A Bear of a Year: Our Top Conservation Stories From 2020

Lone grizzly in forest

From the coronavirus pandemic to ongoing environmental upheaval, 2020 was a year that challenged the persistence of people and wildlife alike. Nature teaches us to adapt and keep moving, however, and thanks to our supporters, Vital Ground was able to do that during a difficult year for all.

Because of supporters like you, wildlife gained crucial protected habitat in 2020, from the banks of the Yaak River in Montana’s northwestern corner to the Kootenai Valley connecting the Cabinet and Purcell mountains to key grizzly range on the Blackfeet Nation east of Glacier National Park. These conserved acres will remain wild and open, helping animals from grizzlies to elk to butterflies move freely on the landscape and adapt to the impacts of climate change. Their travels will be safer as well, thanks to our 12 coexistence partnerships that helped people and wildlife share the landscape in 2020. Keep reading to learn more about these wins for wildlife!

Celebrating Three Decades and Charting the Next

As we worked for a better future for wildlife, 2020 also saw us pause to look back. While we may not have been able to celebrate our 30th Anniversary in person, we were honored to join hundreds of the friends, partners and supporters who have brought us this far in an online event (you can watch it here!). During that celebratory evening, we also looked ahead at the work to come, premiering a new short film about our One Landscape Initiative (above), the push to protect habitat in the crucial places that link the Northern Rockies’ wild strongholds. Want to know what conserving vital habitat for wildlife looks like on the ground? Give it a watch!

Conserving Vital Ground on the Blackfeet Nation

Chief Mountain and Glacier National Park from the Blackfeet Indian Reservation
Chief Mountain rises on the border of Glacier National Park and the Blackfeet Nation. Kennedy Creek flows near the peak before crossing a wildlife-rich 74-acre private inholding purchased by Vital Ground and returned to tribal ownership in a collaborative effort to protect key wildlife habitat.

When Doug and Lynne Seus founded Vital Ground in 1990, their first major investment in conservation was the purchase of prime grizzly habitat along Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front Range. In 2020, we brought three decades of conservation full circle as the Seuses led another vital effort to conserve land along the Front. This time, we partnered with the Blackfeet Nation, purchasing 74 acres of rich wildlife habitat along Kennedy Creek east of Glacier National Park then transferring the private inholding to tribal ownership and stewardship. Read the full story…

A Crucial Connection Protected in the Yaak Valley

Yaak River in Broadie Habitat Preserve
The Yaak River flows through the Broadie Habitat Preserve in northwestern Montana, a 215-acre safe haven for wildlife protected by Vital Ground and the Wildlife Land Trust.

In Montana’s northwestern corner, the Yaak River curls down from the Canadian border, surrounded by rugged mountains and one of the Lower 48’s smallest enduring grizzly populations. Protecting habitat in the Yaak Valley bottom remains crucial in the fight to reconnect these bears with their neighbors and build the genetic diversity and landscape connections necessary for long-term survival. Thanks to support from the Wildlife Land Trust, we conserved 215 acres along the Yaak River in 2020, founding the Broadie Habitat Preserve and enabling safe movement for grizzlies, elk, wolverine and other species moving between the region’s wild strongholds. Read the full story…

Another Win for Wildlife in the Cabinet-Purcell Corridor

Kootenai River and Wild River project site
Vital Ground and the Y2Y have now conserved more than 125 acres at the Wild River project along Montana’s Kootenai River. Once slated for dense subdivision development, the project site (bottom left) provides a habitat link between the Cabinet and Purcell mountains. (Photo: Eric Ian)

For much of the past decade, Vital Ground and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative have honed in on northwestern Montana’s Kootenai Valley as a keystone location for landscape connections. The valley splits the Cabinet and Purcell mountains, each home to a small grizzly population and many other sensitive species. Keeping land open along the Kootenai for wildlife to cross between these ranges is essential to reconnecting the entire region, from Greater Yellowstone north into Canada. With new ground protected in 2020, our Wild River project with Y2Y has now conserved more than 125 acres once intended for subdivision development in this key corridor. Read the full story…

New Partners, Safer Landscapes

Hiker in Glacier National Park
From bear spray training for recreationists in Glacier National Park (pictured) to electric fencing and bear-proof sanitation for landowners, conflict prevention strategies help people and wildlife share the landscape. Vital Ground supported 12 partners implementing these measures in key places in 2020. (Photo: Lance Schelvan)

For grizzlies to safely reconnect their range, we humans have to do our part. Beyond protecting habitat, communities near important wildlife movement areas must be ready to share the landscape. Strategies like electric fencing, bear-proof sanitation and bear spray training for recreationists help people and wildlife stay safe across the region. Vital Ground’s conservation partners program provides financial support to the organizations, communities and government agencies that work on the ground to implement these crucial conflict mitigation measures. From Wyoming to Washington, we were proud to support a dozen partners working in crucial places in 2020. Learn more…

Read more Vital Ground stories from 2020…

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