Moving Forward for Wildlife and People
From the coronavirus pandemic to ongoing environmental upheaval, 2020 was a year that challenged the persistence of people and wildlife alike. Nature teaches us to adapt and keep moving, however, and thanks to supporters like you, Vital Ground continued to make big conservation progress during a difficult year.
Because of your support, wildlife gained crucial protected habitat in 2020, from the banks of the Yaak River in Montana’s northwestern corner to the Kootenai Valley connecting the Cabinet and Purcell mountains to key grizzly range on the Blackfeet Nation east of Glacier National Park. These conserved acres will remain wild and open, helping animals from grizzlies to elk to butterflies move freely on the landscape and adapt to the impacts of climate change. Their travels will be safer as well, thanks to our 12 coexistence partnerships that helped people and wildlife share the landscape in 2020.
As we worked toward a better future for all things wild, 2020 also saw us pause to look back. While we may not have been able to celebrate Vital Ground’s 30th Anniversary in person, we were honored to join hundreds of you—friends, partners and supporters who have brought us this far—in a rousing online event. During that celebratory evening, we also looked ahead at the work to come, premiering a new short film about our One Landscape Initiative, the push to protect 188,000 acres of habitat in the crucial areas that link the Northern Rockies’ wild strongholds while partnering to prevent conflicts in 21 priority locations.
Scroll down through this report for videos, stories and financial figures that illustrate just what an important difference your conservation contributions made last year. We couldn’t have done it without you!
With deep gratitude,
Kelly Johnson, Board of Trustees Chair
Ryan Lutey, Executive Director
2020 Conservation Accomplishments
Your impact in 2020 included habitat conservation on three Vital Ground feature projects ranging from the Yaak Valley and Kootenai Valley northwestern Montana to the Blackfeet Nation east of Glacier National Park. See the map below (or our interactive project map) for these projects’ geographic context in our larger One Landscape vision and keep scrolling for videos, photos and stories about these important wins for wildlife!
Land Protected: Yaak Valley
In Montana’s northwestern corner, the Yaak River curls down from the Canadian border, surrounded by rugged mountains and one of the Lower 48’s smallest enduring grizzly populations. Protecting habitat in the Yaak Valley bottom remains crucial in the fight to reconnect these bears with their neighbors and build the genetic diversity and landscape connections necessary for long-term survival. Thanks to support from the Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust and contributors like you, we conserved 215 acres along the Yaak River in 2020, founding the Broadie Habitat Preserve and enabling safe movement for grizzlies, elk, wolverine and other species moving between the region’s wild strongholds. Read the full story…
Land Protected: Blackfeet Nation
When Doug and Lynne Seus founded Vital Ground in 1990, their first major investment in conservation was the purchase of prime grizzly habitat along Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front Range. In 2020, we brought three decades of conservation full circle as the Seuses led another vital effort to conserve land along the Front. This time, we partnered with the Blackfeet Nation, purchasing 74 acres of rich wildlife habitat along Kennedy Creek east of Glacier National Park then transferring the private inholding to tribal ownership and stewardship. Read the full story…
Land Protected: Kootenai Valley
For much of the past decade, Vital Ground and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative have honed in on northwestern Montana’s Kootenai Valley as a keystone location for landscape connections. The valley splits the Cabinet and Purcell mountains, each home to a small grizzly population and many other sensitive species. Keeping land open along the Kootenai for wildlife to cross between these ranges is essential to reconnecting the entire region, from Greater Yellowstone north into Canada. With new ground protected in 2020, our Wild River project with Y2Y has now conserved more than 125 acres once intended for subdivision development in this key corridor. Read the full story…
Sharing the Landscape: 2020 Partner Grants
For grizzlies to safely reconnect their range, we humans have to do our part. Beyond protecting habitat, communities near important wildlife movement areas must be ready to share the landscape. Strategies like electric fencing, bear-proof sanitation and bear spray training for recreationists help people and wildlife stay safe across the region. Vital Ground’s conservation partners program provides financial support to the organizations, communities and government agencies that work on the ground to implement these crucial conflict mitigation measures. From Wyoming to Washington, we were proud to support a dozen partners working in crucial places in 2020. These included:
