On the Land, In the Community: Meet Your 2022 Conservation Partners

Cattle with mountain background
Where grizzly bear range and livestock grazing overlap, efforts like range rider and carcass pickup programs help prevent conflicts and make the landscape safer for all. Vital Ground supported several of these efforts as part of our Conservation Partners Grant Program, which funded 18 coexistence projects in 2022.

Collaborations for Coexistence Mean Safer Landscapes for Wildlife and People

Much like people, grizzly bears are omnivores and opportunists. Whether we’re bear or human, point us toward a tasty and easily-obtained meal and it’s hard to say no.

For grizzlies, those easy meals can be all-natural: a deer or elk carcass found as the winter snow melts, or a hillside full of ripe summer berries. But too often, they take the form of foods related to human development that build bad habits: unsecured garbage or chicken coops, apple orchards, or a rancher’s calving pen if things get desperate.

In 2022, things have gotten desperate for more of the Northern Rockies’ bears than usual. Numerous climate and weather factors contributed to a poor season for many wild berries that grizzlies rely on for summer nutrition. That has led to a fall defined by increased conflicts and a greater need than ever for mitigation efforts across the communities of grizzly country.

As grizzlies and people move around one another this year and beyond, Vital Ground is helping prevent conflicts through our annual partner grants program. From southwestern Wyoming to northern Idaho, 18 partner programs are performing the crucial work of boots-on-the-ground coexistence this year.

Safer Ground on the Edges of Greater Yellowstone

Map of 2022 Vital Ground conservation partnersWhile the grizzlies of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem remain genetically isolated from those farther north, your support continues to foster coexistence partnerships in key locations that shrink the gaps between grizzly populations. Near the southern extent of the grizzly’s range, collaboration with the Shoshone National Forest (No. 1 on map) in western Wyoming is equipping public land users with the option to rent bear-resistant “Ur-sack” bags instead of more cumbersome canisters.

Elsewhere, a new collaboration with the J Bar L Ranch (2) in the southwest corner of Montana enabled remote camera and hair-corral tracking of grizzlies as well as livestock monitoring to keep bears and herds separate. Partnership with the National Wildlife Federation (3) also helped retire a conflict-prone 30,000-acre grazing allotment in this same movement area between Yellowstone and the wilds of central Idaho.

Meanwhile, a new partner, Future West (4), launched an innovative effort using remote aerial photography to help monitor predator and livestock movements across several valleys and mountain ranges in southwestern Montana, while People and Carnivores (5) are helping prevent conflicts in the key north-south connectivity area of the Tobacco Root Mountains via a new bear-resistant garbage container program for the community of Pony, Mont.

Setting Up Success in Western Montana

The Bitterroot Valley is gradually becoming a focal area for grizzly bear expansion, and ongoing coexistence efforts are paying off (see p. 3). At the bottom of the valley just south of Missoula, partnership with Vital Ground helped the Lolo School (6) add electric fencing around its dumpsters while the Sleeman Creek Homeowners (7) do the same at their neighborhood garbage collection site. Up and down the valley, the Wind River Bear Institute (8) provides bear-aware education at community events and incident response from a trained canine team.

Apple picking
The Great Bear Foundation’s apple pickup program helps remove a major bear attractant in the valleys surrounding Missoula.

With bear conflicts increasing this season on the edges of Missoula itself, a new partnership with Missoula Parks & Recreation (9) provided 16 bear-resistant garbage containers and educational signage for high-use recreation areas. And on the edges of Missoula as well as up the Bitterroot, Blackfoot and Ninemile valleys, our hometown teammate the Great Bear Foundation (10) continues its stellar apple pickup program that gleans 10,000-20,000 pounds of bear attractants from backyards annually.

Continuing up the Blackfoot, the Blackfoot Challenge (11) performs crucial coexistence work, with three new electric fencing projects on ranches and homesites in 2022. Collaboration with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (12) also helped keep bears out of trouble in the area, expanding carcass pickup across at least 10 ranches in the countryside between the Blackfoot and Little Blackfoot rivers.

Coexistence on the Outskirts of Glacier

While the Blackfoot region marks the southern edge of the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, the eastern edge along the Rocky Mountain Front Range is also vital country for coexistence, with grizzlies continuing to follow waterways east onto the prairie from Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

Electric fencing
Swan Valley Bear Resources helps landowners prevent bear conflicts with electric fencing for domestic livestock like chickens.

Two new partners are mitigating conflicts and improving social tolerance of grizzlies across these rangelands, with the Rocky Mountain Front Ranchlands Group (13) supporting a range rider program monitoring wildlife and livestock across 27,000 acres and the Sun River Watershed Group (14) outfitting local communities with bear spray training and equipment for volunteers at river and park cleanups and other future events.

On the other side of Glacier, the Swan and Flathead valleys continue to balance the needs of people and wildlife. Swan Valley Bear Resources (15) provides electric fencing, bear-resistant garbage cans and bear-aware education at community events. Meanwhile, to the north, Vital Ground was proud to support Flathead Land Trust (16) on a new conservation easement outside Whitefish near our own Tamarack Creek project.

Farther west in Montana near several other Vital Ground projects, coexistence efforts continue in the community of Troy with help from the Troy Farmers Market Apple Festival (17), an annual event promoting bear-aware education an attractant removal through cider pressing. Finally, community events from northern Idaho to the Bitterroot Valley and Rocky Mountain Front benefitted from the continued presence of a stalwart Vital Ground partner, the Be Bear Aware (18) traveling educational trailer and outreach team.

Across communities, working landscapes and wild backcountry areas, it takes many hands to keep coexistence moving forward as grizzlies themselves move farther and wider. With more partners preventing conflicts in 2022 than ever before, your support of Vital Ground plays a crucial role in building safer landscapes for wildlife and people alike. Thank you!

Learn more about the Conservation Partners Grant Program…

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