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.
Ryan A. Lutey, J.D., Director of Lands
Vital Ground Staff Member since February 2005
Ryan began a career in wildlife conservation working in public relations for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation between 1996 and 2001, then working as director of media relations for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership during the organization’s early years. In 2004, he received a law degree and an Environmental and Natural Resources Law Certificate from the University of Montana School of Law, also serving on the Pace University Environmental Moot Court Competition team, and as editor-in-chief of the University of Montana’s 2003-04 Public Lands and Natural Resources Law Review. Ryan clerked for the USDA Forest Service Office of General Counsel and the National Wildlife Federation before joining Vital Ground in 2005. Ryan and his wife, Jennifer, spend any free time exploring grizzly country in Idaho, Montana and British Columbia.
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.
Steven Freygang, Development Officer, Northwest Region
Vital Ground Staff Member since April 2013
Steven’s passion for conservation began in 2006 as a backcountry ranger in Olympic National Park. In 2007, Steven completed a 75 day wilderness leadership semester in Alaska with Alaska Mountain Guides. He has since worked for organizations such as Outward Bound and the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education. Steven has a degree in business management from the University of Central Florida, and spent five years working as a teacher and rowing coach in Winter Park, Fla. As a coach, Steven won multiple national championship titles and has been involved in numerous fundraising and community engagement programs. Steven is an avid outdoorsman and an active athlete.
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.
Shelly Wear, Administrative Assistant
Vital Ground Staff Member since May 2007
Shelly has always devoted herself to work with conservation and community organizations. She began her career in 1979 with the Great Falls Tribune, and subsequently worked with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the National Forest Foundation, and most recently with a company that builds affordable housing throughout Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming. Shelly lives near Missoula with her husband Dick, and their son, Evan, along with canine family member, Rusty. Shelly spends her spare time volunteering with her church and enjoying Montana’s beautiful outdoors with her family.
Gary J. Wolfe, Ph.D., Executive Director
Vital Ground Staff Member since October 2004
Gary Wolfe is a career conservationist with more than 30 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 masters 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, including 3 years as President and Chief Executive Officer. 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.