Annual Report 2022: Explore Your Conservation Impact

North Idaho's Bismark Meadows in Selkirk Mountains
Bismark Meadows in northern Idaho, a 1,000-acre wetland complex providing key spring grizzly habitat, protected by Vital Ground through a 20-year effort completed in 2022.

Habitat Conservation: a Tangible Solution in Changing Times

Dear friend of Vital Ground,

In the conservation community and beyond, many of us look to the natural world as a constant when our lives grow turbulent. I can walk into the foothills of the Bitterroot Mountains behind my neighborhood, for example, and follow the same paths used by deer and cougars season after season, passing ponderosa pines that have stood on the landscape far longer than the houses below them.

Ryan Lutey
Ryan Lutey, Executive Director

Where do we turn when even Nature starts to change at an uncomfortable pace? In 2022, historic flooding shredded roads and properties on the edge of Yellowstone National Park, turning the tourism season on its head and disrupting movement patterns for wildlife, too. Record heat waves in 2023 are reshaping forests and human communities alike. The impacts of a warming climate are playing out in real time across the places we cherish.

Land conservation offers a steadying pillar amid the disturbances around us. Vital Ground protects wildlife habitat in perpetuity—a phrase that immediately lowers my blood pressure. Whatever the world throws our way, the places you help conserve as a Vital Ground supporter will stay open and wild for all walks of life, for generations to come, giving countless species room to move and adapt to change.

And you’ve been busy! As Vital Ground continues through another active year working for wildlife, it’s important to pause and look back at the accomplishments you enabled in 2022 and the state of our efforts. As the Annual Report below details, your conservation impact extended across a great many portions of the Northern Rockies region last year. The One Landscape Initiative continues to protect and connect habitat in the most crucial places for grizzly bears and the myriad species that share their range, while Vital Ground’s conflict prevention partnerships are helping expanding grizzly populations and the people living near them chart a path of coexistence.

This hopeful, steadying work would truly be impossible without you. Like the land protection it enables, the generosity and consistency of our Vital Ground community serves as a stabilizing force for good. From projects completed to financial details, keep scrolling to learn where and how your support made a difference for wildlife and people in 2022 and maintained Vital Ground’s strong organizational footing as a leader in wildlife and landscape conservation.

With deep gratitude,

Ryan Lutey signature



Ryan Lutey, Executive Director


2022 Conservation Accomplishments

Your support of Vital Ground made a tangible impact on the ground in grizzly country in 2022. You enabled the completion of four key habitat conservation projects in western Montana and northern Idaho as well as a record 18 conservation partnerships that helped bears, other wildlife and people share the landscape safely. See the map below for these projects’ geographic context in our larger One Landscape vision and keep scrolling for videos, photos and stories about these wins for wildlife made possible by you.

In 2022, your support enabled completion of four habitat projects (blue dots) and 18 conservation partnerships (gold dots): 1) Shoshone National Forest, 2) J Bar L Ranch, 3) National Wildlife Federation, 4) Future West, 5) People and Carnivores, 6) Lolo School, 7) Sleeman Creek Homeowners, 8) Wind River Bear Institute, 9) Missoula Parks & Recreation, 10) Great Bear Foundation, 11) Blackfoot Challenge, 12) Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, 13) Rocky Mountain Front Ranchlands Group, 14) Sun River Watershed Group, 15) Swan Valley Bear Resources, and 16) Flathead Land Trust.


Land Protected: Bismark Meadows

In 2001, when Vital Ground’s role as an accredited, grizzly-focused land trust was just beginning to take shape, Bismark Meadows first caught our eyes. This wet meadow landscape deep in the Selkirk Mountains of northern Idaho was a known grizzly haven, providing early-season plant growth for mother bears with infant cubs every spring, not to mention good habitat for elk, moose, native trout, rare aquatic plants and much more. But its proximity to the growing recreation destination of Priest Lake made it an urgent conservation priority, and so Vital Ground began the long collaborative process of conserving the numerous private parcels that comprised the area. More than 20 years later, a final 148-acre land purchase in 2022 marked the finish line, with the entire 1,100-acre wetland now protected. As executive director Ryan Lutey said, “This is the culmination of two decades of work with many dedicated partners to ensure Bismark Meadows remains permanently accessible to wildlife.” Read more…

(Note: video produced before project completion)


