Top 5 stories of 2023: Grizzlies gaining key ground

Grizzly on trail camera at Salmon Prairie project
Remote camera footage shows a grizzly bear crossing a recent Vital Ground project site in western Montana. Across the Northern Rockies, your support of Vital Ground's habitat protection and conflict prevention work allowed grizzlies and countless other species to move more freely in 2023.

Recapping a strong year of momentum for wildlife conservation

Happy 2024! As we turn the page to a new year, all of us at Vital Ground are immensely grateful for the ongoing support of our conservation community. Conservation contributors like you helped our year-end campaign nearly double its $175,000 matching challenge, positioning Vital Ground to hit the ground running on behalf of all things wild this year. Thank you!

While our work for wildlife continues at an urgent pace, here’s a look back in gratitude at the top conservation accomplishments that supporters like you enabled in 2023. It was another year of significant achievement for Vital Ground and the One Landscape Initiative, and we couldn’t have done it without you!

Strengthening connections to the Bitterroots

Vital Ground continued to protect habitat in the most crucial places for long-term grizzly bear connectivity and recovery in 2023. In partnership with the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y), we completed two more conservation acquisitions in the key Bull River-Clark Fork linkage zone of western Montana. This natural bottleneck area for a rich diversity of wildlife helps connect the Cabinet-Yaak and Bitterroot ecosystems, with the latter still awaiting the return of a resident grizzly population. “Grizzly bear linkage across the Clark Fork River is important for the future of bears in the Bitterroot,” says U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Wayne Kasworm. “This project is a start and a stepping stone to protecting habitat for bears to make that journey.” Read more…

Clark Fork-Bull River confluence area
The confluence area of the Clark Fork and Bull rivers in western Montana serves as an important habitat linkage for grizzlies and many other species, connecting the Cabinet and Bitterroot mountains. Vital Ground and Y2Y have protected 151 contiguous acres in the area since 2021. (Photo: Randy Beacham)

Protecting wildlife movement west of Glacier

While biologists estimate that more than 1,000 grizzly bears live in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) in and around Glacier National Park, the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem farther west in Montana is home to just 50-60 grizzlies. Studies have documented very little movement of bears (and the crucial genetic diversity they’d bring) from the NCDE west to the Cabinet-Yaak, but a new Vital Ground conservation easement will ensure key habitat remains undeveloped in one of the main pathways for that movement. In the Grave Creek drainage on the west side of the Whitefish Mountains, we teamed up with conservation-minded landowners to protect these crucial acres—which also provide range for wolves, moose, wolverine, Canada lynx and much more—in a part of the Northern Rockies facing intense development pressures. Read more…

Grave Creek project and Whitefish Range
Northwest Montana’s Whitefish Range rises beyond the Grave Creek project site, where Vital Ground and conservation-minded landowners partnered to protect habitat in an important linkage area for grizzly bears and many other species. (Photo: Mitch Doherty)

Keeping the Yaak Valley wild and open

The Yaak Valley in Montana’s northwestern corner is rugged, remote country, home to a rich diversity of native wildlife and a small enduring population of grizzlies despite lacking the habitat anchor of a national park or protected wilderness area. With major support from the Wildlife Land Trust, Vital Ground expanded its conservation impact in the Yaak with an addition to our Fowler Creek conservation project. Covering a key portion of the valley bottom along a main Yaak River tributary, these protected forest and wetland acres see regular traffic from bears, wolves, lynx and much more. As the rampant development pressures long seen elsewhere in the state make their way into the Yaak, this key ground will remain open for all things wild. Read more…

Fowler Creek with fall colors
Vital Ground’s Fowler Creek project protects key bottomlands in the Yaak Valley of northwestern Montana, connecting wildlife habitat on surrounding public lands. (Photo: Randy Beacham)

Creating coexistence from Wyoming to Canada

Vital Ground’s vision of a connected regional landscape for wildlife will only come to fruition if bears and other wide-ranging species can move safely between their wild strongholds. That’s why conflict prevention partnerships form a crucial second prong of our mission alongside habitat protection. From electric fencing and bear-proof garbage across western Montana to bear spray education around Greater Yellowstone, Vital Ground supported 17 local partners performing crucial coexistence work in the communities and across the landscapes of grizzly country last year. Check out our partners page to learn more, or get a boots-on-the-ground view with our field notes story from a visit to one of our partners in southwestern Montana.

Conservation partners install electric fencing at the J Bar L Ranch, a Vital Ground conflict prevention partner in southwestern Montana near Yellowstone National Park. (Photo: Kayla Heinze)

Habitat restoration helps wildlife thrive

While conservation acquisitions and easements draw most of the headlines, Vital Ground’s work doesn’t stop when we protect a piece of habitat. Our stewardship program includes active restoration efforts on many of our projects so that these key acres can provide the best habitat for wildlife possible. From replanting native trees and shrubs to building beaver dam analogues that reestablish wetlands, this behind-the-scenes work allows our projects to carry lasting conservation impact. Vital Ground ramped up stewardship activities on several projects in 2023, including the start of a large-scale restoration effort at the Broadie Habitat Preserve in the Yaak Valley, where we added over 1,000 new native plants. Read an update and check out a new video from that project here!

Restoration work at Broadie Habitat Preserve
Restoration work began in 2023 to revegetate portions of Vital Ground’s Broadie Habitat Preserve in the Yaak Valley with diverse native plant species. (Photo: Brittani Rosas)

See how you can help wildlife in 2024…

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