The Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary (YWS) has been in existence since 1987 when a group of concerned citizens took over the Red Lodge Zoological Society and founded the Beartooth Nature Center (BNC). The BNC’s initial mission back in 1987 was basically the same as it is today:
Providing lifelong sanctuary to non-releasable native wildlife and sharing a message of conservation and education.
Ruth Brown was named the Executive Director in 1991 and served in that position until the end of 2008. Ruth, her team of dedicated staff, and volunteers formed a strong partnership with Montana’s Fish Wildlife and Parks. This relationship resulted in hundreds of non-releasable wild animals finding a home in Red Lodge. Today, some of these original animals along with many newer residents continue to serve as ambassadors for their wild cousins. They teach people to love and respect wild animals and the habitats that are critical for wildlife survival.
The team of volunteers and staff that Ruth assembled was quite an amazing group. Volunteers built habitats, ran the gift shop, and helped to care for the animals. Some of these incredible people are still actively volunteering today.
One of the largest groups of volunteers has been the gardening crew. Board member, Clare Witcomb, started our gardens off in 2001 when she asked about creating a memorial bench and garden for her late husband, Dick Witcomb. After that, Clare’s natural green thumb took over and now we have countless gardens, all of which have been lovingly planted and tended to by her crew of dedicated volunteers. In fact, volunteers have donated all of the perennials and annuals in the gardens. There are too many garden donors to list here but special mention goes to Andrew Kruger, owner of Gray Gardens Landscaping in Minneapolis, MN. Andrew came with a team of landscapers one summer and donated over $50,000 worth of plants and supplies. Today our gardens are a huge part of what makes our sanctuary a place of peace and beauty, both for our animals and our guests.
As YWS has continued to grow and evolve, so have the animal care standards. Today our board and management recognize a need to develop larger and more diverse habitats for our rescued residents. Our goal is to transform YWS into a fully ASA (American Sanctuary Association) accredited institution over the next decade. Ongoing plans are in place to help us achieve this goal in the future.
All these years later, we still develop and build from new ideas and goals with our mission always in our hearts and minds. Through these developments we continue to create jobs and build upon tourism in the Red Lodge community. More importantly, we're continuing to expand and improve our sanctuary to provide the best possible care for wildlife in need, as well as extending our reach to educate surrounding communities and visitors from across the country the importance of our neighboring wild places and residents.