Wildlife Corridor to Connect Grizzly Bears in Montana

A small 80-acre purchase could be key for the future of bears in the area.

Grizzly bear closeup in pine forest mountains
The project connects habitats for grizzly bears. WestwindPhoto / Getty Images

Wildlife corridors are like safe highways for animals. These untouched areas let species move about freely to feed, breed, and migrate without interference from humans.

These safe byways are getting harder to maintain as animal habitat is often lost to new roads, subdivisions, and farms. But a land purchase in Montana will keep a critical area open for grizzly bears and other wildlife.

The Vital Ground Foundation and Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y) bought 80 acres this week near the confluence of the Bull River and Clark Fork River in northwestern Montana.

With development throughout the area, the project will help protect a key corridor between the Cabinet Mountains in the north and the Bitterroot Mountains to the south. The acreage was purchased from a landowner committed to protecting open spaces over development. It will be used to maintain wildlife habitats for species throughout the state’s northwest corner.

The area is particularly important for grizzly bears, Jessie Grossman, U.S. program manager for Y2Y, tells Treehugger.

“In 2015, new science on grizzly bear connectivity identified this area as one of a few remaining connection points for grizzly bears in northwest Montana,” Grossman says. “Last year, the opportunity became available to work with a landowner in the area to conserve this 80-acre property. With the real estate market booming, we knew we needed to act quickly.”

Montana encompasses around 94 million acres, so this is a tiny but critical area to preserve, conservationists say.

“This project, while relatively small in size, is of continental importance to grizzly bears and other wildlife,” Grossman says. “At the local scale, it conserves open space for wildlife to move through a busy valley with homes, a highway, a railroad line, and other activities that are important for people but can obstruct wildlife movement”

But beyond the benefits that the connection point will provide locally, there are advantages on a much larger scale.

“Grizzly bears and most other wildlife don’t do well when they are confined to small areas of habitat. Many animals—including deer and elk, as well as wolverine and bears—need room to roam to feed, find mates, and to have enough space to exist in healthy population numbers,” Grossman says.

She points out that grizzly bears are an umbrella species.

“This means that if they are doing well, most other wildlife in the ecosystem is also doing well. That is why this project focuses on the needs of bears – they can help us conserve habitat for a full range of plants and animals that make a functioning ecosystem that all of us need to survive.”

Movement and Habitat

The Clark Fork and surrounding mountains near the Bull River-Clark Fork project area
The Clark Fork and surrounding mountains near the Bull River-Clark Fork project area. Randy Beacham

Conservationists constantly research how habitat loss and habitat fragmentation impacts species, whether through population declines or genetic diversity loss. Creating corridors helps alleviate some of those issues.

“Grizzly bears need to be interconnected to thrive, and this project helps get us closer to that goal,” Grossman says. 

“Grizzly bears need to move between populations and successfully breed to thrive in the long term. We know this because grizzly bear movements and genetics have been carefully studied in this area for more than 30 years. This project will bring bears closer to neighboring populations, increasing their chances of connecting with these neighboring bears.”

It often becomes more difficult to protect and preserve wildlife corridors like these. In Montana where this land has been purchased, property values have increased and land has been sold and developed quickly. Once development happens, it’s harder to conserve land and keep areas connected.

“However, this change in the real estate market has led to some landowners reflecting on their values and vision for the community. In this way, it creates an opportunity for us to be able to work with people who want to see these areas remain high quality wildlife habitat, rural and undeveloped,” Grossman says.

“Of course, growth and development is an important part of communities here, and it’s something that can happen successfully while preserving the character of the community if we also conserve these important places, so wildlife can still move.”

View Article Sources
  1. "Wildlife Corridors." U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

  2. "Land Purchase in Bull River, Montana Sustains Linkage Area for Grizzly Bears and Other Wildlife." Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, 2021.

  3. "Inventoried Roadless Area Acreage Categories of NFS Lands Summarized by State." U.S. Forest Service.

  4. Jessie Grossman, U.S. program manager for Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative