Top 5 stories of 2022: Another year of momentum for grizzly conservation

Grizzly cub at Knight Inlet, B.C.
Photo: Scott Birmingham
A yearling grizzly bear cub photographed at Knight Inlet, B.C. As Vital Ground continued to protect habitat and prevent conflicts for grizzlies and other wildlife in the Lower 48, supporters gathered at Knight Inlet Lodge in October 2022 for our first Wild Bear Adventure after two years of pandemic-related postponements.

Across the Northern Rockies, your support made many wins for wildlife possible!

Happy New Year! As we wrap up the holiday season and enter 2023, all of us at Vital Ground are full of gratitude for the conservation community that surrounds us. Together with many partners and supporters like you, we wrapped up a year of great momentum on a high note: the Bart the Bear Memorial Campaign soared past its $100,000 matching challenge, putting wind in the sails of crucial conservation projects for grizzly bears and all things wild.

The final days of 2022 also included the closing stages of another win on the ground for wildlife, as we completed our final habitat protection project of the year just after the calendar turned. From that recent conservation success to much more habitat saved and coexistence enabled, keep reading to review all the biggest stories from another strong year for Vital Ground and the One Landscape Initiative!

A conservation capstone at Bismark Meadows

In 2001, when Vital Ground’s role as an accredited, grizzly-focused land trust was just beginning to take shape, Bismark Meadows first caught our eyes. This wet meadow landscape deep in the Selkirk Mountains of northern Idaho was a known grizzly haven, providing early-season plant growth for mother bears with infant cubs every spring, not to mention good habitat for elk, moose, native trout, rare aquatic plants and much more. But its proximity to the growing recreation destination of Priest Lake made it an urgent conservation priority, and so Vital Ground began the long collaborative process of conserving the numerous private parcels that comprised the area. More than 20 years later, a final 148-acre land purchase this spring marked the finish line, with the entire 1,100-acre wetland now protected. As executive director Ryan Lutey said, “This is the culmination of two decades of work with many dedicated partners to ensure Bismark Meadows remains permanently accessible to wildlife.” Read more…

Bismark Meadows celebration
Vital Ground staff, trustees and project partners gathered at Bismark Meadows in October to celebrate the completion of the 20-year, 1,100-acre effort to conserve these vital wetlands in northern Idaho as a habitat haven for grizzlies and all things wild.

Building connectivity along the Clark Fork

This fall, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks captured two young grizzly bears in the Bitterroot Valley south of Missoula. Unlike most bear relocations, however, this sub-adult pair was moved preemptively, before they got into any trouble with people. And unlike any grizzlies before them, the bears were taken deep into the Sapphire Mountains, one of western Montana’s ranges that help connect grizzly populations to the north with the wilds of southwestern Montana, central Idaho and Greater Yellowstone. As a series of photographs and confirmed sightings soon revealed, the young bears’ journey south passed within a few miles of Donovan Creek’s confluence with the Clark Fork River, where Vital Ground and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative were in the final stages of completing a conservation easement. Now, this key bottleneck area will remain open as a crucial habitat link helping grizzlies naturally reconnect their historic range. Read more…

Clark Fork River at Donovan Creek confluence
Montana’s Clark Fork River flows through its confluence with Donovan Creek past key linkage habitat for grizzly bears and other wildlife, now conserved by Vital Ground and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative in partnership with a conservation-minded landowner.

Keeping it wild on the edges of Glacier National Park

While Vital Ground’s One Landscape Initiative continues to make bold strides toward regional connectivity, habitat protection also remains important within the grizzly’s core range, as development pressures continue in the communities near Glacier National Park. Two new conservation easements will help maintain balance between the needs of wildlife and people in these places, with the second of them completed at year’s end and marking Vital Ground’s first collaboration with Montana Freshwater Partners. Together with the project site’s landowners, the groups conserved and will now help restore key forested wetland habitat in Montana’s Swan Valley, near several other Vital Ground habitat sites. As conservation director Mitch Doherty said, “Projects like this show how landowners are voluntarily protecting biodiversity for generations to come.” Read more…

Grizzly on trail camera at Salmon Prairie project
Remote camera footage shows a grizzly crossing the Salmon Prairie project, a new conservation easement in Montana’s Swan Valley.

Sharing the landscape safely

In addition to the ongoing urgency of habitat conservation, the past year in the Northern Rockies featured a pressing need for coexistence between bears and people. Various climate and weather factors led to a poor season of growth for many wild berries that grizzlies rely on as a food source through the warmer months, sending bears out of the mountains and closer to human communities and ranchlands as they sought alternative nutrition. Fortunately, many hands are hard at work helping both wildlife and people stay out of trouble on these shared landscapes. Vital Ground’s 18 conflict prevention partnerships in 2022 extended from Wyoming to northern Idaho and featured coexistence efforts ranging from rangeland attractant removal and electric fencing to safe sanitation and bear safety education. By year’s end, 52,000 acres of livestock range had been protected by range riders, 76 bear-resistant garbage containers were distributed, and more than 2,000 people had attended partners’ education and outreach events—to name just a few impacts of these partnerships, which remain a crucial complement to our habitat protection work. Read more…

Electric fencing in Madison Valley
Electric fencing surrounds a livestock carcass collection site in southwestern Montana. On rangelands outside Yellowstone National Park, attractant removal projects like this are a key conflict prevention measure as grizzlies expand and reconnect their historic range.

Grizzlies gain ground on potential return to the North Cascades

Beyond Vital Ground’s mission-driven work to conserve grizzly habitat and prevent conflicts, 2022 saw the Great Bear take broader steps on its road to durable recovery in the Lower 48. In addition to slowly-increasing connectivity between the Northern Rockies’ grizzly populations, conservation momentum returned in one of the grizzly’s historic strongholds farther west: the North Cascades of Washington state. After several false starts in the last decade, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service have restarted a scoping process for the reintroduction of a sustainable grizzly population to the North Cascades, where the species thrived until the 20th century. With an initial draft environmental impact statement and public comment period completed, the next year could carry further excitement and opportunities to speak up on behalf of the grizzly’s future in the North Cascades. Read more…

Snowy grizzly in Yellowstone NP
The North Cascades historically hosted an abundant grizzly population. Human persecution wiped out bears in the region during the 20th century, but a new federal reintroduction proposal has conservationists hopeful for a long-awaited return.

From key acres protected to a safer, more-connected landscape across the region, none of these wins for wildlife would be possible without committed conservation supporters like you. As Vital Ground embarks on another year already full with developing projects and partnerships, your contributions keep us moving forward. THANK YOU!

See how you can help make a difference for wildlife in 2023…

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