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Owen Sowerwine Permanently Protected: Conservation Victory Secures Sanctuary, Funds Education

Photo courtesy of Gravity Shots.

February 29, 2024

Nearly fifty years ago, a man named Owen Sowerwine dreamed of safeguarding a 405-acre community treasure with exceptional, intact forested river bottom habitat near Kalispell. This week, that vision blossomed into reality.

After years of collaboration between Flathead Land Trust, Flathead Audubon Society, Flathead Lakers, and Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, the Owen Sowerwine property is now permanently protected by a conservation easement held by Flathead Land Trust.

Painting of Owen Sowerwine by Susan Guthrie.

Owen Sowerwine, with its mosaic of wetlands, riverine forest, and meandering waterways, including the Flathead and Stillwater Rivers, is critical habitat for diverse wildlife and an “Important Bird Area.” It also plays a vital role in safeguarding water quality in the rivers and downstream. It has served as a cherished community sanctuary for decades, sustained as natural habitat by Flathead County, Montana Audubon, and the Flathead Audubon Society through leases and licenses. However, these leases and licenses were not a permanent solution to keep this natural and community gem intact.

Photo courtesy of Eric Witts, Flathead Lakers.

This distinctive project presented a unique challenge: protecting the property while generating income for Montana’s schools, as mandated for State School Trust Land. A solution was found in a rare purchased conservation easement on State School Trust Land – only made possible by the foresight of Montana lawmakers nearly twenty-five years ago, when they enacted a statute allowing a conservation easement to be placed on this specific parcel of land by a nonprofit.

To fund this massive project, the community rose to the occasion, adding to significant grants and contributions from foundations. When a final grant proposal was unsuccessful, Whitefish philanthropists, Jim and Lisa Stack donated generously to close the funding gap. Through tireless efforts, dedicated partners, and many generous donors, the easement was secured for $970,000, which will be invested in the State School Trust Fund, supporting education for years to come.

Owen Sowerwine’s dream for this land, envisioned five decades ago, has become a lasting reality – a vibrant haven for wildlife and a cherished community resource. Ownership will remain with the state, while Flathead Audubon Society will continue its passionate stewardship of resources and educational programs, as it has for many years. Public access will continue, and Owen Sowerwine’s legacy will live on.

Photo courtesy of Eric Witts, Flathead Lakers.

This project would not have been possible without major funding from the Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust; The Kendeda Fund and Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation through the Heart of the Rockies Initiative; Whitefish Community Foundation; North American Wetland Conservation Act Grant; Flathead River to Lake Initiative; High Stakes Foundation; Cinnabar Foundation; Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Wildlife Mitigation Program and several smaller grants.

“We are incredibly grateful for the support we received from over 300 individuals in our communities that gave to Flathead Land Trust, Flathead Audubon Society and Flathead Lakers,” said Paul Travis, Executive Director at Flathead Land Trust. “The generous donations from Jim and Lisa Stack, James Hollensteiner, Molly Miller and Mark Jungerman, Lauren Pipkorn, Thomas and Teresa Quinn, Carol Bibler and Jim Watson, Lynda Saul, Michael Russell and Sally Cameron-Russell, Julie Baldridge, Alan and Sallie Gratch, and the Sowerwine family, among many other community members, was instrumental in bringing this project to fruition.”

For a full list of donors, click HERE

To learn more about visiting Owen Sowerwine, explore HERE. Also check Flathead Audubon’s events page for guided bird tours of Owen Sowerwine.

In the news:

Owen Sowerwine Natural Area Gains Permanent Protection, Tristan Scott, Flathead Beacon, March 1, 2024

 Map of Owen Sowerwine property.

Owen Sowerwine Natural Area permanently protected, Kate Heston, Daily Inter Lake, March 2, 2024



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