Returning to our NGO Spotlight series, after a little time away thanks to our all hands on deck website launch and store opening, we're looking at an organisation who deal with one of the USA's most iconic animals and one close to our heart - the Grizzly Bear. Featuring in some of our favourite designs (see the Wandering Bear) the Grizzly (and bears in general) are one of those select few animals able to inspire fear and wonder in equal measure. With it's name being taken on by everyone and everything from blues musicians to professional wrestlers to fast food chains, the Grizzly rightly deserves its place in the pantheon of great American animals. But, all is not well in the woods.
It's an all too familiar story, the dissonance between human development and the safety of the other animals we share the natural world with and it is this acute habitat loss, with that a paucity of food & of space to roam, which is killing the great Grizzly Bear. One Grizzly can traverse as much as 1,500 sq miles in a year, covering high & low elevation and just about all the terrain of northern North America, this nomadic lifestyle was unimpeded until the early 20th century saw the human population soar in North America, and the Grizzlies fall ever faster. . With ever increasing human encroachment into what was once the Grizzly heartlands these bears are more and more found to be isolated in too little territory with too little diversity.
An 'Umbrella Species'
Not just a question of sentiment, there is a strong practical case for prioritising the protection of grizzlies and it hinges upon the idea of Grizzly Bears as an 'umbrella species.' In conservation terms an 'Umbrella Species' is one who by being especially sensitive, or at least a sensitive as most of the fauna it shares the habitat with, to environmental changes and usually having a large territorial range serves as a good yardstick for conservationists to easily measure their success by. Grizzly Bear's are a perfect example of this with their scavenging behaviour and mere presence being good for soil replenishment and preventing overgrazing by Elk, respectively.
Founded in 1990 by animal trainers Doug and Lynne Seus thanks to their love for their biggest star, Bart the Bear, a 1,500 lbs Grizzly who was the go-to bear in Hollywood throughout the 80s & 90s. Vital Ground began with the Seus' purchase of 240 acres of land in Montana and for the next decade was primarily concerned with fundraising efforts for various other pro-Grizzly charities. The organisation's turning point came in 2004 when wildlife biologist Gary Wolfe came on-board as the new Executive Director and Vital Ground shifted its focus from raising funds to practical conservation.
Where Grizzlies Roam...
Now an accredited land trust, Vital Ground concentrates on doing what federal and state legislature has failed to - to create not a few isolated islands of Grizzlies but a connected network all over the land they used to rule. Via land purchases and strategic partnerships Vital Ground now connect and protect more than 617,000 acres of Grizzly habitat providing corridors for large Grizzly populations, such as those in Yellowstone, to interact with other which allow Grizzlies to roam the full breadth of terrain they require. What's more these corridors allow hitherto wholly isolated groups of Grizzlies to meet, interact and mate, guarding against the perils of a too small gene pool. You can find a comprehensive list of their ongoing projects here as they look to keep pace with the rejuvenated Grizzly population.
How Can You Help?
There are a number of ways in which you can donate to Vital Ground from monthly and one time donations to actually donating your land for grizzly conservation. With A-listers such as Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt on their 'Grizzly Council' they're a well supported charity but, given the enormity of the task at hand, a helping hand is always appreciated. As ever with charities, and whilst recognition of the plight of endangered species is at an all time high, spreading awareness and information about these animals is just about the best route you can take to bringing about change. Whether it's sharing this blog, telling a friend or family member or doing research of your own it's the key to making a difference.