Seeley Swan Pathfinder -

By Matt Hart
Vital Ground Foundation 

Protecting grizzly country near the Gateways to Glacier

 

October 15, 2020

Mitch Doherty/Vital Ground Foundation

Glacier National Park's Livingston Range rises above the North Fork of the Flathead Valley as seen from one of Vital Ground's habitat protection project sites in the area.

Grizzly bears are highly intelligent, but as far as we know they can't read maps. When a bear living in Glacier National Park sets out in search of food or a mate, it doesn't know when it crosses the park's invisible boundary.

When it does, it enters a different, more dangerous reality. While Glacier is part of a sprawling wildlands complex including the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Canada's Waterton National Park, it also lies near areas that are rapidly developing. Protecting habitat buffer zones around the Lower 48's largest grizzly population is vital to the long-term conservation goal of connecting Glacier-area bears with others in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

Foothills Conservation on the Blackfeet Nation

East of Glacier, bears follow waterways onto their historic foothills and prairie habitat. In the process, many cross onto the Blackfeet Nation, where grizzlies have lived near people for millennia.

With a shared goal of maintaining safe movement for bears and other wildlife, the Blackfeet Nation and Vital Ground recently completed our first collaborative land conservation project, protecting 74 acres of rich wildlife habitat along Kennedy Creek just east of the park boundary.

Previously a private inholding surrounded by tribal lands, the site provides habitat lush with conifers, aspen and other vegetation, leading to heavy traffic from grizzlies and other species. Kennedy Creek flows from mountain headwaters in the park through the project area, passing near Yellow Mountain and Chief Mountain, a prominent sacred site in Blackfeet cultural traditions.

"I am very pleased that Vital Ground was able to partner with the Blackfeet Nation to protect the ecological integrity of the Chief Mountain-Yellow Mountain area," says Buzz Cobell, Director of Blackfeet Nation Fish and Wildlife. "Kennedy Creek is inhabited by one of the few populations of bull trout existing on the east slope of the Rocky Mountains. In addition, this area is used extensively by grizzly bears, moose, elk, deer and other important wildlife species. Thanks to our collaborative efforts this special area will continue to be wild and undeveloped."

The area's ecological and cultural significance spurred Vital Ground co-founders Doug and Lynne Seus to lead the project as they celebrated the organization's 30th anniversary. After founding Vital Ground in 1990, the Seuses purchased 240 acres of grizzly habitat farther south along the Rocky Mountain Front.

Bart the Bear II-a Vital Ground ambassador and famed animal actor adopted by the Seuses as an orphaned cub-provided further inspiration and support for the project. His predecessor, Bart the Bear, motivated the Seuses to establish Vital Ground on behalf of wild grizzlies and all that share their range.

"We thank the Blackfeet Tribal Council for such strong leadership in shielding biodiversity," Doug and Lynne Seus said in a statement. "This project carries benefits for every living thing that stretch far beyond lines on a map. We know Bart is grateful for the opportunity to fund a significant land acquisition, home to a bounty of wildlife and an impressive list of plants."

Connecting a Regional Landscape

The Kennedy Creek effort fits into a larger collaborative push to protect habitat in the Glacier foothills area. The Blackfeet Nation is working with numerous conservation partners to acquire similar inholdings to the project site, managing the land for habitat value through ecological restoration, retiring grazing leases and more.

Mitch Doherty/Vital Ground Foundation

The Kennedy Creek project area features lush vegetation, providing habitat to numerous wildlife species including grizzly bears, bull trout, elk and moose.

The effort also fits into Vital Ground's One Landscape Initiative, a strategic effort to connect wild strongholds across the Northern Rockies by conserving habitat in crucial movement areas at risk of harmful development. The Kennedy Creek project area was specifically prioritized in Vital Ground's region-wide planning for One Landscape, a collaborative effort involving more than 60 federal, tribal, state and independent wildlife experts. Other key movement areas where Vital Ground is currently working to protect habitat include Montana's North Fork Flathead Valley and the Kootenai Valley of northern Idaho and far northwestern Montana.

"Protecting this irreplaceable wildlife habitat at the footsteps of Glacier National Park fits squarely within our One Landscape strategy," says Vital Ground Conservation Manager Mitch Doherty. "But this project goes beyond protecting land for wildlife. Working with members of the Blackfeet Nation, Vital Ground was able to return this land to the people who have been caring for it since time immemorial."

An accredited land trust and 501(c)(3) organization, Vital Ground works cooperatively with landowners, communities, and federal, tribal and state agencies to conserve some of the most magnificent and unique places for people, grizzly bears and entire natural communities. For more information, visit http://www.vitalground.org; (406) 549-8650 pr email info@vitalground.org.

 

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