Hiker and landscape in Glacier National Park
From the Greater Yellowstone area to Glacier National Park (pictured) and beyond, Vital Ground envisions a connected, resilient landscape for wildlife and people.

One Landscape for Wildlife and People

Ryan Lutey, Executive Director
Ryan Lutey, Executive Director

Wildlife broke new ground in 2019. Grizzly bears ranged farther into the mountains of central Idaho and the prairie of central Montana than they have in nearly a century. A small wolf pack from Wyoming ventured south and took up residence in northwestern Colorado, the state’s first since the 1940s.

These pioneering mammals negotiated an ever-dwindling wild landscape on their way to unknown territories. The Mountain West’s vast public lands continue to fragment, splintering core habitats from one another thanks to the ever-expanding human footprint. And when wildlife show up in unexpected places, some communities are better prepared to coexist with them than others. Fortunately, you are helping push back against that surging tide of development and prepare communities to head off friction where people and wildlife meet.

As The Vital Ground Foundation begins scripting our fourth decade of conservation, it’s time to secure one landscape for wildlife and people. Vital Ground connects our wild strongholds by protecting open space on privately-owned lands in key habitat corridors. We also invest in community coexistence programs that help people, grizzlies and other wildlife safely share the landscape. Both prongs of our mission took big steps forward in 2019, and we couldn’t have done it without your generosity and engagement. Launched in 2018, you’re already helping our One Landscape Initiative take big strides toward the goals of protecting 188,000 acres in the most crucial private land linkage areas and fostering coexistence with grizzlies and other wildlife in 21 priority locations. Keep scrolling to see where and how your contributions made an impact on the ground!

Yours in conservation,

Ryan Lutey signature

Ryan Lutey, Executive Director


2019 Conservation Accomplishments

Map showing 2019 Vital Ground projects


Land Protected: Rocky Mountain Front

Vital Ground’s first conservation easement along central Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front marked one of our biggest wins for wildlife in 2019. “It’s a small ranch that was my grandfather’s that I’ve been fortunate enough to get back into the family,” says landowner partner Mary Sexton of Glen Willow, a 650-acre spread just north of Choteau, Mont.

The ranch is prime spring habitat for grizzly bears that follow a tributary of the Teton River down from the mountains and onto the property. That made it a conservation priority for our One Landscape Initiative, so we were eager to team up with Mary and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service on an easement that will forever protect both the agricultural and habitat values of Glen Willow. Read More…


Land Protected: Swan Valley

In Montana’s Swan Valley, grizzly bears, Canada lynx, moose and wolves cross the roads and backyards that lie between mountain ranges. Separating the Mission Mountains and the Bob Marshall Wilderness, the rural area is both a crucial wildlife corridor and a blueprint for collaborative conservation.

The Swan has long been a focal point for Vital Ground, and we were thrilled to partner with the Quinn family—as well as Missoula County and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks—in protecting 200 acres with a new conservation easement in the Elk Flats area near Condon, Mont. “The Swan Valley bridges two of the most intact mountain ecosystems remaining on Earth” says landowner partner Jim Quinn. “We see lots of grizzlies walking through our place and they’re all good bears.” Read More…


Land Protected: Kootenai Valley

For three straight years, our Wild River project with the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y) has saved habitat within the crucial Cabinet-Purcell Mountain Corridor of far northwestern Montana. Lying along the Kootenai River near its confluence with the Yaak River—a natural bottleneck for wildlife—Wild River exemplifies our larger One Landscape Initiative to protect the most vital corridor habitat on private lands across the region.

This particular wildlife linkage connects two small, isolated grizzly populations but the Wild River site was once destined to become a residential subdivision. Now, with two more lots totaling 10 acres purchased in 2019, Vital Ground and Y2Y have protected more than 120 acres in the corridor, a crucial step toward a connected landscape and durable recovery for Cabinet-Purcell bears. Learn more…


Creating Coexistence: 2019 Partner Grants

Where key habitat corridors overlap with ranching operations, range rider programs and other conflict prevention measures can help grizzlies and other wildlife share the landscape with livestock and people. From range riding to bear spray training, Vital Ground funded 13 coexistence efforts across the region in 2019.

