August, 2012

Landowner Awards

The landowners who make a commitment to conservation are the most important partners in efforts to protect the many benefits provided by River to Lake critical lands. River to Lake Initiative partners were honored with the Montana Wetlands Council’s Wetlands Stewardship Award.  The Flathead Lakers and River to Lake partners shared the award with two landowners who recently placed conservation easements on their Flathead River properties.

Flathead Land Trust Executive Director Marilyn Wood presented the award to Aileen and Jerry Brosten, who protected a mile and a half of riparian habitat and prime farm land that has been in the family for four generations.

Montana Land Reliance Western Manager Mark Schiltz accepted the award on behalf of Eric and Becca Smith who recently conserved 97 acres of river front wetlands and riparian areas adjacent to a parcel on which they earlier donated a conservation easement.


Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Receives Stewardship Award

Flathead Lakers Critical Lands Program Director Constanza von der Pahlen presented the Flathead Lakers stewardship award to Montana Fish Wildlife Parks.  The award is given to an individual or organization who make a significant contribution to protecting Flathead Lake and clean water.

Von der Pahlen commended the Kalispell FWP staff for their work to protect wetlands, riparian habitat, and floodplains along the Flathead River and north shore of Flathead Lake. FWP is an important conservation partner. Recognition was given to Regional Fisheries Mitigation Coordinator Joel Tohtz, Wildlife Biologist Gael Bissell, Conservation Technician Kris Tempel, Wildlife Mitigation Coordinator Alan Wood, and Fish Technician John Wachsmuth.

Tohtz accepted the award on behalf of Fish, Wildlife & Parks.  He credited the Region 1 office’s tremendous field staff for their work and said “We all very much appreciate this recognition.  On behalf of my staff, thank you for what the Flathead Lakers do.”


Flathead Lakers Celebrate Clean Water Connections

What do warblers, cottonwoods, Flathead Lakers members, and anglers have in common? Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks wildlife biologist Gael Bissell pointed out several things, but the most important is that they are all part of the many connections that make up a healthy river system.

Bissell presented the keynote address at the Flathead Lakers 2012 annual meeting on July 26. The Flathead Lakers is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting clean water in Flathead Lake and its watershed.

She emphasized that protecting the Flathead River’s riparian zone, or the area along the river that is influenced by the river, is key to protecting clean water in the river and downstream in Flathead Lake. It sustains habitat for birds, fish, and other wildlife and provides recreation opportunities that both residents and visitors enjoy.  Riparian vegetation filters pollutants from support runoff before it reaches the river and lake and absorbs flood waters.  All of these services benefit the local economy.

Bissell pointed out that 70 percent of birds depend on riparian areas. Aquatic fur bearers, bald eagles, grizzly bears, moose and deer all use the habitat and travel the river corridor

When the river moves it creates substrate where cottonwoods can grow, gravel bars and fish habitat.  Its meanders, islands, backwater channels, and connected shallow groundwater and wetlands are all part of the free water purification system that keeps Flathead Lake clean and supports an amazing diversity of wildlife.

The Flathead Lake and river system is a worldwide treasure, said Bissell.  The Flathead Lakers initiated a collaborative effort by agencies, conservation groups, and landowners that is working to protect this treasure.  “You are what is between the lake and the rest of the world,” she said about the role the Flathead Lakers and its partners play in protecting these important resources that make the Flathead unique.

She explained how the Flathead Lakers brought  a group together a decade ago to review the scientific information, develop maps, and then embark on a plan to “protect the best and conserve the rest.”  By protecting wetlands and the best riparian habitat, she said, you will protect Flathead Lake.

She commented that initially she thought the 2002 Critical Lands Report “would be shelf art” rather than a plan for action.  But the tenacity of the Flathead Lakers staff and some early conservation success got  20  groups working together and got what is now called the River to Lake Initiative off the ground.

That led to success in raising money for conservation and restoration projects from federal, state and foundation grants and generous donations of land value by landowners working on conservation projects.

Since 2003, over 5,000 acres along the river corridor and at Flathead Lake’s north shore, including 1,600 wetland acres, have been protected, Bissell reported.  And over 3 1/2 miles of river banks have been restored.  The result is that about 30 percent of the mainstem Flathead River channel has been protected and will continue to sustain the Flathead’s natural heritage of clean water, healthy habitat, fish, birds, and other wildlife, prime farm lands, recreation opportunities, and scenic beauty.