What a Year! Our Top Stories of 2018

Grizzly bear and cub on snowy winter ridge
With grizzly bears now denning up for the winter, we look back at our top conservation stories from a busy 2018.

From protecting three key habitat areas to a dozen new conflict-prevention partnerships, from the delisting debate to a grizzly sighting in the Bitterroot Valley, 2018 was a big, busy year for wildlife and for Vital Ground. And with our conservation planning more sharpened than ever, 2019 promises to be even bigger. But before we jump into the new year, let’s look back at our top five stories of 2018. As always, these conservation triumphs relied on the support of many partners and individual supporters like you. These wins for wildlife aren’t ours; they’re yours!

1. A Protected Connection

Wild River, an important wildlife corridor along the Kootenai River in northwestern Montana
Vital Ground and Y2Y teamed up to conserve 42.5 acres near the confluence of the Yaak and Kootenai Rivers, crucial habitat for grizzly bears and other wildlife moving between the Cabinet and Purcell mountain ranges in northwestern Montana. (Photo by Gem Vision Productions/Y2Y)

In the northwest corner of Montana, grizzly bears’ long-term recovery is far from guaranteed. In the Cabinet-Yaak region around the Kootenai River Valley, two isolated grizzly subgroups hang onto life in a landscape increasingly fragmented by human development. Biologists estimate just 25-30 bears in each population. That’s why our Wild River project meant so much for the region’s wildlife: Between 2017 and 2018, we teamed with the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y) to purchase a planned but undeveloped 12-lot subdivision outside Troy, Mont., in a habitat area crucial to reconnecting the Cabinet-Yaak’s isolated grizzlies and other wildlife. Read the full story…

2. Springtime Habitat

Bismark Meadows in northern Idaho
Since 2001, Vital Ground has completed five land acquisitions within Bismark Meadows, a wildlife haven protecting nearly 1,100 acres of lush habitat for grizzly bears and other wildlife in northern Idaho. Our 2018 purchase protected 455 new acres. (Photo by Linda Lantzy)

Our largest habitat project of 2018 was a long time in coming. Nestled amid the Selkirk Mountains near the Idaho-British Columbia border, Bismark Meadows provides crucial spring habitat for grizzly bears, especially mothers with new cubs born during winter denning. With biologists estimating just 30-35 grizzlies regularly living on the American side of the Selkirks, Vital Ground has been working to protect this 1,100-acre wetland complex for nearly two decades. We made our biggest step forward in 2018, acquiring 455 new acres for habitat protection. Read the full story…

3. Partnerships Crafted, Conflicts Prevented

Steven Freygang photo of grizzly bear crossing highway
Highway incidents were one of many factors leading to an uptick in grizzly bear conflicts related to humans during 2018. (Photo by Steven Freygang)

Grizzlies were on the move in 2018, appearing in places that haven’t seen them in more than a century. From Montana’s central plains to the mountains west of Yellowstone, the Great Bear’s expanding range is at once exciting and concerning. As grizzlies roam wider, they are stumbling into more and more conflicts with people. From livestock deaths to garbage raids, these incidents don’t just force wildlife managers to relocate or occasionally kill bears—they also erode communities’ trust in the grizzly’s path to recovery. Alongside habitat protection, conflict prevention is vital to securing a stable future for grizzly bears in the Lower 48. That’s why we teamed with The ALSAM Foundation in 2018 to significantly expand our Conservation Partners Grant Program. From apple pickups to electric fencing to deadstock removal, we supported 12 partners that are working hard on the ground and in their communities to stop conflicts before they happen. Read the full story…

4. Bear Spray Saves the Day

Thomas D. Mangelsen photo of grizzly sow and cub lying amid sagebrush on a hillside in Yellowstone National Park
Grizzly bears lay on a hillside in Yellowstone National Park, where bear spray effectively stopped a recent attack by a mother grizzly defending her cub. (Photo by Tom Mangelsen)

While it thrilled many to see grizzlies reclaiming historic range in 2018, it came at a cost for the species. Bears died in record numbers during the year, with Montana wildlife managers reporting more than 50 grizzly mortalities due to human-related incidents. But at Yellowstone National Park, a conflict that could have easily led to a dead bear turned out better for all involved, and it showed us that grizzly recovery doesn’t have to result in higher levels of mortality. When a family from Washington state hiked into an incredibly rare grizzly attack in the park, they knew what to do, thanks to one of Vital Ground’s promotional partners. Read the full story…

5. A Bridge to the Bitterroots

I-90 Bridge and Clark Fork River at Ninemile project site
Vital Ground and Y2Y also protected 52 acres abutting the Clark Fork River and an Interstate 90 bridge, safeguarding wildlife movement under the highway and between the Ninemile and Bitterroot mountains. (Photo by Herrera)

When a federal judge returned grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone area to the threatened species list in September 2018, he cited the bears’ fragmented range in the Lower 48 as one of his justifications. Four months later, Vital Ground and Y2Y joined forces again with a land acquisition that marks an important step toward ending that fragmentation. Twenty miles west of Missoula, near the confluence of western Montana’s Clark Fork River and Ninemile Valley, we purchased and protected 52 crucial acres that help connect three vast ecosystems. Read the full story…

Check out all of our 2018 stories via the News Archive

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