Vital Ground, Landowners Conserve Key Grizzly Habitat West of Glacier National Park

Grave Creek project and Whitefish Range
Northwest Montana's Whitefish Range rises beyond the Grave Creek project site, where Vital Ground and landowners Greg and Lisa Levine partnered this week to conserve open space and wildlife habitat in an important linkage area for grizzly bears and many other species.

Eureka-area Conservation Easement Maintains Northwest Montana Habitat Corridor

February 22, 2023

MISSOULA, Mont. – A rich corridor of wetlands, meadows and forest will remain open for grizzly bears, Canada lynx, native trout and numerous other sensitive species in northwestern Montana after the Vital Ground Foundation partnered with landowners Greg and Lisa Levine this week to complete a conservation easement near Eureka, Mont., west of Glacier National Park.

The 28-acre agreement in the Grave Creek drainage maintains an important habitat connection for wildlife moving between the Whitefish Range that borders Glacier National Park and the Cabinet-Yaak area in Montana’s northwestern corner. With development pressures high across the region, the easement will prevent subdivision on the property and limit negative human impacts for generations to come.

“We are grateful to Vital Ground for providing us this opportunity to protect grizzlies in Northwest Montana,” Greg and Lisa Levine said in a statement. “We are avid animal lovers and are honored to be a part of conservation efforts to safeguard their habitat and help ensure a viable grizzly population. Rest assured, grizzlies will always be protected and respected on our land. Our wish is for more landowners to follow and create more safe havens for these beautiful creatures.”

A Vital Link for Grizzlies

Trail camera shows grizzly at Grave Creek project
Trail camera footage provided by the landowners shows a grizzly bear moving through the Grave Creek project site.

The project area’s lush habitat will benefit a host of native species, from moose, elk and deer to wide-ranging mammals like wolves and wolverine to wetland plants, birds and fish. With the site bordering Flathead National Forest lands, subdivision and further development of the acres carries special importance for the grizzly bears that regularly move through the drainage.

To the east of the project area, the Whitefish Range marks the edge of the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE), home to Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness and an estimated 1,100 grizzlies. Farther west, the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem is home to around 50 grizzly bears, with the area’s habitat cores much smaller than the NCDE’s and connection to other bear populations restricted by highways and other human activity.

Protecting open movement corridors like the Grave Creek project site maintains the potential for increased movement by bears from the recovering NCDE population to the Cabinet-Yaak. These natural migrations are crucial to improving the genetic diversity and long-term survival of the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly population.

“Genetic diversity and interchange of genetics in this population is a lot more important because of its small size,” said Wayne Kasworm, a biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who leads the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly recovery effort. “We have not seen interchange of that nature from the NCDE to the Cabinet-Yaak. We have seen a couple bears move but many of those bears died before they could reproduce.”

Keeping Open Space Open

Grave Creek project habitat
As development pressures continue in the region, voluntary landowner-led conservation efforts like the Grave Creek project maintain not just crucial wildlife habitat but also the rural, scenic character of Northwest Montana.

Under the new conservation easement, the project site will remain in the Levines’ private ownership, with development limited to a small pocket of the property containing a residence and several small outbuildings. The remainder of the acreage will be stewarded as wildlife habitat, including a large meadow, two ponds and a perennial stream.

Part of the Tobacco River Valley that extends south from the Canadian border, the property is located roughly 40 miles from the fast-growing tourism hub of Whitefish. Conserving open space in these areas at risk of dense development in the near future ensures not just habitat connectivity for wildlife but also a continued rural, scenic landscape for generations of people to enjoy.

That combination of benefits for grizzlies, other wildlife and people made the Grave Creek project a high priority for Vital Ground’s One Landscape Initiative, a conservation strategy aimed at protecting key private lands that link wild strongholds across the Northern Rockies region.

“The One Landscape conservation strategy was crafted with guidance from biologists and bear managers who pointed out that areas such as Grave Creek are important for natural east-west bear movement between the NCDE and the Cabinet-Yaak,” said Mitch Doherty, Conservation Director for Vital Ground. “Voluntary, private land conservation efforts by families like the Levines will ensure bears and other wildlife have secure habitat as they move across the landscape.”

The Grave Creek project would not have been possible without support from the PDJ Family Foundation, Whitefish Community Foundation, Weeden Foundation, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and many individual donors.

For more information contact:

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

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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