Two Montana conservation groups purchased a plot of land that could help establish safe passage for grizzly bears in a dangerous but crucial corridor for the spread of the species in Western Montana.
Vital Ground Foundation and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative acquired 52 acres that could allow grizzlies and other wildlife to cross from the Ninemile area west of Missoula into the Bitterroot mountains.
Ryan Lutey, executive director of Vital Ground, says the purchase prevents future development on land next to two bridges on I-90 that pass over the Clark Fork River, creating perfect underpasses for wildlife.
"The main threat in this area would be additional human activity that prevents wildlife from using those interstate bridges," Lutey says.
Those crossing areas see heavy wildlife traffic, including documented use by the Ninemile’s lone resident grizzly bear.
There are no known resident grizzlies in the Bitterroot Ecosystem, but earlier this year one was trapped on a golf course in Stevensville, and then relocated in the lower Blackfoot Valley.
The area is part of a corridor that could eventually create a linkage between Yellowstone-area grizzlies and bears in and around Glacier National Park. The need for connectivity between these ecosystems was part of a Missoula federal judge’s September decision to restore Endangered Species protection for Yellowstone bears.
Lutey says the acquisition also secures habitat for elk, deer, birds, and a variety of trout, among other species.