Community connections across the Yellowstone to Yukon region: Our 2023 partner grant recipients - Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative

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Community connections across the Yellowstone to Yukon region: Our 2023 partner grant recipients

Photo: Tristan Brand

Each year, Y2Y is proud to partner with a diverse array of groups and individuals who champion connectivity in conservation and inspire solutions that benefit people and nature.  

We rely on our partners to inform and advance the Yellowstone to Yukon vision of a connected and protected region spanning across the 3,400 kilometers (2,100 miles) between the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and Canada’s Yukon Territory.

These on-the-ground projects are the cornerstone of our efforts, advancing our mission and enabling vital work and research that extend beyond our reach. 

Together with these partners, we can make a big impact on the greater health of the Yellowstone to Yukon region. These grassroots projects are small but mighty, and often address key conservation pinch points that help tip the scale toward a future where both people and wildlife thrive. 

In 2023, our support enabled partners to protect core habitats, keep these habitats connected, enhance the health of communities, and inspire others to engage in similar work. 

Here’s a snapshot of some of our 2023 partner grantees and their important work: 

Western Transportation Institute: Connectivity solutions for grizzly bears and beyond

Location: Flathead Indian Reservation, Montana 

U.S.-93 in Montana has long been prioritized for wildlife connectivity projects in the Yellowstone to Yukon region, as it is a major barrier to wildlife movement.

That’s why Y2Y is actively supporting the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University in conducting research and monitoring wildlife underpasses on U.S.-93. This project is a collaborative effort with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana.

The monitoring project focuses on understanding how grizzly bears, especially sows with cubs, use existing crossing structures. Preliminary data suggests that most sows with cubs tend to avoid underpasses, choosing instead to cross at areas where they face a higher risk of vehicle collisions. This pattern indicates a pressing need for more overpasses and fencing.

This research is crucial for the Yellowstone to Yukon region, as effective crossing structures increase the likelihood of grizzly bears successfully dispersing west and south. Re-establishing their historic range into areas like the Selway-Bitterroot ecosystem is a vital step towards coexisting with and conserving this iconic species within a changing landscape. 

Photo courtesy of Western Transportation Institute’s website. Credit: Marcel Huijer

Howl: Discovering nature, community and self

Location: Bow Valley of Alberta and beyond

Howl is a Canmore-based non-profit that seeks to provide youth with the life experience needed to hear their own voice and know their pathway. They facilitate this growth by bringing young people together on the land through multi-day exploration programs, offering support beyond these excursions as well.  

Y2Y shares Howl’s belief that nurturing our interconnection with nature helps strengthen both communities and landscapes. That’s why in summer 2023, we supported two of their 10-day exploration programs, helping ensure that youth from Alberta’s Rockies and Yukon Territory could attend. 

Photos courtesy of Howl

Several youth from Mînî Thnî (Morley, Alberta) and the Yukon met with Indigenous youth leaders from the Stoney Nakoda Youth Council, volunteered alongside glaciologists and climate scientists, and participated in ceremony as part of National Indigenous Peoples Day. They remove invasive species from the landscape, and learned about challenges around natural resource management, recreation, and more. 

Through this, the participants grew their understanding of the role that they can play in conservation, climate change adaptation and mitigation and community building, leaving with a heightened sense of people, place, and the interconnections between the two.

“I have reinforced a profound appreciation for the interconnectedness of all beings, the wisdom embedded in traditional practices and community, and the significance of maintaining harmonious relationships with the natural world. I’ll keep this practice with me for the rest of my life.”

June 2023 Howl program participant 

Lower Clark Fork Watershed Group: Connecting waterways and wild lands

Location: Hill County, Montana  

The Lower Clark Fork Watershed Group (LCFWG) is a conservation non-profit organization that works to protect the water resources of key tributaries to the lower Clark Fork River in Montana and Idaho.

With around 57,000 square kilometers (22,000 square miles) — an area roughly the size of the state of West Virginia — draining into the Clark Fork River, this watershed is a critical habitat for all forms of life in this region. Rocks, soils, plants, shrubs, trees, fish and wildlife, as well as infrastructure and land management practices all contribute to the health of a watershed. 

With the support of Y2Y, the LCFWG was able to complete their recent riparian enhancement project within Montana’s Beaver Creek Watershed.  

LCFWG strategically planted 100 trees along Big Beaver Creek in a step towards revitalizing streamside forests and stabilizing streambanks. These plantings play a crucial role in shading out invasive reed canary grass and will pave the way for a flourishing new canopy. 

This project stands out for its dual focus: enhancing watershed health in collaboration with local landowners and contributing to the creation of a vital wildlife corridor. 

Buffalo Rock Tipi Camp: Rescuing fish to keep our headwaters healthy

Location: Piikani First Nation, southwest Alberta

Since the early 1990s, volunteers have come together to rescue fish left stranded in an irrigation canal during its annual draining in the Oldman watershed of southern Alberta. The annual events are organized by Peigan Friends Along the River, a nonprofit founded by Piikani Nation Elder, Harley Bastien. To date, they have relocated more than 250,000 fish to their home in the Oldman River. 

In the 2023 fish rescue event at Buffalo Rock Tipi Camp, more than 80 volunteers helped save 4,000 fish, including at-risk trout. Y2Y is proud to support this initiative that exemplifies how community-based conservation initiatives can have a lasting impact. 

