Vital Ground Expands Swan Valley Conservation Corridor

Swan Range view from Simmons Meadow
Montana's Swan Mountains rise to the east of Simmons Meadow, where Vital Ground recently conserved 20 additional acres of rich habitat for grizzly bears and other wildlife.

Land Purchase Stabilizes Key Habitat Connection for Grizzlies


MISSOULA, Mont. – Grizzly bears in western Montana will soon enter their dens for the winter, but an important habitat linkage for the species will remain conserved as open space next spring and for generations to come. The Vital Ground Foundation expanded its conservation footprint in Montana’s Swan Valley last week, purchasing 20 acres in the Condon area that help connect existing open lands.

The newly-protected acres lie in the Simmons Meadow wetland complex, adjacent to public lands and a Vital Ground conservation easement donated by a conservation-minded landowner in the area. By connecting large blocks of public land to the east and west, these conserved properties form a key portion of the Upper Swan’s habitat corridor, an established linkage zone for wildlife moving between the Mission and Swan mountain ranges.

“This undeveloped property provides key East-West habitat connectivity for myriad wildlife species that call the Swan Valley home,” says Luke Lamar, Conservation Director for Swan Valley Connections, a conservation and education nonprofit and frequent Vital Ground partner based in Condon. “Vital Ground’s purchase will ensure the property remains open space and an iconic view of the Swan Range will remain undeveloped.”

A Bulwark for Biodiversity

Simmons Meadows grizzly cub
A grizzly cub crosses a portion of Simmons Meadow protected with a Vital Ground conservation easement since 2013. (Photo by Richard Boughton)

The conserved land includes rich wetland habitat that extends onto the neighboring public and protected private land. Keeping Simmons Meadow intact and undeveloped maintains an important spring habitat option for grizzlies, with low-lying wet areas typically the first places in the area to see plant growth each year. That also makes the project site prime habitat for far more than bears.

“The property lies within crucial winter range for deer and elk,” says Lamar. “The wetland complex and riparian areas on the property offer outstanding foraging habitat and hiding cover for grizzly bears as well as foraging and nesting habitat for trumpeter swans and many species of waterfowl.”

Connecting the Flathead Indian Reservation and Mission Mountains with the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Glacier National Park, the Swan Valley falls within the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE). This large wildland complex is home to national species of concern including Canada lynx, wolverine, bull trout and the lower 48 states’ largest grizzly population at roughly 1,100 bears. But within the NCDE, habitat for wide-ranging wildlife remains fragmented by human development, and a recent surge in the regional real estate market makes conserving existing open space a crucial priority.

“With the intense real estate market escalations we’re seeing in Montana and across the Mountain West, it’s extremely important that we conserve remaining habitat linkages on private lands,” says Ryan Lutey, Executive Director of Vital Ground. “Whether it’s within existing grizzly range or helping reconnect isolated subpopulations, countless species will benefit from more connected, protected landscapes.”

Far-Reaching Benefits

Missions Mountains from Simmons Meadow
The Mission Mountains rise to the west of Simmons Meadow, part of the Swan Valley’s habitat corridor linking the Mission and Swan ranges.

Beyond wildlife, conserving open space maintains the Swan’s scenic and rural character during the current wave of subdivision and development. Protecting wetlands like Simmons Meadow also maintains water quality and quantity in the area, important factors in providing resilience to climate change for fish, wildlife and people alike.

The project builds on Vital Ground’s strong conservation legacy in the Swan, where the Missoula-based land trust has protected more than 1,000 acres through conservation easements and land purchases over the past two decades. As a lynchpin to larger goals of region-wide connectivity for grizzlies and other wildlife, the Swan remains an important backstop to Vital Ground’s One Landscape Initiative, a conservation strategy to protect key habitat connections on private lands from Glacier National Park and northern Idaho south to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Major support for the Simmons Meadow project came from private individuals, The First Interstate Bank Foundation, The Donald Slavik Family Foundation, The Teton Ridge Foundation and The Weeden Foundation.

For more information contact:

Ryan Lutey, Executive Director for Vital Ground Foundation, 406-549-8650,

About Vital Ground:

An accredited land trust and 501(c)(3) organization, Vital Ground conserves habitat for grizzly bears and other wildlife in the Northern Rockies. Founded in 1990 and based in Missoula, Mont., the organization also partners with communities to prevent conflicts between bears and people.

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