Land Protected: Donovan Creek

Last fall, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks captured two young grizzly bears in the Bitterroot Valley south of Missoula. Unlike most bear relocations, however, this sub-adult pair was moved preemptively, before they got into any trouble with people. And unlike any grizzlies before them, the bears were taken deep into the Sapphire Mountains, one of western Montana’s ranges that help connect grizzly populations to the north with the wilds of southwestern Montana, central Idaho and Greater Yellowstone. As a series of photographs and confirmed sightings soon revealed, the young bears’ journey south passed within a few miles of Donovan Creek’s confluence with the Clark Fork River, where Vital Ground and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative were in the final stages of completing a conservation easement. Now, this key bottleneck area will remain open as a crucial habitat link helping grizzlies naturally reconnect their historic range. Read more…

Clark Fork River at Donovan Creek confluence
Montana’s Clark Fork River flows through its confluence with Donovan Creek past key linkage habitat for grizzly bears and other wildlife, now conserved by Vital Ground and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative in partnership with a conservation-minded landowner. (Photo by Mitch Doherty)


Land Protected: Swan and Flathead Valleys

While Vital Ground’s One Landscape Initiative continues to make bold strides toward regional connectivity, habitat protection also remains important within the grizzly’s core range, as development pressures continue in the communities near Glacier National Park. Two new conservation easements will help maintain balance between the needs of wildlife and people in these places. A new, anonymous conservation easement buffering intact habitat in the Whitefish Mountains will protect precious acres from subdivision amid the Flathead Valley’s intense development pressure, while an additional easement in the nearby Swan Valley marked Vital Ground’s first collaboration with Montana Freshwater Partners. Together with this project site’s landowners, the groups conserved and will now help restore key forested wetland habitat in the Salmon Prairie area, near several other Vital Ground habitat sites. As conservation director Mitch Doherty said, “Projects like this show how landowners are voluntarily protecting biodiversity for generations to come.” Read more…

Grizzly on trail camera at Salmon Prairie project
Remote camera footage shows a grizzly crossing the Salmon Prairie project, a new conservation easement in Montana’s Swan Valley.


Paths to Coexistence: 2022 Partner Grants

In addition to the ongoing urgency of habitat conservation, 2022  featured a pressing need for coexistence between bears and people. Various climate and weather factors led to a poor season of growth for many wild berries that grizzlies rely on as a food source through the warmer months, sending bears out of the mountains and closer to human communities and ranchlands as they sought alternative nutrition. Fortunately, many hands were hard at work helping both wildlife and people stay out of trouble on these shared landscapes. Vital Ground’s 18 conflict prevention partnerships in 2022 extended from Wyoming to northern Idaho and featured coexistence efforts ranging from rangeland attractant removal and electric fencing to safe sanitation and bear safety education. By year’s end, 52,000 acres of livestock range had been protected by range riders, 76 bear-resistant garbage containers were distributed, and more than 2,000 people had attended partners’ education and outreach events—to name just a few impacts of these partnerships, which remain a crucial complement to our habitat protection work. Read more…

Conservation partners install electric fencing at the J Bar L Ranch, a Vital Ground partner in southwestern Montana near Yellowstone National Park. (Photo by Kayla Heinze)


2022 Financial Position

Thanks to the generosity of supporters like you, The Vital Ground Foundation ended 2022 in a strong financial position. Public support and revenues totaled $5,246,368.

During this period, 83.12%* of all expenditures was spent on conservation and education programs. Land held for preservation by Vital Ground represented an asset of $8,868,878 as of December 31, 2022.

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: The Way to One Landscape

Bull River-Clark Fork confluence area
State Highway 200 passes through the Bull River-Clark Fork confluence area in western Montana. With a new land acquisition in 2023, Vital Ground and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative have conserved 129 acres in this important wildlife linkage area connecting the Cabinet (right) and Bitterroot mountains. (Photo by Randy Beacham)

Your support in 2022 continued Vital Ground’s leadership in wildlife conservation, adding important protected acres and community-led partnerships to the Northern Rockies landscape. As we move through our fourth decade as an organization, your cumulative contributions to the well-being of grizzlies and entire ecosystems is substantial (see graphic at right).

There is much more good work to do. Already in 2023, your contributions helped Vital Ground conserve key western Montana habitat in the Whitefish Range and the Bull River-Clark Fork confluence area. As grizzlies prepare for hibernation this fall, coexistence partners up and down the region will help them stay away from conflicts.

The biodiversity and climate crises are real, present and enormously complex challenges. At work in one of Earth’s most intact wildlife communities, Vital Ground and our One Landscape Initiative provide tangible progress toward the vision of a connected and resilient bioregion where people and diverse wildlife coexist safely for generations to come.

Our scientifically-backed conservation strategy pursues protection of the most crucial habitat connections on private lands in the Northern Rockies and conflict prevention across the region’s shared landscapes. Together with our many partners and invaluable supporters like you, we can continue building a brighter future for grizzlies, people and all things wild.

Thank you for keeping us moving boldly forward!

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