- The Big Hole Watershed Committee’s range rider program in southwestern Montana
- Bear-aware education and sanitation outreach by the Bitterroot Bear Aware Collaborative
- The Blackfoot Challenge’s range rider and bear-aware sanitation programs in western Montana
- Bear-aware outreach and education by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ wildlife management program
- The Conservation Science Collaborative’s range rider and livestock guardian dog programs on the Rocky Mountain Front and Blackfeet Nation
- A new bear-resistant garbage enclosure for Corvallis High School in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley
- A new bear safety ambassador position on Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest, facilitated by Friends of the Bridger-Teton
- Idaho Fish & Game’s bear-resistant sanitation program for landowners in North Idaho
- Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ livestock carcass removal program in Montana’s Little Blackfoot Valley and nonlethal conflict mitigation tools for landowners on the Rocky Mountain Front
- New technical equipment for bear specialists in the Flathead Valley, facilitated by the Montana Outdoor Legacy Foundation
- A new bear-proof collection facility for the major attractant of livestock carcasses in southwestern Montana’s Madison Valley, led by the Northern Rockies Conservation Collaborative
- Improved bear attractant storage at popular campsites and trailheads on Wyoming’s Shoshone National Forest
- Electric fencing, bear-proof sanitation and other landowner tools from Swan Valley Connections’ Swan Valley Bear Resources program (Watch video)
- A cost-share electric fencing program for landowners in the Cabinet-Purcell-Selkirk region of northern Idaho and southeastern British Columbia, led by the Trans-border Grizzly Bear Project
- The Western Landowners Alliance’s range rider program for the Gravelly Mountain area west of Yellowstone National Park
- The Yaak Valley Forest Council’s Bear Aware Fair for community members in the Kootenai region of northwestern Montana
2020 Financial Position
Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, The Vital Ground Foundation ended 2020 in a strong financial position. Public support and revenues totaled $2,898,917.00.
During this period, 82.02%* of all expenditures was spent on conservation and education programs. Land held for preservation by Vital Ground represented an asset of $5,721,374.00 as of December 31, 2020.
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: An Urgent Year for Conservation
After a successful 2020, Vital Ground is pushing through 2021 with great urgency and commitment to our conservation vision. The time is now to connect and conserve One Landscape for wildlife and people.
The Northern Rockies region is experiencing a real estate boom and unprecedented growth in its human population, with development pressures causing an alarming loss of open space and habitat. As grizzlies and other wildlife move and adapt to a changing world, they are displaced by people disrupting or destroying crucial habitat, leaving them unprepared to survive during challenging times.
Vital Ground’s One Landscape Initiative envisions a better, more resilient future for wildlife and people alike. One Landscape is a scientifically-backed strategy to conserve the most crucial habitat connections on private lands in the Northern Rockies. These natural linkage areas connect a majestic mountain landscape from Canada and Glacier National Park through Montana and Idaho to the Greater Yellowstone area.
In collaboration with over 60 federal, state, tribal and independent wildlife experts, Vital Ground has pinpointed 188,000 acres on private lands with crucial conservation value. These places are the threads that will knit together a connected landscape for future generations of wildlife and people. As the region changes, wide-ranging species like grizzlies, wolves, elk, lynx and wolverine need these open pathways in order to adapt and survive.
Through robust partnerships, strategic land purchases and voluntary conservation agreements with landowners, we are protecting vital acres and meeting the challenge of our urgent time. In 2021, we’re taking on a project load roughly triple the size of typical years in the past. Thanks to supporters like you, 315 rich acres of habitat now remain open and wild at the Fowler Creek Preserve, conserved in the spring of 2021 in northwestern Montana’s Yaak Valley, several miles from the Broadie Habitat Preserve. Farther south, in a natural corridor near the confluence of Montana’s Bull River and Clark Fork, your support helped conserve 80 crucial acres this summer.
We remain hopeful and dedicated in our work because of our conservation community. Thank you for keeping the wind in our sails as we move forward for wildlife and people!
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!