The Vital Ground Foundation and a father-daughter team have partnered to permanently protect 240 acres of wildlife habitat at the confluence of the Ninemile and Clark Fork valleys of western Montana.
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Missoula, Mont. – The Vital Ground Foundation and a father-daughter team have partnered to permanently protect 240 acres of wildlife habitat at the confluence of the Ninemile and Clark Fork valleys of western Montana. According to Missoula County’s Community and Planning Services Department, this project represents the County’s landmark 200th conservation easement of record.
“This is an opportunity to recognize the important work of private landowners who voluntarily conserve wildlife, water, and scenic landscapes in Missoula County, through this 200th conservation easement and the 199 that preceded it,” Kali Becher from Community and Planning Services said. “To date, more than 66,000 acres of private land have been conserved in Missoula County alone. Per state law, we review all conservation easements in the County and each time we see and appreciate the values, resources, and private property rights being protected.”
Over the past 18 months, Tina Petrig of Decatur, Ga., worked with Vital Ground to certify her father’s original vision of protecting the property for quiet enjoyment and specifically to provide habitat for the myriad wildlife species that inhabit or visit it each year.
After retiring in 1995, Dave Petrig visited several Montana properties and acquired the Mount Ellis acreage because of its stunning views and to enjoy its wildlife. Tina says her dad once said he thought the ideal property would have no access. “He just wanted to preserve it,” she says.
Since then, they have worked to restore the property to its natural state. “Long ago my dad had the notion of owning a “piece of the Rockies,” Tina says. “He grew up in Seattle, and both his parents were Swiss immigrants, so mountains are in his nature.”
In conjunction with Missoula’s Watershed Consulting, the Petrigs have since worked tirelessly to control knapweed, restored a small stream, thinned encroaching conifers and planted Ponderosa pine, and have nurtured native grasses and shrubs for the benefit of wildlife.
Similar to many rural areas in western Montana, subdivision and development is a growing threat to wildlife habitat, open space, and forest and agricultural resources. Conservation easements like this one help secure important winter and seasonal habitat for elk, deer and other ungulates, and may carry significant tax benefits for participating landowners.
“The Ellis Mountain Conservation Easement is Vital Ground’s first conservation easement in the Ninemile area, and the Petrigs’ willingness to fully donate it first attracted the organization’s attention,” said Ryan Lutey, Vital Ground’s director of lands and conservation. “Then our preliminary review of the area’s conservation values indicated that this location serves an important role in linking larger expanses of relatively intact wildlife habitat north and south of the Clark Fork Valley. That primary human travel corridor and its associated development represents one of the most significant obstacles to wildlife movements between the Cabinet-Yaak and Northern Continental Divide Ecosystems and the Bitterroot-Selway Grizzly Bear Recovery Area.”
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) has documented use of the Petrig acreage by at least one grizzly bear. According to FWP Bear Manager Jamie Jonkel, in 2001 the “Ninemile Grizzly” frequented the property. “This bear used both the Sixmile and Ninemile drainages and spent time in the Ellis Mountain area,” Jonkel says. “One of this young male’s favorite crossing sites was to follow a drainage coming off of Ellis Mountain, then he would swim the river and walk downstream and cross under the I-90 overpass.”
The Petrig property is situated at the top of the drainage, and there are other verified grizzly sightings in the vicinity, including the well-known wandering bear named “Ethyl,” the 20-year-old female that was recently documented traveling more than 2,800 miles during the past couple of years.
Jonkel said information extracted from Ethyl’s radio collar verified that she visited the Ellis Mountain area just north of Ellis Creek, which is only a couple miles from this conservation easement.
Since Tina Petrig’s first visits to Montana in the early 90s, she’s been interested in grizzlies and their survival. “The fact that their habitat has dwindled to such limited areas seems symptomatic of much that’s wrong with our culture and history,” she says.
“It wasn’t until I learned of Vital Ground that I realized that grizzly bear recovery in these areas is a realistic goal,” Tina says. “I am hopeful that other landowners may join this effort to protect just a few key parcels that it would take to maintain this irreplaceable connection.”
Tina Petrig says a statement from Vital Ground Trustee Doug Chadwick best expresses her conservation hopes: “If a countryside can still support grizzlies, it will be good and whole and rich and wild and free enough to support all the other creatures struggling to hold on to a place in this world.”
“There’s no way to say it better than that!” Tina says.
Based in Missoula, The Vital Ground Foundation addresses the issue of wildlife habitat fragmentation by permanently protecting crucial lands for the benefit of grizzly bears and other wide-ranging wildlife. Visit us online at www.vitalground.org.