Top Stories of 2021: In Unprecedented Times, An Unprecedented Year for Conservation

grizzlies in snow
Conservation supporters like you helped protect crucial habitat for grizzlies and countless other wildlife species in 2021. Thank you!

How You Helped Wildlife More Than Ever in 2021

Happy New Year! As we enter 2022, all of us at Vital Ground are giving thanks for the opportunity to continue protecting amazing places for future generations of wildlife and people. We couldn’t do this urgent and uplifting work without supporters like you, and we want you to know just how far your contributions to wildlife conservation carried us in the year that just ended.

Vital Ground began our fourth decade with tremendous success in 2021. Our supporters and partners enabled the organization to complete more habitat protection projects across the Northern Rockies than we have in any year before. We also teamed up with a record 15 partners on crucial coexistence projects helping wildlife and people share the landscape safely. Combined, these projects and partnerships marked a sizable step forward for the One Landscape Initiative. Finally, your support helped us bid farewell to a beloved ambassador and further cement his conservation legacy. Keep reading to learn more about all these stories from an extraordinary year!

“Stay The Way It Is”: Keeping the Kootenai Corridor Open

At the top of the Idaho Panhandle, the Kootenai River winds toward Canada and carves a broad, fertile valley splitting the Selkirk and Purcell mountains. Bears, wolves, elk and more cross the Kootenai between these ranges, each of which is home to a small populations of grizzlies. The farms that line the river continue to offer the open space and habitat needed for the corridor while also maintaining the area’s rural and scenic character. So, with Idaho experiencing one of the nation’s most intense development surges, conserving the working lands and habitat of the Kootenai Valley is a must for the agricultural community as well as for grizzlies and other wide-ranging wildlife. Thanks to supporters like you, Vital Ground completed a huge step in that effort with a 1,040-acre conservation agreement for the Hubbard Farm. Read more…

Canola field on the Hubbard Farm
The Hubbard Farm in northern Idaho’s Kootenai Valley is part of a crucial wildlife corridor connecting mountain ranges. The 1,040-acre farm will remain in agriculture and open space through a conservation easement with Vital Ground.

Conserving a Crucial “Stepping Stone” for Regional Connectivity

In the next big valley south of the Kootenai, the Clark Fork River flows from Montana into Idaho beneath a majestic mountain landscape. The Bitterroot Mountains sprawl to the south, extending deep into central Idaho’s massive wilderness complex while a series of smaller ranges rise from the Clark Fork to the north. Conservation biologists consider the Bitterroots a key pathway for connecting grizzlies in those northern areas with Greater Yellowstone’s bears farther south, which is why we teamed up with the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative on a crucial land purchase near the confluence of the Bull River and Clark Fork, a priority linkage area between the Cabinet and Bitterroot ranges. Read more…

Aspen trees and mountains
Vital Ground and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative conserved 80 acres of open space near the confluence of Montana’s Bull River and Clark Fork River, helping connect habitat in the Cabinet and Bitterroot mountain ranges.

Urgent Wins for Wildlife West of Glacier

With the pandemic spurring an already-growing development rush into overdrive in the Mountain West, recreation hubs near iconic parks have become real estate goldmines. In the case of the North Fork Flathead and Whitefish areas just west of Glacier National Park, expansion and sprawl directly threaten the safe movement of wildlife from Glacier and surrounding wildlands to places farther west like the Cabinet-Yaak area. Conserving open space in these places keeps a much larger landscape connected for generations to come, and it’s why we were thrilled to team with the Flathead National Forest on a key land purchase in the North Fork back in March, then partner with a conservation-minded landowner to protect 100 precious acres near Whitefish in December. Read more…

Forest and meadow at Tamarack Creek Project
The Whitefish Range outside Glacier National Park rises northeast of Vital Ground’s Tamarack Creek Project, which conserves 100 acres of habitat near the fast-growing recreational hub of Whitefish, Mont.

Keeping the Yaak Valley Wild and Wet

Nestled amid the Purcell Mountains of far northwestern Montana, the Yaak Valley’s diverse wildlife and limited development make it one of the wildest places in the lower 48 states that does not fall within a national park or federal wilderness area. The Yaak’s biodiversity and wild character are threatened by region-wide development pressures, but two land purchases near last year’s Broadie Habitat Preserve have conserved rich wetlands and furthered Vital Ground’s impact in maintaining this crucial habitat for grizzlies, wolves, Canada lynx and much more. Read more…

Fowler Creek project in fall color
Western larch show off their autumn color at Vital Ground’s Fowler Creek project, rich wetland habitat conserved in Montana’s Yaak Valley. (Photo by Randy Beacham)

Partnering to Create Safer Landscapes for All

As their recovery from near-extinction in the Lower 48 states continues, grizzlies are gradually returning to more of their historic range. In 2021 alone, sightings were confirmed in parts of central Idaho, southwestern Wyoming and the central Montana prairie that hadn’t seen grizzlies in many decades. These habitat frontiers include a wider variety of human land ownership and usages than the species’ core recovery zones in protected wilderness areas and national parks. As bears cross agricultural lands and pass near communities, coexistence practices are essential to their safety and our own, as well as to larger conservation goals for the species. With 15 conflict prevention partnerships in 2021, your support greatly advanced the hard work of coexistence. Read more…

Black bear and cherry orchard fence
A remote camera shows electric fencing erected by Vital Ground partner People and Carnivores keeping black bears out of a cherry orchard near Montana’s Flathead Lake.

Celebrating a Great Bear’s Legacy

When our co-founders Doug and Lynne Seus adopted an orphaned grizzly cub in 2001 and named him Bart the Bear II, Vital Ground was still a small Utah-based foundation raising money for other groups’ habitat protection projects. During Bart II’s life, the organization moved to Montana and expanded into the thriving land trust you know today—and none of it could have happened without the support and inspiration that Bart brought to Vital Ground. We said farewell to our beloved giant late in 2021, but there was another massive conservation achievement still to come, as your contributions made the ensuing Bart the Bear Memorial Campaign our largest year-end fundraiser by a wide margin. Read more…


Bart the Bear II and Doug Seus
In one of their final photos together, Bart the Bear II and Vital Ground co-founder Doug Seus work on one of Bart’s original paintings to be auctioned for habitat conservation.

None of these stories could have happened without the supporters like you who keep our conservation work moving forward on behalf of grizzlies and all things wild. Here’s to another great year in 2022 — THANK YOU!

The Road Ahead: Learn More about the One Landscape Initiative…

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