Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Vital Ground Awarded $100,000 Grant to Protect Grizzly Habitat

Missoula, MT-The Vital Ground Foundation announced today that it has been awarded a $100,000 grant from the Alberta, Canada-based Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y).

The funds, which will be allocated over a 2 year period, originated from a three-year $800,000 grant to Y2Y from the Legacy Fund of Chicago to help implement conservation strategies in the Cabinet-Purcell corridor, one of only two remaining corridors within the Yellowstone to Yukon region with the potential to connect grizzly bears living in the lower 48 states to more robust populations in Canada. The funding comes amid a property and development boom in the region that has raised the concerns of residents and conservationists alike.

Vital Ground will use the grant money to work cooperatively with willing landowners to expand private lands conservation within the Selkirk and Cabinet-Yaak ecosystems of north Idaho and northwestern Montana. Special focus will be on identifying and conserving strategically located parcels that are crucial for grizzly bear conservation, recovery, and ecosystem connectivity. Conservation of these lands will also help to maintain the rural character of these areas that many local residents seek to preserve in the midst of increasing development pressures.

"Y2Y and Vital Ground have a common interest in conserving lands that preserve biodiversity and promote wildlife population connectivity in a way that will keep habitat in the hands of private landowners and permit traditional uses of the land," says Sarah Elmeligi of Y2Y.

"Both Y2Y and Vital Ground use the grizzly bear as an umbrella species to guide landscape scale conservation efforts. Because of this common interest, we are excited to work closely with Vital Ground in Montana," Elmeligi continued.

"As a keystone or umbrella species, the condition of a grizzly population can tell us a lot about the condition of the ecosystem," states Gary Wolfe, Vital Ground's executive director. "If the grizzly is faring well, chances are all other life in the ecosystem is too. Unfortunately, this is not the case with the grizzlies in the Selkirks and Cabinets."

Biologists estimate that only about forty grizzlies survive in each of these ecosystems, making them the most vulnerable populations in the lower 48.

"We believe the Y2Y funding could not have come at a more pivotal time," Wolfe adds.

If the program is successful, it will ultimately help link Canada grizzlies to the northern end of the Selway-Bitterroot ecosystem, the largest wildland complex south of Canada and currently without a permanent grizzly population.

"That, without a doubt, is the sort of landscape-level conservation success that Vital Ground originally set out to achieve on behalf of the Great Bear," says Wolfe.

Vital Ground is the only land trust in North America that works exclusively to protect private wildlands crucial to the grizzly bear. Since its founding in 1990, Vital Ground has helped to protect and enhance more than 417,000 acres of habitat crucial to grizzly and other wildlife in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Alaska, and British Columbia.

To learn more or to support Vital Ground, visit www.vitalground.org or call (406) 549-8650.

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