Simmons Meadow

The Simmons Meadow wetland at the base of the Swan Range near Condon has been protected as a wildlife travel corridor by the Vital Ground Foundation. Content Exchange

Two of the largest grizzly bear habitats in the nation picked up a crucial 20-acre addition that may help those bears get around people’s home sites.

The Vital Ground Foundation acquired a portion of the Simmons Meadow wetlands in the Swan Valley near Condon. Lots of wildlife use the marshy area to travel between the Swan Crest edge of the Bob Marshall Wilderness to the east and the Mission Mountains Wilderness to the west.

“The property lies within crucial winter range for deer and elk,” said Luke Lamar, conservation director for Swan Valley Connections and a Vital Ground partner. “The wetland complex and riparian areas on the property offer outstanding foraging habitat and hiding cover for grizzly bears as well as foraging and nesting habitat for trumpeter swans and many species of waterfowl.”

It also serves as important spring habitat for grizzly bears, which seek out low-lying wet areas for new vegetation right after they come out of hibernation. It may also benefit other species of concern, including the federally protected Canada lynx and bull trout as well as increasingly rare wolverine.

The Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, which includes the Bob Marshall and Mission Mountain wildernesses as well as the Flathead and Blackfeet Indian reservations and Glacier National Park, holds the largest single grizzly population in the continental United States. Recent estimates calculate that about 1,100 grizzlies inhabit the ecosystem.

Increasing subdivision development and commercial activity in the Seeley-Swan Valley has made wildlife passage more difficult.

“With the intense real estate market escalations we’re seeing in Montana and across the Mountain West, it’s extremely important that we conserve remaining habitat linkages on private lands,” said Ryan Lutey, executive director of Vital Ground. “Whether it’s within existing grizzly range or helping reconnect isolated subpopulations, countless species will benefit from more connected, protected landscapes.”

Conserving wetland open space should also help preserve the Swan Valley’s rural character while protecting its water quality, Lutey added. The property connects with previously protected private land as well as a public portion of the marsh.

Missoula-based Vital Ground has protected more than 1,000 acres of grizzly habitat through conservation easements and purchases during the past 20 years.

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