Success Stories

Meet the Landowners.

Read about these special places that landowners protected.

Since 2000, landowners have partnered with the River to Lake Initiative to conserve over 5,000 acres of critical lands along the Flathead River and the north shore of Flathead Lake (see Map), adding to a conservation network of over 11,000 acres of protected private and public lands.

These lands not only are special to the landowners, who often can claim three or four generations of stewardship, but they are also critical for clean water, fish and wildlife habitat, scenery and soil productivity.

Click here to read about What Critical Lands and how much is protected.

Conservation Projects – River Stories:

Hand-Smith River Project

Eric and Rebecca Smith recently completed a conservation project that protects 97 acres of exceptional riparian habitat on the Flathead River. The Smiths worked with the Montana Land Reliance to place a conservation easement on their property east of Kalispell and north of McWenneger Slough along the main stem and numerous side channels of the river.

The property is situated in a well-established conservation neighborhood that includes a number of other conservation easements, including one donated by Eric and Becca in 2000. The thick stand of black cottonwood and Engelmann spruce along the braided river channels supports a wide variety of waterfowl and other bird species. When asked about the wildlife seen on the property, Eric commented, “It’s more a question of what wildlife we haven’t seen! The presence of the river and the wildlife it supports defines what we love about our property and why we chose to live here.” Becca says “It’s comforting to know that long after we are gone someone else will walk this property and enjoy it as much as we have, unspoiled and undeveloped.”

Eric and Becca Hand-Smith on their river property. Photo by Lido Vizzutti, Flathead Beacon

The conservation easement was purchased in part with funds from a North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant administered by the Flathead Land Trust. In addition to Eric, Becca and MLR, the project combined the efforts of FLT, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and other River to Lake Initiative partners. Mark Schiltz, MLR western manager, concluded, “The general health of the Flathead River impacts the entire community. Working together on this project has been very rewarding and adds one more piece to the puzzle of how to permanently improve water quality in the valley.” News story: Unlikely Conservation Easement Advocates Complete Second Deal, http://www.flatheadbeacon.com/articles/article/unlikely_conservation_easement_advocates_complete_second_deal/27923/.

Diamond B Ranch River Project

In 2011, Diamond B. Ranch owners closed on a conservation easement in December that will protect their beautiful 192-acre property along 1½ miles of the Flathead River.

Landowners Jerry and Aileen Brosten with Marilyn Wood, Flathead Land Trust

Located east of Church Slough, the Diamond B. Ranch provides a beautiful spot along the river for wedding celebrations. River to Lake Initiative partners appreciate the long-term commitment the Brosten family has made to the Flathead Valley – a gift of conservation that protects valuable farm land and builds on a network of conservation stewardship along the river. Diamond B. Ranch includes seasonal wetlands and sensitive riparian areas, providing natural habitat for native plants, fish, and wildlife, including native bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout.

Diamond B. Ranch. Photo by Harley Mumma.

The conservation easement was completed with the assistance of the Flathead Land Trust, which holds the easement, and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, which helped secure funding and is helping the landowners improve the river corridor for native fish. Funding for the project included grants from the Natural Resources Conservation Service Farm and Ranchland Protection Program and the Bonneville Power Administration. News story: Preserving the Lower Valley. Flathead River homestead placed in land trust, http://www.dailyinterlake.com/news/local_montana/article_cd8ea9ae-4af0-11e1-8d5e-001871e3ce6c.html.

Foys Bend Fisheries Conservation Area

Foys Bend

River to Lake Initiative partners thank Bonnie and Cap Ingham for adding their Foys Bend property to the network of conservation along the Flathead River. Photo by Gravity Shots.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) purchased a 243- acre property along two miles of the Flathead River in 2009. The high-quality, riparian riverbank has outstanding habitat values for both fish and wildlife.  The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), which funded the acquisition to mitigate fisheries impacts of Hungry Horse Dam, holds a perpetual conservation easement on the property.  Cap and Bonnie Ingham sold the property to FWP at a significantly lower price than the appraised value, making this project feasible and a great public value.  News story: Land deal preserves Foy’s Bend property, http://www.dailyinterlake.com/news/local_montana/article_9ee91e2a-aefa-11de-90ff-001cc4c002e0.html

A significant amount of critical lands are protected

An evaluation of all protected areas (public and private) in the River to Lake focus area showed that the following have been protected:

  • 41% of the 100-year floodplain
  • 58% of quality riparian areas that provide fish and wildlife habitat and filter pollutants from runoff
  • 51% of the wetlands
  • 43% of the areas overlying shallow groundwater
  • 29% of the banks along the Flathead River’s main channel, and
  • 34% of the corridor’s important agricultural soils.

