Grizzly sow and cubs in meadow
Across the mountains and valleys of the Northern Rockies, grizzly bears and countless other wildlife species benefitted from your support of habitat conservation in 2021. Explore the annual report below to learn how your contributions to Vital Ground made an unprecedented impact and kept the organization going strong for wildlife.

An Extraordinary Year of Conservation Progress

When Vital Ground co-founders Doug and Lynne Seus adopted an orphaned grizzly cub in 2001 and named him Bart the Bear II, the organization was still a small Utah-based foundation raising money for other conservation groups’ habitat protection projects. During Bart II’s life, Vital Ground moved to Montana and expanded into the thriving land trust you know today. None of it could have happened without the support and inspiration that Bart brought to Vital Ground.

Bart the Bear II
Bart the Bear II: 2000-2021

In 2021, as supporters like you enabled a banner year for Vital Ground’s conservation mission, we said farewell to our beloved giant. Bart leaves behind an enormous conservation legacy—during his two decades as a Vital Ground ambassador, Bart’s charisma helped conserve and enhance hundreds of thousands of acres of habitat for his fellow grizzlies and all the species that share their range.

Bart’s legacy will continue to flourish in the form of Vital Ground’s One Landscape Initiative. In 2021, your support of One Landscape drove the organization’s most ambitious year ever. From valley bottomlands in the Idaho Panhandle to the toes of Glacier National Park’s soaring peaks, Vital Ground completed six strategic land purchases and conservation easements, permanently protecting irreplaceable habitat. Complementing those projects, you also enabled partnership with 16 other NGOs and local community groups working to head off conflicts between bears and people, continuing to strengthen social tolerance for the Northern Rockies’ most iconic species.

As grizzlies continue to reclaim a small slice of their historic range in the Lower 48, protecting habitat corridors and building the social habitat of coexistence go hand-in-hand—and what better way to honor Bart’s outsized life than continuing our best charge to build a safer, more sustainable future for wildlife and people?

Ryan Lutey
Ryan Lutey, Executive Director

Your ongoing trust in Vital Ground and support of our mission makes a daily difference on the ground here in grizzly country. Keep scrolling through this online report for videos, photos and stories of your 2021 conservation impact, as well as details on Vital Ground’s strong financial position. We can’t do it without you!

Yours in conservation,

Ryan Lutey signature
Ryan Lutey, Executive Director


2021 Conservation Accomplishments

Your impact on the ground in grizzly country was greater in 2021 than in any previous year of Vital Ground’s history. You enabled the completion of six habitat conservation projects in western Montana and northern Idaho as well as support for 16 conservation partners that helped bears, other wildlife and people share the landscape safely. Both numbers are annual records for Vital Ground! 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 made possible by you.

Vital Ground 2021 projects map
In 2021, your support enabled six habitat projects (blue dots) and 16 conservation partnerships (gold dots, numbered alphabetically): 1) Be Bear Aware, 2) Big Hole Watershed Committee, 3) Blackfeet Nation Stockgrowers, 4) Clearwater Resource Council, 5) Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes, 6) Conservation Science Collaborative, 7) Flathead Land Trust — Bad Rock Canyon Project, 8) Great Bear Foundation, 9) Madison Valley Ranchlands Group, 10) Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, 11) People and Carnivores, 12) Piikani Lodge Health Institute, 13) Trans-border Grizzly Bear Project, 14) Watershed Restoration Committee, 15) Western Landowners Alliance, and 16) Wind River Bear Institute.

Land Protected: Kootenai Valley

At the top of the Idaho Panhandle, the Kootenai River winds toward Canada and carves a broad, fertile valley splitting the Selkirk and Purcell mountains. Bears, wolves, elk and more cross the Kootenai between these ranges, each of which is home to a small populations of grizzlies. The farms that line the river continue to offer the open space and habitat needed for the corridor while also maintaining the area’s rural and scenic character. So, with Idaho experiencing one of the nation’s most intense development surges, conserving the working lands and habitat of the Kootenai Valley is a must for the agricultural community as well as for grizzlies and other wide-ranging wildlife. Thanks to supporters like you, Vital Ground completed a huge step in that effort with a 1,040-acre conservation agreement for the Hubbard Farm. Read more…


Land Protected: Clark Fork Valley

Aspen trees and mountains
Vital Ground and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative conserved 80 acres of open space near the confluence of Montana’s Bull River and Clark Fork River, helping connect habitat in the Cabinet and Bitterroot mountain ranges.

In the next big valley south of the Kootenai, the Clark Fork River flows from Montana into Idaho beneath a majestic mountain landscape. The Bitterroot Mountains sprawl to the south, extending deep into central Idaho’s massive wilderness complex while a series of smaller ranges rise from the Clark Fork to the north. Conservation biologists consider the Bitterroots a key pathway for connecting grizzlies in those northern areas with Greater Yellowstone’s bears farther south, which is why we teamed up with the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative on a crucial land purchase near the confluence of the Bull River and Clark Fork, a priority linkage area between the Cabinet and Bitterroot ranges. Read more…


Land Protected: Flathead Valley

Forest and meadow at Tamarack Creek Project
The Whitefish Range outside Glacier National Park rises northeast of Vital Ground’s Tamarack Creek Project, which conserves 100 acres of habitat near Whitefish, Mont.

