Mark Brennan, Director of Development
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. His daughter Megan and her husband from Chicago visit often but, so far, have resisted moving to Montana. Camping, hiking, fishing, 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, Montana, in the beautiful Jocko valley. She spends her free time camping, volunteering, and enjoying the great outdoors with family and friends.
Ryan A. Lutey, J.D., Interim 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.
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.
Gary J. Wolfe, Ph.D., Special Projects
Vital Ground Staff Member since October 2004
Gary Wolfe is a career conservationist with more than 40 years of experience working in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. He attended the University of New Mexico, majoring in biology and chemistry, then earned master’s and doctorate degrees in wildlife biology from Colorado State University. During college, he enjoyed five summers as a park ranger at Mount Rainier and Big Bend National Parks, where his commitment to a conservation career was solidified. Gary spent 12 years as a wildlife biologist at the 500,000-acre Vermejo Park Ranch in northern New Mexico, followed by 15 years with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and more than 10 years as Vital Ground’s executive director. Gary retired as executive director in March 2015, but continues to assist Vital Ground with various special projects on a part-time basis. In June 2013, Gary was appointed to a four-year term on the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission by Governor Steve Bullock. Gary is active with a number wildlife and conservation organizations, and has served on numerous boards and advisory committees. He lives in Missoula, Montana with his wife, Rita, where they enjoy the wildlife and wild places of the Northern Rockies.
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 begin his career in wildlife conservation with Vital Ground!