River to Lake partners are working to protect our special natural heritage in the Flathead

These conservation accomplishments have only been possible due to the commitment of landowners and the willingness of partners to work together to plan and implement projects – a complex undertaking. Like a puzzle, individual projects are now coming together to form a network of conservation that benefits people, wildlife and clean water now and for the future.

Osprey View Fisheries Conservation Area

In 2009, Fish, Wildlife & Parks purchased a 70-acre parcel on the north shore of Flathead Lake, which borders the Flathead Lake Waterfowl Production Area (WPA), conserving fish and wildlife habitat.  The property is adjacent to the Flathead Lake Waterfowl Production Area and will be managed to protect fish and wildlife and their habitat and allow public access.

Church Slough Project

Church Slough is a magnificent oxbow slough, a haven for wildlife and birds, along the Flathead River north of Flathead Lake.  The Flathead Land Trust helped landowners Ben and Maureen Louden place a conservation easement on 300 acres of wetlands, riparian habitat, floodplain and farmland in 2009.  The conservation easement helps the Loudens maintain their property in one piece to pass on to their children, while protecting unique wildlife, water quality, and farmland values.  A Fish & Wildlife Service North American Wetlands Act grant helped purchase the easement.

Louden Family Farms

In 2009 and 2010, the extended Louden family placed conservation easements on 1,088 acres of farmland, wetlands, riparian habitat and floodplain.  The properties stretch along the Flathead River to the east and west of Church Slough (3.9 miles along the river, and 1.6 miles within the slough), connecting critical habitat for fish and wildlife along the river, as well as protecting 855 acres of rich agricultural soils (prime farmland and farmland of statewide importance) which will stay in agricultural production. The Flathead Land Trust secured a Natural Resource Conservation Service Farm and Ranch Protection Program grant for the project, and holds the conservation easement. Partners are also working with landowners to plant native trees and shrubs along the river banks.  River to Lake partners thank the extended Louden family for a legacy gift to the Flathead – a beautiful river, productive farmland, open vistas, and wildlife habitat. News story: Critical Wetlands, 4 Miles of Flathead River and Prime Farmland Protected. Land Trust Completes Major Project Along Flathead River, http://us1.campaign-archive1.com/?u=bcba90929dd6941808375c211&id=9511fa5eda&e=9ee62ccf2c.

Conrad Drive Fisheries Conservation Area

The Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes purchased a 146.8-acre property along the Flathead River near Kalispell in 2011. The Tribes worked closely with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and River to Lake Initiative partners to conserve this critical river property for native fisheries conservation. The property is largely in the 100-year floodplain and includes over 100 acres of riparian forests. It has nearly 3,340 feet of river frontage on the main channel of the river, providing important habitat for bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout. Other wildlife species that use the area include beaver, mink, white-tailed deer, osprey, bald eagles, waterfowl, shorebirds, and many species of reptiles and amphibians. Keeping the floodplain and the riparian forests undeveloped will also help protect clean water in the river and in the shallow groundwater aquifer. The Bonneville Power Administration funded the acquisition of this property to mitigate for fisheries impacts of Hungry Horse Dam. This conservation project adds to the growing network of protected lands along the Flathead River, helping maintaining the Flathead’s clean water and native fish and wildlife.

Johnston Flathead River Project

Johnston family conservation project celebration

The Johnston family donated a conservation easement on nearly 700 acres of wetlands, riparian forests and associated farmlands along the Flathead River in 2008. This beautiful  farm includes forested islands and more than a mile of river frontage, home to abundant wildlife. The conservation easement donation is a priceless gift of conservation to the valley, and has helped River to Lake partners secure funding for additional conservation projects by providing matching funds required for federal grants.  News story: Saving land for the future, http://www.dailyinterlake.com/news/local_montana/article_fab87d5d-a58c-5c73-8871-437092c2531c.html; Easement preserves Johnston estate, http://www.hungryhorsenews.com/articles/2008/01/17/news/news01.txt

First North Shore Conservation Project

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks purchased 160 acres on the North Shore of Flathead Lake west of the river from Doug and Donna Miller in 2008, a first step in achieving the River to Lake North Shore conservation vision.  The property is adjacent to the Flathead Lake Waterfowl Production Area.  The north shore is one of the only east-west wildlife corridors left in the valley, connecting the Jewel Basin area of  the Swan Range with the Blacktail Mountain area.  The largest stretch of undeveloped shoreline around the lake, the north shore provides critical habitat for tremendous flights of waterfowl, as well as many other bird species and a wide variety of wildlife.  FWP plans to manage most of the property for fish and wildlife habitat and create a small state park.

