The rescued grizzly bear, Teton Totem is one of four bears currently living out his life on the Earthfire Institute’s wildlife sanctuary in Tetonia. | Courtesy Earthfire
TETONIA — The nonprofit Earthfire Institute is set to move ahead with the first phase of a $13 million expansion project at the wildlife sanctuary and retreat center located in Tetonia.
The nonprofit leadership announced last week that they plan to begin construction on a multi-year sanctuary expansion project that is supported in part by the financial gift from Alta, Wyoming residents Marilyn and Derrick Paine, supporters of Earthfire for over 20 years.
The “Marilyn Paine Memorial Bear Gardens” will encompass approximately four acres on the 120-acre refuge on the west side of the valley and will feature waterfalls, streams, and play areas along with sheltered enclosures.
“(Marilyn’s) confidence in our mission to share the wonder of wild animals and preserve wildlands has moved me to tears,” said executive director and founder Susan Eirich in a news release. “She’s made it possible for our non-profit to bring our dreams closer to fulfillment, and the result will bring more joy for our bears as well as creating a unique regional asset. Our animals – including cougars, wolves, bison, foxes – represent species native to the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem.”
The Earthfire Institute houses animals that are not capable of living in the wild including four bears, some of which came from circuses and commercial work. The nonprofit is also a certified wildlife rehabilitation center caring for orphaned or injured small mammals until they are recovered and then released back into the wild. Additionally, they provide beaver relocation ponds in partnership with Idaho Fish & Game repopulation projects.
The bear garden is divided into three phases to be completed over the next two to three years and is expected to cost close to $8 million. The entire $13 million expansion plan will also include an additional wolf garden, two small animal gardens, and land enrichment through permaculture design.
The nonprofit leadership announced last week that they plan to begin construction on a multi-year sanctuary expansion project that was supported in part by the financial gift from Alta residents Marilyn and Derrick Paine, supporters of Earthfire for over 20 years. The “Marilyn Paine Memorial Bear Gardens” will encompass approximately four acres on the 120 acre refuge on the west side of the valley and will feature waterfalls, streams, and play areas along with sheltered enclosures. | Courtesy Earthfire
Over the decades, Marilyn Paine had visited the Institute frequently and although she loved all of the animals, she had a special place in her heart for bears. In her request, she asked that her money be used to fund Earthfire’s proposed state-of-the-art bear habitats, plans for which she was able to review and comment on near the start of the design phase.
Earthfire leadership anticipates more capacity for outreach, educational events and retreats at their Tetonia location with the planned improvements. The nonprofit currently offers about 10 small group tours per year and hosts two retreats a year. With actual pathways and viewing areas, the nonprofit will be able to host more visitors interested specifically in the animals and land preservation and onsite educational programs for groups.
“Unlike zoos or animal attraction businesses, we’re not open to the general public. Instead, we offer limited visits and retreats that support reawakening our bonds with wilderness,” said Eirich. “Our animals are emissaries, able to touch our hearts and in turn, lead us to act on their behalf. It’s our goal to thoughtfully rebuild our entire sanctuary and reintroduce native plants throughout our land.”
The facility plans will have to go through Teton County review.
“Any new installations will meet or exceed US Fish & Game standards, and as always, we’ll continue to undergo regular inspections by Idaho Fish & Game and the USDA,” said Ann Loyola, Assistant Director for the institute in a follow up with EastIdahoNews.com.
According to the news release, Eirich has pioneered a trademarked approach toward conservation called Reconnection Ecology®, a framework that encourages and facilitates a deep, visceral connection with wildlife that leads to action on behalf of a thriving Earth.
“Ongoing threats to wildlife won’t end until we learn to see ourselves as part of nature, and not separate from it. We simply can’t live without each other,” Loyola added.
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