Thanks to generous support from the ALSAM Foundation and individual contributors like you, Vital Ground supported 13 conservation partners in 2019. These coexistence efforts pave the way for grizzlies and other wildlife to move safely across the landscape and reconnect historic range, occurring in 10 of the 21 priority areas our One Landscape Initiative has identified for preventing bear-related conflicts.

Through the mountains of southwestern Montana and central Idaho, three partnerships will help Yellowstone-area bears move west toward the Bitterroot Ecosystem. The Madison Valley Ranchlands Group’s carcass management program maintains a composting site, picks up livestock carcasses from area ranches and conducts community education and outreach.

Bear Spray demonstration
A 2019 Vital Ground partner, Wildlife Management Institute brings bear spray training and other community education to western Montana. (Photo courtesy of Danielle Oyler/WMI)

In the Ruby Valley farther west, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition convened a landowner workshop focused on bear behavior and conflict mitigation strategies. And throughout this linkage region, the Wildlife Management Institute’s traveling Bear Safety Education Program brought bear spray training and other public education to communities ranging from the Centennial and Big Hole valleys to the Bitterroot and Upper Clark Fork areas.

With the Bitterroot Valley representing a key crossroads in many projections of future grizzly dispersal, we teamed with People & Carnivores on two electric fencing projects in the area. On the other side of Interstate 90, the Great Bear Foundation’s apple pickup program keeps bears out of backyards in the foothills north of Missoula. And in a location with especially high conflict numbers last year, the Blackfoot Challenge brought electric fencing to the Helmville Transfer Site and Sunset Guest Ranch while also continuing their livestock carcass removal work in conjunction with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

Moving north, your contributions help continue Vital Ground’s long history of conservation in the Swan Valley, where we supported Swan Valley Bear Resources (see video below) in a bear-resistant garbage container loaner program for the Bigfork and Ferndale communities, as well as electric fencing, education and outreach.

You also helped us chip in on a habitat protection effort by Flathead Land Trust, safeguarding 30 acres near Polebridge, Mont., a critical site bordering Glacier National Park with high traffic from bears and people alike. Continuing west over the Whitefish Mountains, the Trego Range Riding Collaborative’s carcass removal and outreach program helped protect bears and other wildlife in a key northern linkage area between the Glacier and Cabinet-Yaak areas.

Your support also extends grizzly conservation beyond the borders of Montana. The Be Bear Aware bear avoidance and bear spray outreach programs brought an educational trailer to community events across western Montana, northern Idaho and eastern Washington. Even farther to the northwest, you helped lay the groundwork for the grizzly’s natural return from Canada to the North Cascades of Washington, as we supported Conservation Northwest’s work to engage three First Nations communities in southern British Columbia with electric fencing workshops, fruit picks, student outreach, signage and news coverage.

Thanks to all of our conservation partners for their vital coexistence work!


Vital Family: Helping Western Wildlife from the Deep South

Ask John Tagesen to tell you about his life’s philosophy and he will speak from the heart about what’s important to him, what we’ve lost, and what we need to hold onto. Atop his list are wildlife and wild places.

John has put his values into action with several generous donations to Vital Ground and a bequest of much of his savings. Considering that John lives a simple life on a fixed income in Mobile, Ala., this generosity is especially meaningful.

“My life is real small,” John says, “and I like it like that. The rest is foolishness.”

John is an anti-modernist. He rails against technology, hates his cell phone and misses the old ways. Although he has always lived in cities in the Deep South, his allegiances extend to animals and nature across the country—from the snakes, toads and pigeons he grew up with to the wolves and bears that symbolize wildness and vast landscapes. Animals have often made more sense to John than people. “I’ve always loved nature and Creation’s creatures,” he says.

Like many, John first heard of Vital Ground through the Hollywood movies that featured Bart the Bear. He learned more about the organization from his sister Peggy, who has been a Vital Ground supporter for 19 years and also plans to leave a bequest for wildlife habitat protection. Peggy, who lives near New Orleans, loves anything four-legged and tailed. She especially loves wolves and Vital Ground’s mission to save grizzly bear habitat for the benefit of all wildlife in the West. She has made such a long-time commitment to habitat protection because “it feels like the right thing to do.”

When he was a child, John admired a woman in New Orleans who helped rehabilitate urban wildlife and went to the park every day with pockets full of peanuts for the squirrels. He has found similar inspiration in Doug and Lynne Seus, who have significant relationships with animals and devoted themselves to conservation by founding Vital Ground in 1990.

