A secret discovered – pothole wetlands hidden northwest of Kalispell come alive at sunset in October as hundreds of sandhill cranes roost at a key feeding and resting site on their migration route.
The Flathead Land Trust approached the landowners to discuss a way to protect the wetlands and surrounding farmland, the only known sandhill crane staging area in the north Flathead Valley. Although currently very common, they depend on these key stopover sites, which makes them vulnerable to habitat loss.
The Marvin and Grosswiler families have been enjoying the migration frenzy of hundreds of sandhill cranes and thousands of waterfowl and shore birds on their property for several generations. They are working with the land trust to protect 328 acres with conservation easements. Last October (2017), the first 68 acres were protected, including most of a unique 45-acre pothole wetland. The Land Trust expects to complete the project in 2018.
It will include a bird viewing area for the public and an educational site for school use. The wetland is used year after year by as many as 400 sandhill cranes to rest and refuel for up to two months on their fall migration from as far north as the Arctic to as far south as Mexico.
The Flathead Land Trust raised $150,000 for the project from various organizations and individuals, which matches grant funding. MT Fish, Wildlife and Parks is working with the landowner to develop an easement for the public viewing access area. Construction of the public viewing area may start next summer following public review and endorsement by the Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Sandhill cranes value family – they mate for life, both parents take care of the young for the first nine months, and during migration and winter the family units group together with other families in some places numbering in the tens of thousands . Laura Katzman, Land Conservation Specialist, Flathead Land Trust
Learn more about this project at Conserving Flathead Valley Ecological Community Treasure.