Yaak Valley Land Purchase Adds to Protected Wildlife Movement Area

Fowler Creek with fall colors
Photo: Randy Beacham
Vital Ground's Fowler Creek project protects key bottomlands in the Yaak Valley of northwestern Montana, connecting wildlife habitat on surrounding public lands.

Vital Ground Expands Fowler Creek Grizzly Habitat Conservation Project


YAAK, Mont. – Key wildlife habitat and the rural, scenic character of Montana’s Yaak Valley will be protected for generations to come as The Vital Ground Foundation enlarged its Fowler Creek conservation project with a 64-acre land acquisition last week.

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 benefit from the conservation protections of a national park or federal wilderness area. The Yaak is also home to an estimated 25-30 grizzly bears, one of the smallest enduring populations south of Canada.

With major project support from the Wildlife Land Trust, Vital Ground’s expansion of the Fowler Creek project gives grizzlies and numerous other species a wider protected area for movement across the Yaak Valley bottom.

“Protecting crucial habitat and connectivity for grizzlies and other far-ranging wildlife is increasingly urgent,” says Jim Reed, Executive Director of Wildlife Land Trust. “We’re proud to help Vital Ground secure another substantial expanse of key habitat in Montana’s Yaak Valley as a safe haven where grizzlies and wildlife will forever benefit from humane stewardship.”

Strengthening Open Space Protections

Fowler Creek black bear
Trail camera footage of a black bear at the Fowler Creek property.

Located directly west of two adjacent parcels that Vital Ground acquired in 2021, the newly-conserved acres will be managed as open space and wildlife habitat. Under Vital Ground ownership, the area’s stewardship can now be streamlined to best maintain connectivity for wildlife crossing the valley bottom between habitat strongholds on surrounding Kootenai National Forest lands.

With public land on three sides and two creeks running through the Fowler Creek complex, the project carries a broad range of conservation benefits. By protecting wetlands and forested uplands, it maintains the Yaak’s water quality and its enduring rural character. With other parts of northwestern Montana experiencing unprecedented spikes in their real estate markets, ensuring a conservation outcome for the Fowler Creek lands will benefit wildlife and people for generations to come.

“Expanding our conservation efforts to build on previous efforts at places like Fowler Creek solidifies support of wildlife and the rural character of places like the Yaak,” says Mitch Doherty, conservation director for Vital Ground. “If we want to continue to have rugged, off-the-grid places like the Yaak, we need to work harder than ever to keep them that way.”

Grizzlies Slowly Gaining Ground

Grizzly Bear Recovery Zones mapFor the Yaak’s 25-30 grizzly bears, an open, connected landscape is a matter of survival. The population’s long-term future depends on increasing its genetic diversity through breeding with bears from elsewhere. With a recent uptick in grizzly movement between the Yaak and the neighboring Cabinet mountains, conservation of habitat linkages like Fowler Creek allows bears to move safely across the larger regional landscape and slowly reconnect their fragmented range.

“It’s only in the last decade or so that we’ve started to see movement from the Yaak to the Cabinets or vice versa, places that are not anchored by large wildernesses or national parks,” says Wayne Kasworm, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who has led grizzly recovery in the Cabinet-Yaak and neighboring Selkirk Ecosystem since 1983. “When it comes to protection of private lands, it’s important to conserve some of the larger properties where we have that opportunity. When we talk about easements and acquisitions, we talk about things that outlive those of us that are here now. That’s an important thing for wildlife going forward into the future.”

Beyond grizzlies, Fowler Creek provides range to bull trout and Canada lynx, species listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as numerous other native fish and the region’s full suite of fauna, from wolves and wolverine to badgers, foxes, moose, elk, black bears and mountain lions.

Linking the Northern Rockies’ biodiversity strongholds while protecting open space and rural character from the Canadian border through Idaho and Montana to the Greater Yellowstone area is the goal of Vital Ground’s One Landscape conservation strategy. Leveraging the grizzly’s role as a conservation umbrella species, One Landscape relies on robust collaborations like the Fowler Creek project that bring local landowners, wildlife experts and nonprofit partners together to achieve lasting protection of crucial shared landscapes.

For more information contact:

Mitch Doherty, conservation director for Vital Ground, 406-549-8650, mdoherty@vitalground.org

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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