Good people getting important conservation work done: Vital Ground’s Silvertip Legacy Circle keeps growing with inspiring people like John and Peggy Tagesen, Doug and Lynne Seus, and many of you. Leaving a conservation legacy for wildlife through a bequest, annuity, or retirement account helps Vital Ground protect more crucial habitat for wildlife.

As John Tagesen says, “If you can save a wolf or grizzly bear and give them some more land—that’s worth it.”

To learn more about leaving a bequest and other types of legacy giving, please contact Kim Davitt, Development Director at or 406-552-2544.

John and Peggy Tagesen meet a wolf at a rehabilitation center
John and Peggy Tagesen meet a wolf at a wildlife rehabilitation center in Colorado. (Photo courtesy of Peggy Tagesen)


2019 Financial Position

Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, The Vital Ground Foundation ended 2019 in a strong financial position. Public support and revenues totaled $2,688,993.00.

During this period, 87.41%* of all expenditures was spent on conservation and education programs. Land held for preservation by Vital Ground represented an asset of $5,391,249.00 as of December 31, 2019.

Vital Ground depends on private contributions to finance our conservation work. As a charitable nonprofit organization, our success depends upon the generous support of our many individual donors, foundations and business partners. Donations to Vital Ground qualify as charitable contributions and may be tax-deductible. Give online today!


* The Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance Standards for Charity Accountability suggest that a charity should spend at least 65% of its total expenses on program activities.

Note: The transaction cycle in land conservation can take several years to complete. Consequently, program expense ratios vary significantly from year to year depending on how many transactions are actually finalized during the fiscal year, and the value of donated real estate and conservation easements. Additionally, in accordance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), the purchase price of land, which is a significant mission delivery expense for many land trusts, is not included in program expenses, but is recorded as an asset on the organization’s balance sheet. Due to these unpredictable factors and accounting practices, Charity Navigator no longer evaluates land trusts.



Looking Ahead: Vital Ground Turns 30!

Pine Butte Swamp
Thirty years ago, Doug and Lynne Seus founded Vital Ground and began protecting habitat by purchasing 240 acres at Pine Butte Preserve along Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front.

After a successful 2019, Vital Ground is pushing forward into 2020 with wind in our sails. Not only are several big additions to our One Landscape Initiative in the works, but the upcoming year will also give us a chance to celebrate 30 years of conservation!

In 1990, Doug and Lynne Seus and Bart the Bear founded Vital Ground with the goal of leaving a conservation legacy larger than Bart’s fame in Hollywood. Three decades and 620,000 acres later, their ambitious vision is being realized. But as we look ahead to the next decade, there’s much more work to do.

Our One Landscape Initiative prioritizes 188,000 acres of habitat for protection on private lands and 21 crucial locations for conflict prevention. These are the places where grizzlies and other dispersing wildlife need conservation action now if they’re to reconnect their fragmented range and create a durable future in the Lower 48.

Broad partnerships are required to reach our ambitious vision of a connected, protected landscape and a single, resilient grizzly population in the Northern Rockies. We are teaming up with private landowners and other land trusts to protect crucial habitat, with other conservation and community groups to prevent conflicts, with businesses and charitable foundations committed to environmental stewardship, and with our conservation-minded supporters who leave such an important legacy on the landscape.

Our 2019 projects addressed numerous One Landscape priority areas, and 2020 has us working hard to solidify habitat linkages in northern Idaho, northwestern Montana, the Rocky Mountain Front and beyond. As grizzlies continue to expand their range, our conservation partnerships are extending coexistence farther than ever, from Wyoming rangelands south of Yellowstone to southern British Columbia. Just like wide-ranging wildlife, we’re pushing into uncharted territory, and we’re excited for the journey ahead.

Thank you for helping us protect vital ground and stitch together a connected landscape!


More About Vital Ground

The Vital Ground Foundation’s mission is to protect and restore North America’s grizzly bear populations for future generations by conserving wildlife habitat, and by supporting programs that reduce conflicts between bears and humans. To accomplish this, we:

  • Protect lands that grizzlies need to survive, not only for bears but for all other species that share their world;
  • Work where human impacts encroach on some of the wildest places left on the continent;
  • Target projects that sustain habitat connections and conserve critical lands;
  • Ground projects on current science and strong partnerships.

Please join us! As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, our success depends on you!

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