The Oldman watershed is already under pressure from a range of nearby industrial activities. When fish get stranded in the irrigation canals, the watershed, natural biological cycles, and many other wildlife species that depend on these fish are impacted. 

Ensuring they make it back into the river helps maintain the watershed’s health in a key part of the Yellowstone to Yukon region: the Eastern Slopes of the Rocky Mountains. 

Photos via @citizenblitz (Matt Wallace) on Instagram

Wyoming Wilderness Association: Elevating Indigenous priorities toward connected futures

Location: Jackson, Wyoming  

In fall 2023, the Wyoming Wilderness Association organized the Jackson Hole Intertribal Gathering, bringing together 12 Tribal Nations, government agencies, and nonprofits to discuss the southern Greater Yellowstone ecosystem’s future.  

The gathering emphasized the significance of integrating Indigenous priorities, values, and knowledge in landscape protection. It fostered robust collaboration and communication for sustainable ecosystem management. 

This gathering brought community members together to exchange information and form connections. It established informed baselines for future collaborations, enhanced communication channels for Tribal engagement, and provided a roadmap for how federal agencies and nonprofits can support the equitable co-management of this critical ecosystem. 

This event represented a pivotal opportunity to shape the future management of the heart of the Rockies by elevating the traditional stewards of its lands and waterways — Tribal Nations and Indigenous communities — in upcoming or current land and resource plan revisions. 

Lolo School bear-proof enclosure: Confluences of coexistence

Location: Lolo, Montana 

A new bear-proof garbage disposal at the Lolo Creek corridor in western Montana will help people and grizzly bears share space safely.

Funded by Y2Y in partnership with Vital Ground, the addition of a bear-proof trash enclosure to the Lolo Elementary School is crucial in helping the community keep bears wild and improving their ability to reconnect with neighboring grizzly bear populations.

Increasingly, grizzly bears have been observed returning near the confluence of Lolo Creek and the Bitterroot River. The land between the rivers and the school property is bridged by the uninterrupted Bitterroot floodplain, making this place a critical linkage area for grizzly bears dispersing west and south.

Y2Y’s vision goes beyond managing wildlife; it encourages communities to view bears as integral to a healthy ecosystem. When communities coexist with grizzly bears, they enable the bears to reclaim their historic territories.

Pandion Institute: Stewarding lands and waters through Traditional Ecological Knowledge

Location: Nez Perce Wallowa Homeland in Idaho

The Pandion Institute’s Saqáanma School offers a four-day rafting trip through a special part of the Nez Perce Wallowa homelands: saqáanma, the deepest canyon in North America.

Indigenous guides and educators lead as expert knowledge-keepers of a crucial system of values. Through this, participants are meaningfully exposed to Indigenous ways of being and doing and are empowered to carry these perspectives into their broader lives. 

According to the Pandion Institute, Indigenous engagement with land (especially our remaining relatively healthy, connected landscapes) is critical, and a fundamental part of Pandion’s vision.

During the 2023 Saqáanma School, 13 youth joined educators who shared ecological and cultural knowledge on the land. Participants helped with water monitoring done by tribal members of Nez Perce and Cayuse communities.

Young people from three different Tribes that represent parts of the Nez Perce and Cayuse diasporas built ecological and cultural knowledge on parts of their ancestral homeland that would otherwise be inaccessible. 

Y2Y’s partner grant program helped provide the necessary funds to build educator capacity for these efforts.

Ruby Habitat Foundation: Finding a balance for people and nature

Location: Southwest Montana 

The Ruby Valley in southwest Montana is an important place for wildlife and people. Grizzly bears, elk, bighorn sheep, and moose travel between this area’s natural landscapes and ranchlands. The nearby Ruby River provides fresh, clean water for recreation and agriculture.  

The Ruby Habitat Foundation is dedicated to preserving and enhancing the natural resources, and social and economic makeup of the Ruby Valley and southwest Montana. They do this by working with landowners and others to balance wildlife and agriculture, while providing managed public access for education and recreation. 

With the support of Y2Y’s 2023 partner grant program, Ruby Habitat Foundation hosted eight successful speaker events for more than 500 people in southwest Montana. The purpose of these free community events was to share knowledge of wildlife species, including raptors, wild pigs, cougars and more.

You are the force behind the Y2Y vision and mission

The Yellowstone to Yukon mission progresses because of collaboration.

In 2023 we invested $60,000 to supporting organizations in our partner grant program. These on-the-ground projects complement our efforts and mobilize work that we wouldn’t be able to do on our own, which is why we are thrilled to continue with our partner grants program — one that has been running for more than 25 years. 

This program is made possible thanks to the generous support of the Woodcock Foundation and the many individuals who choose to direct their personal donations to our partner grants program

Everything Y2Y does, we do with our partners. Whether they are other conservation groups, local landowners, businesses, government agencies, Indigenous communities and governments, scientists, or others, partners are the force behind our vision.

Since 1993, more than 735 partners have furthered our mission through proven solutions that have a tangible impact for wildlife, people, and wild places.

Apply for a Y2Y grant

Got a conservation project in the Yellowstone to Yukon region that needs funding? Learn more and apply for the next partner grant cycle now.

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