July 15, 2008
It’s an ongoing tale of spiritual corridors that range from the Heber Valley to the grizzly bear habitat surrounding my old stomping grounds up in the far reaches of the Idaho panhandle and beyond.
The connective tissue in all this, of course, came when Doug and Lynne Seus and their beloved "Bart the Bear" founded the organization Vital Ground, which "with the grizzly bear as its compass, works to reconnect fragmented landscapes in the U.S. and Canada critical to wildlife movement and biodiversity."
Although Vital Ground moved its headquarters from northern Utah to Missoula, Montana, in order to be geographically closer to the ecosystems involved, the group keeps in close touch with those interested in its process. And that accounts for the high level of excitement whenever updates on current initiatives arrive from the field.
Around here, all it took to reenergize the grizzly mindset was the somewhat recent appearance of the Spring 2008 issue of Vital News in the old mailbox followed by an email alert detailing the acquisition of 90 acres worth of what the Vital Ground Foundation termed "crucial grizzly bear habitat in northern Idaho’s Bismark Meadows."
Anyone who has ever checked out the Priest Lake country northwest of Sandpoint will readily agree that, especially in the business of expanding habitat, it’s all about "location, location, location." You gotta get there before Wal-Mart.
Not that some in our midst don’t see the general good being served by the poaching of meadows and wetlands currently utilized in quite efficient fashion by moose, elk, deer, black bear, wolves, lynx, westslope cutthroat trout, eagles, and grizzlies. It’s just that, sometimes, the good guys win.
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This habitat, coupled with another 19-acre prime-development tract bordering a state highway nearby that had been acquired previously, are both part of Vital Ground’s "Selkirk Grizzly Bear Habitat Conservation Initiative." With the current "recovery zone" population designated as "threatened" rather than "endangered," any and all victories are welcome.
Keeping tabs on the progress and rationale of those in the trenches of this ongoing war-of-wills is no more difficult than going online to http://www.vitalground.org and clicking on the relevant links to the various projects and maps of the organic communities involved in the overall recovery plan. Quite exciting stuff, actually.
Making up the swath cutting across Montana, Idaho, and Washington and extending into British Columbia, are ecosystems designated as "Northern Continental Divide," "Purcell/Cabinet-Yaak," "Selkirk," and "Northern Cascade." What Vital Ground wants to see are healthy grizzly populations large enough to sustain themselves. And that, of course, means the continued acquisition of suitable habitat.
This all goes back to the fact that the large carnivores such as the grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) are metaphorical canaries in the mine tunnel. If they are in good stead, then so is the planet. Or as Vital Ground co-founder Lynne Seus is quoted on their Web site: "Where the grizzly can walk, the earth is healthy and whole."
Human intrusion into wildlife habitat is a major stumbling block to maintaining environmental quality and that, of course, is where Vital Ground enters the equation. If they can continue to protect and expand habitat and migration corridors by acquiring "vital ground" one -acre-at-a-time, planetary biodiversity has a shot at survival.
Some rather interesting information concerning the process utilized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on how they "list," "de-list," "review," and "up-list" threatened and endangered species is available on the FWS Web site (www.fws.gov).
My favorite entries are the ones concerning up-listings (change of status from "threatened" to "endangered) that have been deemed "warranted" but, for whatever reason, are "precluded." I must admit that there have been times when the phrase "warranted but precluded" fit me like a glove.
Of course, whenever my thoughts turn to Vital Ground and the great grizz upon the landscape, one particular vision stands out. And that would be the nine-foot tall, 1,500 pound ever-so-noble visage of the original "Bart the Bear."
It’s been over eight years now since he passed on from cancer and, other than his lasting legacy as a co-founder of Vital Ground and the greater good that has been performed in his name for his species, I’m sure it hasn’t gotten much easier for Doug and Lynne Seus and others in Bart’s extended family.
For years now, a mutual friend has decorated a "luminaria" bag with "Bart the Bear" printed on it for the annual Wasatch County American Cancer Society "Relay for Life" fundraiser in celebration of his quite singular time on the planet. It seems rather fitting that Bart would once again come to exemplify strength and dignity in yet another battle for survival.
Over the years Vital Ground has been successful at keeping the faith while forming partnerships with conservation-minded landowners to permanently protect critically important habitats and the flora and fauna associated with them.
So, if you’d like to keep up with what’s going down grizz-wise, lumber on over to the Web site and get updated on easements and grants and initiatives. And while you’re at it, shop the Bear Mart. There are even an outdoor outfitter and a winery that have partnered-up with the cause. Venture forth, but remember unwarranted habitat intrusion is precluded.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and a free-lance writer with a background in commercial and community radio, among other pursuits. He has been a columnist and feature writer for various Park City publications going back to 1973.