Standing on the viewing deck at the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary, conversations suddenly shift to excited whispers as a bear ambles onto the scene. This bear is one of many different black bears that stop by the Sanctuary throughout the year to seek out the respite offered by the well-maintained northern forest. And now 360 acres of this beautiful property – home to bears, timber wolves, and pine martens and other forest species – is protected forever in its natural state through conservation easements with the Minnesota Land Trust.
The Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary stretches over 600 acres in the North Woods of Minnesota near the town of Orr, and it has grown over time thanks to land acquisitions and generous donations. It grew again recently thanks to a 160-acre donation by co-founders Bill and Klari Lea. Named after the original founder Vince Shute, the Sanctuary is now managed by the American Bear Association (ABA) with a mission of teaching humans about the unique habits of bears. In lean years, bears visit the Sanctuary for food, and from an elevated viewing deck, visitors can watch as they go about their lives. The Sanctuary also works to expand our knowledge of the bears; researchers tag and track visiting bears to learn more about their habits and range.
By protecting the Sanctuary land with a conservation easement through the Minnesota Land Trust, the American Bear Association has secured a future for the wildlife that rely on the land and helped preserve this one-of-a-kind visitor experience.
“This is a truly unique property, not just because of the safe haven it offers bears, but because of the well managed forest it contains,” says Kris Larson, executive director of the Minnesota Land Trust. “By protecting this land forever, the ABA has preserved an incredible resource for the people of Minnesota.”
As the Sanctuary has grown in popularity, so has its footprint. Originally started on Vince Shute’s 80 acre land, the Association has added on several nearby properties for protection.
“The properties protected by the American Bear Association and Minnesota Land Trust include a variety of habitat types including aspen-birch forest, northern coniferous forests, lowland hardwood swamps, white cedar swamps, riparian habitat, bogs, sedge meadows and ponds,” says Carl Racchini, retired Wildlife Biologist and former American Bear Association board member. “These habitats provide for a diverse plant and animal community that is now protected and managed for the benefit of these northern biomes.”
The Sanctuary continues to grow in popularity – in 2019, thousands of people visited and learned more about Minnesota’s bear population. Long term, the Association hopes to expand the size of the observation deck and add new and varied educational programming to the Sanctuary, further connecting people to the bears that mattered so much to Vince Shute.
“Thanks to the generosity of the Bear Association, no matter what the future holds for the Sanctuary, this piece of land will always be here for the bears and other wildlife that rely on it,” says Larson. “That’s a win-win for them, and for all Minnesotans.”
Thank you to members of the Minnesota Land Trust and the American Bear Association for protecting this unique property forever.