Conservation Partners Help Dispersing Grizzlies Stay Safe

Range Rider in Montana valley
Photo: Louise Johns
Vital Ground's partnerships include several range rider programs, helping ranchers coexist with wildlife through carcass removal, predator monitoring and other outreach.

New Partnerships Address Crucial Priority Areas for Preventing Bear Conflicts

Each spring, there’s a subset of grizzly bears that act a bit like teenagers cut loose from home for the first time.

With mother bears turning their attention to mating or younger cubs, the two- or three-year old sub-adults start getting ignored and kicked out. Parentless for the first time, these young grizzlies walk into a world of stimuli that they’re still learning to interpret. It can be a dangerous time.

It was two of those freewheeling sub-adult grizzlies that a boater recently filmed swimming across Lake Frances in central Montana, near Valier. It’s a cute video, but the lessons behind it are more sober. When grizzlies spend time close to people, many form bad habits, especially if the incidents begin at a young age. Often involving easy meals like grain feed or domestic livestock, the habits quickly become very hard for a scavenging omnivore to break.

The end is usually a death sentence or expensive relocation for the bear, and in many parts of Montana, conflicts and mortalities hit record numbers in 2018.

It doesn’t have to be that way. As grizzlies reclaim historic range from central Montana to northeastern Washington, wildlife managers and communities are expanding their toolbox for preventing ursine conflicts. Through conservation partnerships across the region, your support of Vital Ground furthers those mitigation efforts. From electric fencing to bear spray education to carcass removal programs, you help us collaborate broadly to keep bears and people safe.

Addressing Hotspots for Conflict Prevention

This year, Vital Ground is funding 13 different community and conservation organizations focused on preventing bear conflicts. Thanks to generous support from the ALSAM Foundation and individual contributors like you, our Conservation Partners Grant Program is not just preventing conflicts; it’s doing so in the most critical places for grizzlies.

Over the last two years, Vital Ground has completed an innovative conservation plan, consulting more than 60 state, federal and tribal biologists and wildlife managers to locate the most important opportunities for habitat conservation and conflict prevention. As a land trust, our primary focus remains the utilization of conservation agreements and land purchases to protect and connect habitat for grizzlies and other wildlife. But preventing conflicts is a vital complement to that mission. Safeguarded habitat isn’t worth much if the moment a bear steps off of it, she stumbles into a conflict with people or their property. If the grizzly is to reconnect its fragmented range in the Lower 48 and secure a durable future here, the species needs both physical and social habitat.

Our conservation planning has led to the launch of Vital Ground’s One Landscape Initiative, a strategic effort to protect 188,000 acres of priority habitat on private lands and support conflict prevention in 21 especially urgent locations.

Thanks to your support, we’re off to a great start in 2019, as new conflict prevention partnerships will back crucial work in 10 of those 21 hotspots.

Building Coexistence from Wyoming to Washington

With grizzlies reclaiming habitat west of Yellowstone, east of Glacier, and up and down the Montana-Idaho border, conflict prevention across the region can pave the way for future coexistence. Biologists have long held the linking of the Yellowstone-area (Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem) and Glacier-area (Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem) grizzly populations as a gold standard for the species’ recovery.

Through the mountains of southwestern Montana and central Idaho, roaming bears are getting closer and closer to making that connection. Three conservation partnerships will mitigate conflicts in these linkage areas. In the Madison Valley west of Yellowstone, you’re helping support the Madison Valley Ranchlands Group’s carcass management program for Madison County, a growing initiative that picks up livestock carcasses—a dangerous attractant for bears—from area ranches, maintains a composting site, and conducts community education and outreach.

Bear Spray demonstration
Your support of Vital Ground will bring bear spray training and other educational opportunities to priority areas for conflict prevention west of Yellowstone National Park. (Photo courtesy of Danielle Oyler/Wildlife Management Institute)

In the Ruby Valley farther west, we’re helping the Greater Yellowstone Coalition convene a landowner workshop focused on bear behavior and conflict mitigation strategies. And throughout this linkage region, we’re funding the Wildlife Management Institute’s traveling Bear Safety Education Program, a community outreach effort that will bring bear spray training and other educational opportunities to areas ranging from the Centennial and Big Hole valleys to the Bitterroot and Upper Clark Fork areas.

With the Bitterroot Valley representing a key crossroads in many projections of future bear dispersal, you’re helping us partner with People & Carnivores on two electric fencing projects in the area. On the other side of Interstate 90, we’re supporting the Great Bear Foundation’s apple pickup program in the foothills north of Missoula. And in an area with especially high conflict numbers last year, we’re backing the Blackfoot Challenge’s electric fencing efforts at the Helmville Transfer Site and Sunset Guest Ranch, as well as their livestock carcass removal work in conjunction with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

Moving north, your contributions help continue Vital Ground’s long history of conservation in the Swan Valley, where we support Swan Valley Bear Resources in a bear-resistant garbage container loaner program for Bigfork and Ferndale, as well as electric fencing and education and outreach efforts (see video below). You’re also helping us chip in on a habitat protection effort by Flathead Land Trust, safeguarding 30 acres near Polebridge, a critical site near Glacier National Park with high traffic from bears and people alike. Continuing west from Glacier, we’re investing in the Trego Range Riding Collaborative’s carcass removal and outreach program, helping protect bears and other wildlife in a key northern linkage area between the Northern Continental Divide and Cabinet-Yaak areas.

Your support also extends grizzly conservation beyond the borders of Montana. We’re backing the Be Bear Aware bear avoidance and bear spray outreach programs, an educational trailer that traverses western Montana, northern Idaho and eastern Washington. Even farther to the northwest, you’re helping lay the groundwork for the grizzly’s natural return to the North Cascades of Washington, supporting Conservation Northwest‘s work to engage three First Nations communities in southern British Columbia with electric fencing workshops, fruit picks, student outreach, signage and news coverage.

How You Can Help

Nearly all of these partner projects fall in areas our planning identifies as crucial to the grizzly’s recovery in the Lower 48. To meet the goal of our One Landscape effort, partnerships like these represent a vital piece of the puzzle.

Just as important is the support of conservation-minded individuals like you who believe in protecting the open space and iconic wildlife that set our region apart. Learn more about One Landscape and keep driving Vital Ground forward today!

Share this post:

Posts by Category

Posts by Month