Keeping Bears Out of Trouble

Photo of grizzly bear and aspens in fall color
Grizzlies, especially young males, may travel great distances during fall as they search for food. A recent sighting along Lolo Creek in Montana’s Bitterroot Mountains is the latest sign of bears reclaiming historic range in the ecosystem, which could eventually link bears from the Yellowstone area with those from northwestern Montana.

Expanded Vital Ground Partners Program to Fund 12 Conflict-Prevention Projects in 2018

Updated May 4, 2018

MISSOULA, Mont. — Fresh-pressed apple cider may give grizzly bears better odds at safe travel between Montana’s Ninemile and Bitterroot mountains this fall.

Apple pickup and pressing is one of a dozen new conflict-prevention initiatives that The Vital Ground Foundation will support this year. A Missoula-based land trust primarily focused on grizzly habitat protection, Vital Ground is expanding its partner grants program after securing an annual pledge of $50,000 from The ALSAM Foundation to help stop bear-related incidents throughout the Northern Rockies.

Overall, Vital Ground’s partner program will fund 12 community conflict-prevention projects in 2018, with grants ranging from $1,500 to $7,500. Last year, Vital Ground held a series of roundtables with nearly 50 bear biologists and managers from Montana and Idaho in order to identify priorities for conflict prevention and habitat protection.

“Now we can turn strategy into action,” says Ryan Lutey, executive director of Vital Ground. “Thanks to The ALSAM Foundation’s generous support of our Conservation Partners Grant Program, we will be able to support local projects in the top-priority areas that we have identified for conflict prevention.”

Nine Mile Community Center logoThe Ninemile Valley northwest of Missoula represents one of those areas, as well as a frontier of grizzly connectivity. Linking the Glacier-Bob Marshall area’s Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem to the Clark Fork Valley and the Bitterroot Mountains, conservationists have long viewed the Ninemile as a crucial corridor in establishing the natural return of grizzlies to the Bitterroots, historic range where biologists do not report a resident population to currently exist.

Development and bear-related conflicts in the Ninemile have deterred grizzlies from traveling between the ranges, but with grizzly traffic rising in the area, the Nine Mile Community Center’s new attractant reduction program could pave the way for safer passage. The program will launch with its first annual Community Cider Day on October 13, during which volunteers collect fallen apples from community members then press them into fresh cider.

A widespread food attractant for grizzlies in Montana, apple trees represent a significant cause of bear-related conflicts in the Ninemile area and elsewhere. The cider day will also feature Bear Aware talks by regional experts and distribution of Bear Aware educational materials to community members.

Meanwhile, Missoula itself has seen its fair share of incidents involving bears and apples. Vital Ground will also support work to prevent those conflicts through partnership with the Great Bear Foundation.

Great Bear Foundation logoThe brainchild of the late bear biologist Charles Jonkel, the Great Bear Foundation’s Bears and Apples program enlists volunteers to collect apples and other bear attractants from residences near the city’s edges. It will increase those efforts in 2018 thanks to Vital Ground’s support, including a new option for landowners to donate their apples to Western Cider. The Missoula cidery will use the fruit to produce the Great Bear Community Cider, with 10 percent of the product’s proceeds benefitting the Bears and Apples program.

Beyond the two Missoula-area initiatives, Vital Ground will launch 10 more conflict prevention partnerships this year. Partnering organizations include Be Bear Aware (conflict outreach and education), Big Hole Watershed Committee (range rider patrol), Defenders of Wildlife (electric fencing), Flathead Valley Land Trust (habitat protection), Heart of the Rockies Institute (Jefferson County carcass removal), Madison Valley Ranchlands Group (carcass removal and outreach), People and Carnivores (conflict outreach and education), Trego Range Rider Project Collaborative (range rider patrol), Wildlife Management Institute (conflict outreach and education) and Yaak Valley Forest Council (conflict outreach and education).

An accredited land trust and 501(c)(3) organization, Vital Ground works cooperatively with landowners, communities, and state and federal agencies to conserve some of Earth’s most magnificent and unique places for people, grizzly bears, and entire natural communities. For more information, contact The Vital Ground Foundation, 20 Fort Missoula Rd., Missoula, MT 59804; also available at (406) 549-8650 and

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