The mission of The Vital Ground Foundation is to protect and restore North America’s grizzly bear populations by conserving wildlife habitat. We accomplish this by using our real estate expertise and a cooperative approach in partnering with landowners, community groups, and public agencies. Our conservation easements and land acquisitions, whether purchased or donated, permanently safeguard the core wildlife habitat characteristics unique to each property while, on a larger scale, maintaining and enhancing essential grizzly habitat and wildlife corridors on nearby or adjoining public lands. These agreements generally allow existing traditional land uses to continue, including timber management, hunting, hiking, fishing, and wildlife viewing.
Listed as “threatened” under authority of the Endangered Species Act, only 1,100 to 1,200 grizzlies survive today in the lower 48 states. Of the five grizzly populations that remain—Greater Yellowstone, Northern Continental Divide, Cabinet-Yaak, Selkirk, and North Cascades—the latter three are on the brink of extinction.
Vital Ground is the only conservation organization in the United States focused exclusively on protecting essential grizzly bear habitat on private lands. The grizzly is a creature of vital importance and should enjoy the opportunity to flourish and persevere in its own way, not merely survive. This is the humility that we strive for in our endeavors.
History of Organization
The Vital Ground Foundation, a land trust, was founded in 1990, evolving from a unique relationship between human and bear. Doug Seus and his wife, Lynne, raised and trained a Kodiak brown bear named Bart to appear in feature films, which have included “The Great Outdoors,” “Legends of the Fall,” “The Bear” and “The Edge.” Bart’s intelligence and unconditional loyalty demonstrated to Doug and Lynne that grizzly bears could help teach our society to respect all living things. As a member of a species truly symbolic of the wilderness, the Seuses felt that Bart could deliver a powerful message in support of land conservation. With Bart as ambassador, the Seuses launched Vital Ground through the purchase of 240 acres of prime grizzly bear habitat adjoining protected land in The Nature Conservancy’s Pine Butte Swamp Preserve along the eastern front of the Rocky Mountains in Montana.
Focusing its conservation activities in the five federally designated grizzly bear recovery zones, Vital Ground has to date helped to protect over 232,000 acres essential habitat in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and Alaska. Our conservation partners have included: The Nature Conservancy; Montana Land Reliance; Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation; Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Foundation; National Wildlife Federation; Ducks Unlimited; Kodiak Brown Bear Trust; American Lands Conservancy; Wildlife Land Trust; and The Conservation Fund.