Grizzlies in Northwest Montana are moving into areas they haven’t been seen in years, and Wednesday conservation organizations announced they’ve purchased a chunk of land near Troy that could help those bears continue to migrate and expand their territory.
The Vital Ground Foundation and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative say they have now purchased the majority of an undeveloped subdivision near the confluence of the Kootenai and Yaak rivers.
Alan Wood, science program supervisor for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, says the land sits in a key area.
"The area, in particular, is identified by grizzly bear experts as the area most likely to provide connectivity across the Kootenai River between the Yaak grizzly bear population and the Cabinet grizzly bear population."
The Cabinet-Yaak is one of six designated ecosystems for grizzly bears south of Canada. It’s home to an estimated 50 bears. But about half of those bears live in the Cabinet mountains, the other half in the Purcell range. And Wood says helping those grizzlies connect takes careful management.
"Montana Fish, [Wildlife] and Parks focused on the larger landscape and Vital Ground has been focused on the smaller, private landowner holdings in there."
The Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem is tiny compared to the estimated more than one thousand bears in and around Glacier National Park and 750 bears in and around Yellowstone.
But grizzlies from the Cabinet-Yaak and the neighboring Selkirk mountains have recently been spotted as far away as the Idaho panhandle and Washington state. Grizzly managers hope the Cabinet-Yaak bears will continue to expand, and eventually connect with other populations.
Vital Ground purchased seven other lots in the area in 2017, protecting a total of 42-and-a-half acres. Wood says the purchased land was part of a subdivision that failed after the 2008 recession.
"It’s in pretty rough shape right now because of all the development work that was in place, but we’re hopeful that we can work with Vital Ground to help restore that into a more natural environment."
According to the Vital Ground Foundation, Canada lynx, wolverines and other species of concern have been spotted within a few miles of the project site.
Wood says he hopes FWP and Vital Ground will collaborate to help native sturgeon and trout thrive in the area, too.