What happens when a bunch of fishermen, birdwatchers, conservation advocates, duck hunters, landowners and government agencies get together with a can-do attitude? For the Flathead River, it adds up to cleaner water and better habitat for fish and wildlife.
Ten riparian restoration projects along more than 3 miles of the Flathead River and associated wetland sloughs have been completed since 2007 by numerous Flathead River to Lake Initiative partners.
The Flathead River to Lake Initiative is a collaborative effort to conserve and restore our Flathead River and Lake natural heritage - excellent water quality, outstanding scenic and recreational values, abundant fish and wildlife, and prime soils.
In 2007, project partners identified several river banks and wetlands that could benefit from restoration. Placing native plants along rivers, lakes and wetlands: slows down runoff, allowing water and nutrients to be taken up by plants; reduces flooding and mitigates its effects; provides shade and habitat for fish, including native bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout; and provides habitat for birds to nest, feed and travel.
Project partners first approached landowners who had expressed interest in conservation. In 2007, Tom, Charles, and Dan Siderius placed a conservation easement on 670 acres of their properties along the Flathead River. The conservation easement allows the landowners to continue farming their land while protecting important riparian areas, sloughs, forests and prime agricultural soils.
To complement the Siderius’ conservation effort, the Flathead Lakers joined efforts with FWP and NRCS to help fund restoration projects along the river banks. The funding helped pay for fencing to keep cattle out of the riparian areas, developing a cattle watering facility, and reestablishing riparian vegetation along the river and associated wetland sloughs.
John and Amy Waller also worked with partners to restore the banks along Egan Slough, an old channel of the Flathead River. The funding secured by partners helped pay for revegetation of native plants, heavy weed mats to exclude the invasive canary reed grass, and temporary fences that will protect the young native plants from deer.
These first four projects helped plant over 3,000 trees and shrubs on 4,000 linear feet of river banks. Six years later, partners completed an additional six restoration projects restoring over 3 miles of river banks.
Key riparian restoration partners include landowners, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Big Sky Watershed Corps (Corps member), and volunteers, among others. The Flathead Lakers hosted a Corps member in 2013 and 2014 to help partners plan and implement restoration projects and reach out to new landowners.
Restoration projects have been made possible by funding from NRCS EQIP, Bonneville Power Administration, All-Bird Conservation Initiative, FWP native fish and wildlife habitat enhancement funding, Intermountain West Joint Venture, and the landowners’ time and labor. Special thanks are due to FWP staff for project coordination, to NRCS for project funding, Dan Casey, American Bird Conservancy, for conducting bird surveys to assess the benefits to native birds, and numerous landowners and volunteers who helped plant and maintain projects.
To read about other conservation and restoration work by Flathead River to Lake Initiative partners please visit the initiative's website at www.flatheadrivertolake.org. To volunteer please contact one of the Contacts listed.