acres of wildlife habitat in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Alaska, and British Columbia.
Vital Ground evolved from a unique relationship between humans and a bear. Doug and Lynne Seus adopted and trained a zoo-born Kodiak grizzly they named Bart to appear in feature films, which include The Great Outdoors, Legends of the Fall, White Fang, The Bear and The Edge. As Doug and Lynne worked with Bart, it became clear that he was teaching them far more than they could ever teach him.
As Lynne said, “From the time we got him in 1977 and until his death in 2000 Bart was a truly magical animal. And his film career took us on many grand adventure—from the majestic peaks of the Austrian Alps and the Alaska wilds, to the backstage of the Academy Awards.
Bart’s intelligence and unconditional loyalty demonstrated to Doug and Lynne that brown bears, also known as grizzlies, could help teach our children respect for all living things. The Seuses felt that, as a member of a species truly symbolic of the wilderness, Bart could deliver a powerful message in support of land conservation. Indeed, they hoped that Bart could offer humankind a chance to learn from past mistakes and, in so doing, secure our remaining private wildlands rather than exploiting them.
Inspired by Bart, the Seuses launched Vital Ground through the purchase of 240 acres of prime grizzly bear habitat adjoining protected land in Pine Butte Preserve along Montana’s eastern front of the Rocky Mountains.
Bart took on an important new role as Ambassador for Vital Ground, and until his death in 2000, his public appearances with Doug and Lynne sought to convey the dire predicament of our rapidly diminishing natural areas—along with their resident wildlife—while promoting a message of hope that we might become better stewards of these great lands.
As Vital Ground has evolved and expanded its role in conservation, the Seuses have continued to donate use of their animals as Ambassadors to help spread the message about protecting our wild heritage. The presence of these highly intelligent and sensitive grizzlies, combined with the teachings by Doug and Lynne, have made a real difference in motivating individuals to support the organization’s work.
Over the years Vital Ground’s key conservation partners have included: The Nature Conservancy of Montana; Montana Land Reliance; Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation; Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Foundation; National Wildlife Federation; Ducks Unlimited; Kodiak Brown Bear Trust; American Lands Conservancy; Wildlife Land Trust; Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative; National Wildlife Federation; Idaho Fish & Wildlife Foundation; and The Conservation Fund.
In 2004, the organization formally adopted the Standards and Practices of the Land Trust Alliance (LTA) to guide all of its conservation activities. As a member of LTA, Vital Ground is committed to ensuring that that every land acquisition and easement transaction is legally, ethically, and technically sound.