Tuesday, June 06, 2023

Eureka area family seeks to conserve land for grizzlies

by KATE HESTON Daily Inter Lake
| March 28, 2023 7:00 AM

Greg and Lisa Levine live on nearly 30 acres of land near Eureka. Hummingbirds, elk, bald eagles, mountain lions, Canada geese and grizzly bears roam the property where loggers built bunk houses and dug ponds a century ago.

Today, those ponds look natural and are visited by an array of wildlife, according to Lisa Levine, who bought the land with her family in August 2021. With the land placed under a conservation easement as of late February, the corridor is now protected from future development.

As avid animal lovers, the decision was a no brainer, Lisa Levine said. She added that the process was easy, guided by the Vital Ground Foundation.

Vital Ground is a land trust based in Missoula focused on ensuring the long-term survival of grizzly bears and other wildlife in the northern Rocky Mountains. As a land trust, the group completes purchases and partners with landowners to conserve their property.

The trust previously designated the Grave Creek area of Lincoln County — where the Levine’s land is — as an important habitat for grizzly bear connectivity in 2018, according to Mitch Doherty, the group’s conservation director. The Levine family’s donated conservation easement will help protect the entire Grave Creek area.

“Knowing that wildlife is consistently moving east to west in there, we knew we could take a deeper dive in conserving the area,” Doherty said.

The 28 acre parcel of land is a mix of wetlands, meadows and forests. Located in the Grave Creek drainage, the land maintains an important habitat connection site for moving wildlife – including grizzlies.

“Rest assured, grizzlies will always be protected and respected on our land. Our wish is for more landowners to follow and create more safe havens for these beautiful creatures,” Greg and Lisa Levine said in a press release issued in conjunction with the land trust.

Canada lynx, native trout and many other species in Northwestern Montana also use the Levine land for habitat and connection. With development pressures high across the region, according to Vital Ground, the easement preserves the area from potential subdivisions.

The property is between the Whitefish Range, which borders Glacier National Park, and the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem, which is further west. According to the land trust, protecting open movement corridors like the Levine’s potentially allows for an increase in movement by bears from the recovering Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem population to the Cabinet-Yaak population.

According to the trust, the natural migrations between grizzly populations are crucial to improving the genetic diversity and survival of those same grizzly populations, particularly in the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem.

Preserving the grizzly population was a major reason the family was interested in the easement, Lisa Levine said. The family moved to Montana from California with their two children, Mike, 31, and Brittany, 32, purchasing and then conserving the land in two years.

“Incidents of human bear conflict have increased so much since the population infringed on their habitat,” Lisa Levine said. She sees the easement as a way to protect a parcel of the grizzlies’ used habitat in perpetuity.

Under the conservation easement, the Levine family maintains private ownership of the property. Development is limited to a small pocket of the acreage, where the house and a few small buildings are. The remainder of the land is stewared as wildlife habitat.

“Voluntary, private land conservation efforts by families like the Levines will ensure bears and other wildlife have secure habitat as they move across the landscape,” Doherty said in a press release celebrating the easement.

It benefits a multitude of parties, according to Doherty, and ultimately will help link wilderness areas across the Northern Rockies region.

“I really hope that [Vital Ground’s] goal is realized and they can get so much land to create a corridor for these grizzlies to roam safely,” Lisa said. “It’s so necessary.”