Vital Ground and Yellowstone to Yukon Safeguard a Key Montana Wildlife Corridor

Wild River corridor along the Kootenai River
Photo: Y2Y/Gem Vision Productions
Vital Ground and Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative protected 10 more acres at Wild River, their joint project site along the Kootenai River in northwestern Montana. Once slated for dense residential development, the land provides crucial habitat for grizzly bears and other wildlife moving between the Cabinet and Purcell mountain ranges.

Land Purchase Eases Bottleneck for Grizzly Movement in the Kootenai Valley

November 14, 2018

MISSOULA, Mont. — The Vital Ground Foundation and Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y) celebrate a critical conservation effort for grizzly bears and other wildlife in Montana’s northwest corner on Wednesday. The two organizations have purchased and protected the majority of an undeveloped subdivision within an important wildlife corridor along the Kootenai River near Troy.

Adding to 2017’s acquisition of seven contiguous lots, this purchase brings the Wild River project total to 42.5 conserved acres near the confluence of the Yaak and Kootenai Rivers — a natural bottleneck for grizzly bears and other wildlife moving between the Cabinet and Purcell mountain ranges.

“We know wide-ranging wildlife need space to roam, feed and breed to succeed. This linkage secures an area key to the success of grizzly bears here, which connects wildlife habitat into the mountainous region across this critical transboundary area,” says Kim Trotter, U.S. program director at Y2Y. “This is a win for bears, other wildlife, and people. We’re thrilled to work with partners such as Vital Ground and see this project advance.”

A Vital Connection

Wildlife biologists from multiple jurisdictions have long pinpointed the Wild River area as a crucial habitat connection. The Kootenai Valley splits the Cabinet and Purcell ranges, dividing the Cabinet-Yaak area’s recovering grizzly bear population into two isolated subgroups with population estimates of just 25 bears each. By protecting habitat in a critical location along the valley floor, the Wild River project advances the long-term goal of reconnecting these grizzlies, which are threatened by continued habitat fragmentation and ongoing human encroachment into the few remaining wild landscapes they inhabit.

The project also aims to restore a quarter-mile of riverbank and adjacent wetlands along the Kootenai River, improving habitat for the federally endangered white sturgeon and threatened bull trout. Biologists have documented more than 30 other national species of concern including Canada lynx, wolverine and fisher within a few miles of the project site.

“This collaboration stems from consultation with multiple state and federal agencies including Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and supporting those agencies’ wildlife recovery goals is designed into this project,” says Ryan Lutey, Vital Ground executive director. “Following the acquisition, the partnership will continue investing in restoration projects to improve habitat and promote security for the several sensitive species benefitted by the effort.”

Landscape Vision

The Wild River project builds on more than a decade of collaboration between Vital Ground and Y2Y on behalf of the Cabinet-Purcell Region’s wildlife. Connecting Canadian wildlands with Montana and Idaho’s Bitterroot Ecosystem, the Cabinet-Purcell corridor features prominently in both organizations’ guiding vision of a connected, protected landscape from Yellowstone into Canada.

While conservation of additional lands in the area remains a priority, the 12 parcels conserved over the last two years builds on the groups’ previous investments in the area. The purchase removes the risk of dense residential subdivision interrupting wildlife movement patterns and solidifies protection of the identified corridor at the Kootenai-Yaak confluence area.

Learn more about Vital Ground’s work in the Cabinet-Yaak area…

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