Ryan A. Lutey, J.D., Executive Director
Vital Ground Staff Member since February 2005
Ryan’s ties to open space and all things wild were sparked during his family’s constant outdoors 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 2003-04 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. During the past decade, Ryan has endeavored to create and expand collaborative relationships between private landowners, affected stakeholders, natural resource managers and staff at other nonprofit organizations to conduct projects to help ensure the future of North America’s grizzly bears. In addition to helping Vital Ground attain accreditation from the Land Trust Alliance in 2014, Ryan is an active member of the State Bar of Montana, and serves on the Montana 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.
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.
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.