Forest Service, Vital Ground Team Up on Land and Water Conservation Outside Glacier National Park

North Fork Flathead River sunset west of Glacier National Park Montana
Sunset over Montana's North Fork of the Flathead River, which forms the western boundary of Glacier National Park. Vital Ground teamed up with Flathead National Forest to conserve a key 10-acre parcel near the river that maintains public access and wildlife connectivity between Glacier and the Whitefish Mountains to the west.

North Fork Flathead Purchase Maintains Public Access, Wildlife Connectivity

Vital Ground and the U.S. Forest Service's logosNEWS FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 3, 2021

POLEBRIDGE, Mont. – The Flathead National Forest and Vital Ground Foundation conserved 10 acres of open space and wildlife habitat in the shadow of Glacier National Park earlier this week. Utilizing the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the project maintains public access to one of the national park system’s crown jewels while also protecting an important habitat connection for grizzly bears, elk, wolverine and numerous other wildlife species.

“We are fortunate to have partnered with Vital Ground on this conservation acquisition in an area of such high ecological importance,” says the Forest Service’s Hungry Horse and Glacier View District Ranger, Rob Davies. “It is a privilege to be able to manage this land for wildlife benefit, Wild and Scenic River values, and public use for generations to come.”

Grizzly sow and cub in Glacier National Park
Grizzly bears and other wildlife ranging from Glacier National Park don’t know when they’ve left the park boundary, making it crucial to protect habitat linkages like the Glacier Gateway project site that connect the park to other wild strongholds.

The 10-acre parcel near the village of Polebridge was privately owned, bordering federal lands on multiple sides. Primary support for the Glacier Gateway project came from LWCF, a national program that dedicates royalty fees from offshore drilling toward community conservation efforts ranging from municipal parks to fishing access sites. Last year, the fund received bipartisan support and permanent funding from Congress as part of the Great American Outdoors Act.

A land trust based in western Montana, Vital Ground provided administrative and financial support for the Forest Service’s purchase. Vital Ground has completed several habitat conservation projects in the North Fork Valley in recent years, helping limit subdivision and dense development in a popular tourist area that also serves as a crucial habitat corridor between Glacier’s Livingston Range and the Whitefish Mountains to the west. Vital Ground’s One Landscape Initiative identifies and conserves key habitat linkages on private lands throughout the Northern Rockies region, helping to reconnect fragmented populations of grizzly bears and other wildlife.

Forming the western edge of Glacier National Park, the North Fork of the Flathead River is a recreation destination as well as a wildlife crossroads. More than 3 million visitors traveled to Glacier in 2019, many of them passing through the Polebridge area to hike, float, fish or view wildlife in and around the North Fork Valley. Beyond tourist pressure, Montana’s booming housing market poses an additional risk to open space and wildlife habitat, but land conservation projects like Glacier Gateway and waterway protections for the North Fork—such as its National Wild and Scenic designation and the North Fork Watershed Protection Act of 2014—are helping maintain the area’s wild character.

“This is an outstanding opportunity for collaborative conservation that benefits both people and wildlife,” says Mitch Doherty, Vital Ground’s conservation manager. “With the support of the Flathead National Forest we are bringing more LWCF dollars to Montana to support a growing need for improved public land access and conservation of key wildlife habitat in the North Fork Valley.”

Additional support for the Glacier Gateway project came from Tourism Cares, the Whitefish Community Foundation, and numerous individual donors.

For more information contact:

Mitch Doherty, Conservation Manager for Vital Ground, 406-549-8650,

Rob Davies, Hungry Horse and Glacier View District Ranger, 406-387-3801,

About Vital Ground:

An accredited land trust and 501(c)(3) organization, Vital Ground conserves habitat for grizzly bears and other wildlife in the Northern Rockies. Founded in 1990 and based in Missoula, Mont., the organization also partners with communities to prevent conflicts between bears and people.

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