A recent land purchase by a pair of conservation groups will secure a critical corridor to provide habitat connectivity between isolated grizzly bear populations in the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem.
Together, the Vital Ground Foundation and Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative recently purchased an undeveloped subdivision in Montana’s northwest corner near Troy, near the confluence of the Kootenai and Yaak rivers, an important wildlife corridor that eases the bottleneck for grizzlies roaming the Kootenai Valley.
The purchase adds to the 2017 acquisition of seven other contiguous lots, bringing what the organizations call their “Wild River Project” to 42.5 conserved acres of prime habitat for 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,” Kim Trotter, U.S. program director at Yellowstone to Yukon, said in a news release announcing the land deal. “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.”
Wildlife biologists from multiple jurisdictions have long pointed to the Kootenai and Yaak Rivers as a crucial zone for habitat connection, and new development could fragment the corridor. 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 around 25 bears each.
The project also aims to restore a quarter-mile of riverbank and adjacent wetland 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 near the project site, including Canada lynx, wolverine and fisher.
“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,” Ryan Lutey, executive director of Vital Ground, said. “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.”
The Wild River project builds on more than a decade of collaboration between Vital Ground and Yellowstone to Yukon 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.