Siderius Family Flathead River Projects

Siderius family members placed conservation easements on several parcels along the Flathead River in 2008.  The 670 acres protected include rich riparian forest lands, sloughs and prime agricultural lands.  The Siderius family has farmed the lands for generations, and the easements will protect them as working farms and valuable wildlife habitat.  The easements were secured with grant funding from the federal Farm and Ranch Protection Program and from the Bonneville Power Administration’s Hungry Horse Dam fisheries mitigation program.  News story: People will enjoy this open space for a long time. Siderius families protect 670 acres, http://www.dailyinterlake.com/news/local_montana/article_7e9d6c3e-25bb-5be2-bcad-f61d66206d21.html

Restoration projects

Restoring native plants along the river banks, Rusby & Liz Seabaugh.

Between 2006 and 2011, landowners along the Flathead River and nearby streams worked with River to Lake partners to restore over 2 miles of riparian habitat.  Landowners planted native trees and shrubs along the river banks and adjacent wetland sloughs. Several of these projects restored habitat and vegetated stream buffers in areas protected through conservation projects.  Landowners received assistance from Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, Bonneville Power Administration, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Flathead Lakers and the Intermountain West Joint Venture to fund the restoration projects. Trout Unlimited and other volunteers helped plant and fence several projects. The funding helped pay for fencing to keep cattle out of the riparian areas or to protect the young plants from deer, developing a cattle watering facility, revegetation with native plants, and heavy weed mats to exclude invasive plants. An additional 2 miles of river bank restoration is planned for 2012. Native plants along rivers, lakes and wetlands:

  • slow down runoff, allowing water and nutrients to be taken up by plants;
  • reduce flooding and mitigates its effects;
  • provide shade and habitat for fish, including native bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout; and
  • provide habitat for birds and other wildlife.

Flathead Lake North Shore designated an “Important Bird Area”

National Audubon Society designated the Flathead Lake North Shore as an “Important Bird Area”.  Important Bird Areas are sites that provide essential habitat for breeding, wintering, and/or migrating birds.  The designated area includes most of the north shore of Flathead Lake – about 3,600 acres comprising the Flathead Lake Waterfowl Production Area and adjacent lands.  The north shore supports a wide diversity of birds during all seasons and particularly during migration, when the area is used heavily by large flocks of waterfowl, waterbirds and shorebirds.  About 230 bird species are known to use the north shore.  For more information visit Audubon’s website at http://mtaudubon.org/birds/owen.html.

Weaver, McWenneger Slough and Foys Bend Projects

McWenneger and Weaver Sloughs and the Foys Bend projects were the first large conservation projects completed by River to Lake partners.   The projects entailed a combination of donated and purchased conservation easements, compensating landowners for restricting development and enhancing conservation values on their properties.  Combined, these projects protected more than 1,200 acres of wetlands, riparian areas and farmland.  Weaver and McWenneger sloughs are crescent-shaped lakes associated with the Flathead River and provide important migratory and breeding habitat for numerous birds and other wildlife.  News story: Easement does it: Flathead Land Trust wraps up major project, http://www.dailyinterlake.com/news/local_montana/article_427cfb9f-20f1-512f-adbf-c864c605c91b.html; McWenneger-Weaver Project Success Celebrated www.flatheadlakers.org/flathead_lake_basin/critical_lands/victory_at_weaver_mcwenneg.html To read more about the sloughs associated with the Flathead River click on Oxbow sloughs.

In 2009 and 2010, the extended Louden family placed conservation easements on a 1,088 acres of farmland, wetlands, riparian habitat and floodplain.  The properties stretch along the Flathead River to the east and west of Church Slough (3.9 miles along the river, and 1.6 miles within the slough), connecting critical habitat for fish and wildlife along the river, as well as protecting 855 acres of rich agricultural soils (prime farmland and farmland of statewide importance) which will stay in agricultural production. The Flathead Land Trust secured a Natural Resource Conservation Service Farm and Ranch Protection Program grant for the project, and holds the conservation easement.  This grant funds conservation of prime agricultural soils to help  maintain these special areas in farming. Partners are also working with landowners to plant native trees and shrubs along the river banks.  River to Lake partners thank the extended Louden family for a legacy gift to the Flathead – a beautiful river, productive farmland, open vistas, and wildlife habitat.