Along the Kootenai River in northwestern Montana, we’re stopping subdivision in a key wildlife corridor.
Wild River PROJECT BRIEF
Grizzly bears in the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem are struggling. Tucked into the northwestern corner of Montana, the Cabinet-Yaak does not benefit from the conservation strongholds of a national park or large wilderness area. U.S. Highway 2 follows the Kootenai River through the middle of the ecosystem, a geographic waistline that splits the area in two, separating the Cabinet and Purcell mountain ranges. Recent studies estimate just 25 bears on either side of the divide.
Connecting the Cabinet-Yaak’s grizzlies, and its other threatened wildlife, marks the goal of our ambitious Wild River Project. Biologists from multiple jurisdictions have pinpointed this place as crucial for private-land conservation, and now we’re teaming with the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative to make it happen.
The grizzly subpopulations on either side of the Kootenai Valley have shown little genetic exchange, and thus a high risk of inbreeding. But they both play a key role in larger landscape connections. To the north, the Purcells extend across the national border into British Columbia, where larger wild lands host a growing grizzly population. To the south, the Cabinets reach down to the Clark Fork Valley and I-90, the only things separating them from the vast Selway-Bitterroot Ecosystem of Montana and Idaho.
Shore up the middle of the Cabinet-Yaak and the potential for connected bear habitat from Canada to central Idaho becomes significantly greater. With Wild River located in a natural bottleneck near the confluence of the Kootenai and Yaak rivers, the corridor just needs protection.
Vital Ground protected habitat on the north end of the linkage in 2014—our Yaak Mountain property, which borders U.S. Forest Service land extending northeast into the Purcells. Directly across Highway 2, we’ve teamed with Y2Y on successive purchases in 2017 and 2018 to protect 42.5 undeveloped acres, followed by a 10-acre purchase in 2019 and an additional 3-acre acquisition in 2020.
The next phase of the project is restoration, as we transform these acres from cleared lots to rich habitat for grizzlies, elk, moose and many other wide-ranging species, not to mention the endangered white sturgeon and threatened bull trout that swim the Kootenai.
Wild River at a Glance
- 55 acres; combines with adjacent Yaak Mountain project to conserve over 125 acres in corridor
- Part of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's high priority Troy-Highway 2 Linkage Zone
- Helps connect public-land habitat in the Purcell (north) and Cabinet (south) mountains
- Includes Kootenai River frontage; channel restoration work will improve habitat for endangered white sturgeon