NORDMAN — The Vital Ground Foundation has secured another 327 acres of crucial grizzly bear habitat at Priest Lake Bismark Meadows.
It’s Vital Ground’s fourth project at the meadows and brings the total number of contiguous acres of lowland seasonal grizzly bear habitat to 491. The acreage will be owned and managed by Vital Ground, a Montana organization which works to reconnect fragmented landscapes in the U.S. and Canada that are critical to wildlife movement and biodiversity.
“The greatest threat to wildlife today is human intrusion into their habitat,” said Gary Wolfe, Vital Ground’s executive director. “Our conservation projects in Bismark Meadows provide an increasingly rare wild refuge for imperiled animals and plants in a growing sea of development.”
Located on the west side of the lake, Bismark Meadows is an 1,100-acre complex of meadows and wetlands on the floodplain of Reeder Creek. It supports several endangered plant species and provides habitat for moose, deer, black bear, westslope cutthroat trout, eagles and the threatened population of Selkirk grizzlies.
State and federal wildlife officials estimate that there are only 50-60 grizzlies in the 2,200-square mile Selkirk Mountain ecosystem, which includes portions of the Panhandle, northeastern Washington and southern British Columbia, Canada.
Vital Ground said observations suggest that at least four, but perhaps even eight, Selkirk grizzlies have been using Bismark Meadows for foraging habitat during recent spring seasons.
As the Selkirks are often snowbound until early June, grizzlies must seek food in lower elevations when they emerge from hibernation.
“This makes the meadowlands vitally important for the bears. Without continued access to these and other low-elevation food sources in spring and again in autumn, the Selkirk population may fail,” said Wolfe.
The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, via the Northwest Wildlife Conservation Initiative, Resources Legacy Fund, William H. Donner Foundation and Oberweiler Foundation, provided funding for Vital Ground’s recent project. Additional support came from the Wiancko Charitable Trust, Johnson Family Foundation, Qureshi Family Foundation, Shared Earht Foundation, Richard K. & Shirley S. Hemingway Foundation, First Interstate Bank and numerous individual donors.
Vital Ground is exploring opportunities to partner with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to complete habitat restoration and enhancement activities at Bismark Meadows holdings during upcoming years.