With the pandemic spurring an already-growing development rush into overdrive in the Mountain West, recreation hubs near iconic parks have become real estate goldmines. In the case of the North Fork Flathead and Whitefish areas just west of Glacier National Park, expansion and sprawl directly threaten the safe movement of wildlife from Glacier and surrounding wildlands to places farther west like the Cabinet-Yaak area. Conserving open space in these places keeps a much larger landscape connected for generations to come, and it’s why we were thrilled to team with the Flathead National Forest on a key land purchase in the North Fork back in March, then partner with a conservation-minded landowner to protect 100 precious acres near Whitefish in December. Read more…


Land Protected: Yaak Valley

Fowler Creek project in fall color
Western larch in autumn color at the Fowler Creek project, rich wetland habitat conserved in Montana’s Yaak Valley. (Photo by Randy Beacham)

Nestled amid the Purcell Mountains of far northwestern Montana, the Yaak Valley’s diverse wildlife and limited development make it one of the wildest places in the lower 48 states that does not fall within a national park or federal wilderness area. The Yaak’s biodiversity and wild character are threatened by region-wide development pressures, but two land acquisitions  near last year’s Broadie Habitat Preserve have conserved rich wetlands and furthered Vital Ground’s impact in maintaining this crucial habitat for grizzlies, wolves, Canada lynx and much more. Read more…


Land Protected: Swan Valley

Swan Range view from Simmons Meadow
Montana’s Swan Mountains rise to the east of Simmons Meadow, where Vital Ground conserved 20 additional acres of rich habitat for grizzly bears and other wildlife.

A lush, rural area lying between the Mission and Swan mountain ranges, Montana’s Swan Valley has long been vital ground for grizzlies. For nearly 20 years, supporters like you have helped Vital Ground conserve more than a dozen key habitat linkages in the Swan, allowing this wildlife corridor to remain open enough for bears, wolves, elk, wolverine and much more to maintain connectivity across a broader landscape. The latest addition to your conservation impact in the Swan was a 20-acre addition to Vital Ground’s Simmons Meadow project near Condon. Read more…


Sharing the Landscape: 2021 Partner Grants

Black bear and cherry orchard fence
A remote camera shows electric fencing erected by Vital Ground partner People and Carnivores keeping black bears out of a cherry orchard near Montana’s Flathead Lake.

For grizzlies and people to safely share a connected landscape in the Northern Rockies, we humans have to do our part. In addition to protecting habitat, community-led coexistence in important wildlife movement areas is crucial to wildlife movement. From electric fencing and bear-proof sanitation to safety education for visitors and landowners alike, conflict prevention programs helped people and wildlife stay safe across the region in 2021. Vital Ground’s conservation partners grant program provided financial support to 16 organizations, communities and government agencies working in crucial places last year. Read more…


2021 Financial Position

Thanks to the generosity of supporters like you, The Vital Ground Foundation ended 2021 in a strong financial position. Public support and revenues totaled $7,897,066.

During this period, 90.88%* of all expenditures was spent on conservation and education programs. Land held for preservation by Vital Ground represented an asset of $7,678,876 as of December 31, 2021.

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!

2021 financials table

2021 revenue chart2021 expenses chart



* 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: Maintaining Momentum for Wildlife

Bismark Meadows wetlands
Lupines grow from the lush soil of Bismark Meadows in northern Idaho. Vital Ground completed this 20-year, 1,100-acre conservation project in early 2022. (Photo by Linda Lantzy)

Acres protected infographicYour support enabled a year of unprecedented impact for Vital Ground in 2021, adding important new acres and partnerships to the Northern Rockies’ conservation landscape and our organization’s cumulative footprint in grizzly country (see graphic at right).

But it’s no time to rest on our laurels—the need for connected, protected habitat remains acute and we are moving boldly forward in 2022.

Already, your contributions helped Vital Ground purchase the final unprotected acres at Bismark Meadows in northern Idaho. After 20 years and 1,100 acres split into numerous projects, these lush wetlands will remain forever wild and open to the grizzlies that rely on them for spring forage, the native trout that cruise their waterways, and all other walks of life that pass through.

But across the Mountain West, places like Bismark Meadows are converted away from conservation outcomes daily. The region’s real estate boom and human population spike continues, with development pressures and climate impacts leaving a stable future far from guaranteed for many wildlife species.

Vital Ground’s One Landscape Initiative counters these threats with the vision of a connected landscape where people and diverse wildlife can coexist safely. This scientifically-backed strategy pursues conservation for the most crucial habitat connections on private lands in the Northern Rockies. Together with our many partners and invaluable supporters like you, we can connect and conserve this majestic mountain landscape from Canada and Glacier National Park through Montana and Idaho to the Greater Yellowstone area.

We remain hopeful and dedicated in our efforts because of our conservation community. Thank you for keeping us looking ahead and working hard 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!

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