Saving Grizzly Bears, One License Plate at a Time

Vital Ground Charity Plate

The Vital Ground Foundation, the world's premier grizzly bear conservation organization, has raised more than $400,000 over the last eight years through its participation in the Montana Charity License Plate Program. Featuring the artwork of Montana-based painter Monte Dolack, the Vital Ground charity plate has become one of the state's most popular while providing Montanans a unique opportunity to support the protection and restoration of grizzly habitat in the Northern Rockies.

Over the last eight years, grizzly bears have become a common sight on the bumpers of motor vehicles throughout Montana. That’s because of the Vital Ground Foundation’s participation in the Montana Charity License Plate Program, an effort that has raised over $400,000 for the Missoula-based land trust dedicated to the protection and restoration of grizzly habitat.

Run by the Motor Vehicle Division of the Montana Department of Justice, the Charity License Plate Program facilitates Montanans’ support of hundreds of foundations and causes around the state. When an individual purchases Vital Ground plates, $20 of the $35 registration fee goes to the foundation. Following the initial purchase, the entire $20 yearly renewal fee transfers directly to Vital Ground.

"It is a beautiful license plate that appeals to a wide range of people throughout the state. It stands for conservation of all things—not just the grizzly."

David Wesley, Vital Ground Trustee

In return, the individual can adorn their vehicle with the image of Montana artist Monte Dolack’s iconic painting, “The Great Bear.”

“The grizzly bear on the plate is a detail from a painting I completed several years ago to celebrate the Great Bear and its connection to the land,” said Dolack. “It portrays a big, beautiful grizzly striding over the land that is so vital for its existence and serves as an important symbol of a healthy and wild ecosystem.”

Now, eight years into its participation in the program, Vital Ground’s license plate has become one of the state’s most popular, with the foundation raising $88,000 through the program in 2015. The funds have helped Vital Ground increase its total to more than 610,000 acres of grizzly habitat protected through outright purchase or conservation easement.

Most recently, Vital Ground closed on the purchase of a 142-acre parcel of forested land abutting Alvord Lake near Troy, Mont., a scenic shoreline area that was once slated for real estate development. License plate funds have also contributed to Vital Ground’s growing partnerships with local communities in support of “Bear Aware” educational programs.

As Vital Ground’s participation in the Charity License Plate Program continues to support its conservation work, word is spreading. Acclaimed journalist Todd Wilkinson’s recent story “Put a Bear on Your Car, Help Keep Grizzlies Alive” appeared in Explore Big Sky and the Seeley Swan Pathfinder, while award-winning photographer and writer Lisa Densmore Ballard recently highlighted the wide-ranging benefits of Vital Ground’s protection work due to the grizzly’s role as an umbrella species in natural areas.

Ultimately, the license plate program represents one of many ways that Vital Ground continues to live out its mission of protecting and restoring North America’s grizzly bear population for future generations by conserving wildlife habitat and supporting programs that reduce conflicts between bears and humans.

But thanks to Dolack’s art and the everyday visibility of license plates, it provides an especially prolific form of outreach.

“It is a beautiful license plate that appeals to a wide range of people throughout the state,” said Vital Ground Trustee David Wesley. “It stands for conservation of all things—not just the grizzly.”

For more information, contact:
Kevin Rhoades, Communications Director
The Vital Ground Foundation
20 Fort Missoula Road
Missoula, MT 59804

Source: Vital Ground Foundation


Additional Images