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.
Mark Brennan, Director of Foundation, Corporate and Annual Giving
Vital Ground Staff Member since October 2011
Mark began his love of wildlife growing up in a rural suburb of Chicago. For a time, vacations in the West helped grow his fascination but, ultimately, a move to Missoula was necessary. Life in Montana moved his interest up the food chain to larger and wilder animals. In the decade prior to joining Vital Ground, he headed fundraising for the Montana Food Bank Network. Mark lives in Missoula with his son, Patrick, and the best and most spoiled yellow Lab. The lure of a special granddaughter, Emmy, calls him back to Chicago often where he is reunited with family, friends and certain restaurants. Camping, hiking, fishing, snowshoeing, live music and rugby (viewing) are his favorite pastimes
Shannon Drye, Office 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, Communications Director
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.
Janet Rose Trunzo, Director of Conservation Initiatives
Vital Ground Staff Member since November 2015
Janet has been passionate about wildlife conservation her entire life. Growing up in New York City, but spending countless weekends in forests and rural areas learning about wildlife from her grandfather, wildlife conservation was always a centerpiece of her life. This led to a career first as an investigative broadcast journalist, specializing in the wildlife and environmental fields, then on to the Wildlife Conservation Society as head of Conservation Communications for the International Field Division. From there Janet headed west as executive director of several non-profit organizations, and most recently with the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium as senior director of development & conservation initiatives. Janet joins Vital Ground also as director of conservation initiatives, advising on best ways to link donors and financial support with on-the-ground conservation efforts, saving wildlife and habitat across grizzly landscapes. Janet’s other passions are horses and equine rescue, but says her greatest accomplishments, of which she is most proud, are her two daughters, Morissa and Kara. Janet’s motto in life, “We all have a role to play in saving wildlife and each of us can make a difference.”
Brian Wright, Administrative Assistant
Vital Ground Staff Member since October 2014
Brian arrived in Missoula in the summer of 2014, after earning a degree in environmental biology from Salem State University. After college, Brian worked on trails projects in northern California before obtaining a GIS certificate in Environmental Analysis from San Francisco State University. Brian moved to Missoula to escape the big city and enjoy the great outdoor experience that Montana provides. Between the months of November and June, Brian’s main pastime is watching every NBA game he can. During the summers, however, he enjoys hiking, biking, and camping. Brian has always been fascinated by grizzly bears and is thrilled to work with wildlife conservation for Vital Ground!