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Making Connections to Save the Grizzly Bear

By Guest Blogger, Wendy L. Francis, LL.M
Program Director, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y)

I’m writing this full of energy from having just finished meeting with partners in Y2Y’s Cabinet-Purcell Mountain Corridor project. This collaborative effort involves over sixty organizations, agencies, tribes and first nations, scientists, academics, land trusts and grassroots volunteers. They are coordinating biodiversity conservation efforts across a huge landscape covering northern Idaho, western Montana and southeastern British Columbia.

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????About seven years ago, Y2Y realized how important it is to protect wildlife habitat and corridors in this transboundary region. It is here that the U.S.’ smallest and most vulnerable grizzly bear populations are struggling to survive. Their future can be assured if they remain physically and genetically connected to larger grizzly populations in British Columbia. The purpose of the project is to address the threats to that connectivity through on-the-ground projects that are chosen and prioritized by partners and funded, in part, by Y2Y.

Since the initiative started, partners have implemented numerous projects that have improved the chances for bears to survive in this region. For example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has “augmented” the grizzly bear population in the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem (CYE) by importing bears from the ecosystem that includes Glacier National Park. Some of those female bears successfully have raised cubs, and those cubs have gone on to have cubs of their own! Ever so slowly, this effort will help to grow the CYE’s population from its precariously low number of just over 40 bears.

Another partner, Vital Ground, has identified private lands located within important bear habitats or places through which bears need to travel to reach good habitats or stay connected to each other. Vital Ground has purchased several of these parcels from willing sellers to ensure that they remain free from subdivision and development and open for bear movement.

In some cases, bears and other animals need more protected public lands where they can roam without encountering roads or motorized vehicles. Project partner, Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness (FSPW), is promoting such a sanctuary in an 88,000-acre roadless area that straddles the Montana-Idaho border. An act of Congress is needed to create this Wilderness, and FSPW is steadily building the support and momentum needed to achieve this goal.

Grizzly bear linkage zone across Highway 3 in BC.
Photo by Michael Proctor.

On the Canadian side, the biggest threat to bears and other wildlife is development along southern BC’s Highway 3. Working with the Transborder Grizzly Bear Project, Y2Y has identified the best remaining linkage zones where bears are crossing Highway 3. Y2Y has helped raise funds to purchase two parcels of land within these linkages from willing sellers. These parcels are now owned and managed for conservation by The Nature Trust of BC. Another partner, Wildsight, a very effective conservation organization with offices throughout British Columbia’s Kootenay Mountains, delivers programs throughout regional communities to reduce conflicts between bears and people. This includes educating residents about how to manage garbage and other attractants, as well as how to react when encountering a bear. These types of educational activities are very effective in reducing the conflicts that often lead to bears being killed or removed from the ecosystem.

Kootenay River.
Photo by Wendy Francis

It’s really amazing that so many partners have come together, in some cases set aside their own priorities, and agreed to share resources so that the most important projects can get done first. I truly believe that this is one of the largest, most effective landscape conservation collaboratives on the continent.

Biohabitats thanks Wendy for this inspiring post, and encourages all Rhizome followers to check out Y2Y’s web site to learn more!

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