Ryan Lutey, J.D., Executive Director, Vital Ground
Vital Ground Staff Member since February 2005
Ryan’s ties to open space and all things wild were sparked during constant outdoor family adventures while he was growing up in Montana. With a B.A. in geography and an English minor, he set out to instill that appreciation in others through a career in wildlife conservation. He began working in public relations for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation in 1996, and later became director of media relations for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. In 2004, Ryan obtained a juris doctor with an Environmental and Natural Resources Law Certificate from the University of Montana School of Law, where he also served as editor-in-chief of the University of Montana’s Public Lands and Natural Resources Law Review and as a member of the Pace University Environmental Moot Court Competition team.
Ryan clerked for both the USDA Forest Service Office of General Counsel and the National Wildlife Federation before joining Vital Ground to direct its conservation programs in 2005. He spent more than a decade “on the ground” collaborating with private landowners and other agency and nonprofit partners to permanently protect wildlife habitat before becoming Vital Ground’s executive director in 2015. Ryan is an active member of the State Bar of Montana and serves on Montana’s Forest Stewardship Steering Committee. He and his wife, Jennifer, spend any free time exploring the Northwest’s grizzly country with their two sons, Westin and Carson.
Gael Bissell, Conservation Manager
Vital Ground Staff Member since September 2015
Following her successful wildlife and habitat conservation career with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (MFWP), Gael Bissell recently joined Vital Ground as our new conservation manager. Gael works part time out of her home office in Kalispell, Mont., to take the lead for Vital Ground’s habitat conservation projects in the Northern Continental Divide, the Cabinet-Yaak, and the Selkirk Mountain grizzly bear ecosystems. She is also the principal contact for projects in the Yellowstone, Cascades, and Bitterroot-Selway regions. Gael received her bachelor’s degree in zoology from Ohio Wesleyan University and her master’s in environmental studies at the University of Montana. After backpacking with her husband, Dr. Richard Mace, through the Bob Marshall Wilderness to study grizzly bear habitat in the early 1980s, she was hired by MFWP to work on wildlife mitigation plans for Hungry Horse and Libby dams in Kalispell; she then held multiple wildlife management and habitat positions for over the last 30 years.
Kim Davitt, Conservation Initiatives Manager
Vital Ground Staff Member since October 2016
When Kim first came to Montana after college on the East Coast, she got a master’s degree in history of the American West at the University of Montana and started exploring the mountain ranges and rivers of the Northern Rockies. She has worked on wildlife connectivity, large landscape conservation and public health/climate change issues in the region for the last 15 years. Most recently, she coordinated the Roundtable on the Crown of the Continent, a transboundary collaboration promoting culture, community and conservation across an 18-million-acre landscape. Kim will work with staff, donors, conservation partners and trustees to advance Vital Ground’s philanthropy programs and support conservation goals. Kim lives in Missoula, Mont., with her husband and two children and is also an extraordinary huckleberry picker.
Mitch Doherty, Land Steward
Vital Ground Staff Member since October 2016
Mitch Doherty is Vital Ground’s Land Steward. His core duties include maintaining Vital Ground’s conservation easement and fee-title stewardship programs, physical inspections, responds to land inquiries, and reporting. Growing up in rural Wisconsin, Mitch has developed a sense of place working in the family woods and fields of the glacial kettle moraine area with his grandfather and father. He held onto that passion, which resulted in a degree in geography with an emphasis in environmental management and analysis from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Mitch has lived in Missoula for over a decade, working collaboratively on projects involving forest, range, riparian, shoreline and weed management. He has a rich history in land-use planning and land-management experience. Mitch, his wife Jennifer, their two young kids, Donovan and Gillian, enjoy soaking in all that western Montana has to offer. Outside the office you may run into Mitch hiking a trail, rafting one of the regional rivers, camping, playing hockey, skiing or harvesting what he can from his family garden.
Shannon Drye, Administration & Finance Manager
Vital Ground Staff Member since May 2005
Shannon Drye worked in the medical and dental field for more than a decade before turning her attention to wildlife conservation. Prior to joining the Vital Ground Foundation, she gained experience, knowledge, and a great love of conservation working for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Boone and Crockett Club. Shannon lives in Arlee, Mont., in the beautiful Jocko Valley. She spends her free time camping, volunteering, and enjoying the great outdoors with family and friends.
Matt Hart, Conservation Writer
Matt has been with Vital Ground since May 2016.
Matt joins Vital Ground with a focus on bringing new storytelling strategies to the foundation’s communications and development efforts. He holds a bachelor’s in English from Carleton College (Minn.) and is currently pursuing a master’s in Environmental Studies at the University of Montana. Matt grew up exploring the woods and lakes of New England and Upstate New York and worked for many summers as a backpacking guide at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. He moved to Missoula in 2015 and enjoys skiing, running, and editing UM’s environmental literary magazine, Camas: The Nature of the West.
Adrienne Ingram, Social Media Producer
Adrienne has been with Vital Ground since September 2015.
Adrienne lives in New Orleans, Louisiana, where she studies environmental biology and religion at Loyola University New Orleans. Her academic interests include environmental communication & outreach, outdoor education, as well as critical analyses of the Old Testament. Adrienne’s love for natural history, wild places, and writing brought her to Vital Ground in 2015. Throughout the academic year, Adrienne lives in New Orleans and works for Vital Ground remotely, while she spends the summer months working at Vital Ground headquarters in Missoula. At Vital Ground, Adrienne manages the social media accounts, the blog, and edits video. When she’s not in the classroom or a research lab, Adrienne can be found reading, writing, enjoy New Orleans culture, catching spiders, listening to frogs, watching birds, or training for a triathlon. Her other hobbies include fly-fishing, alpine skiing, hiking, cycling, singing, and SCUBA diving.
Kimberly Kozub, Administrative Assistant
Kimberly has been with Vital Ground since May 2016.
Kimberly is responsible for processing donations, assists the Lands Department with records, and helps manage and market our online store, Bear Mart. Kimberly returned to western Montana in 2013 after spending seven years in Hawaii where she attended the University of Hawaii-Manoa and worked in film production on various television shows and movies. She spend her childhood exploring the mountains, creeks, and rivers of the Bitterroot Valley, kindling a unique love for the natural world. She is passionate about conservation, film and photography. Kimberly enjoys spending her free time hiking and camping, where the natural world continues to be a source of creative inspiration.
Kevin Rhoades, Director of Communications, Marketing & Membership
Vital Ground Staff Member since October 2012
Kevin worked three seasons as a field technician for Yellowstone’s Interagency Grizzly Bear Research Team before handling captive wolves and bears for some of the nation’s top wildlife photographers and cinematographers. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s in journalism, Kevin served five years as publications editor for the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA) prior to his promotion as OWAA’s executive director, a position he held until 2010. Kevin and his wife, Andrea, and their two sons spend free time hiking, camping, and living in grizzly country, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Brian Wright, Membership & Donor Services Coordinator
Vital Ground Staff Member since October 2014
Brian is responsible for bringing new members into the Vital Ground family, and making sure current members know the value of their support and feel appreciated year after year. He also manages our donor database, and provides data analysis that helps ensure that Vital Ground’s fundraising is efficient and effective. Brian holds a degree from Salem State University in Environmental Biology and a GIS Certificate in Environmental Analysis from San Francisco State University. After working on trails projects in northern California, he moved to Missoula in 2014 to begin his career in wildlife conservation, and enjoys biking, hiking, camping, and watching NBA basketball whenever he can.