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Tips for Being a Good Steward

Help protect the Flathead every day.

Wetlands, floodplains and riparian forests are natural filters that clean our water, reduce the risk of flooding, refill the aquifers, keep farmland productive, and provide important fish and wildlife habitat.  These critical areas also keep the Flathead beautiful and fun.


The best way to keep the river and lake clean and wildlife habitat abundant is to take good care of the wetlands, forests and associated uplands up and down the river.

The following are things we can all do to help maintain the health and beauty of our river corridors.

Living near a stream or wetland

Learn about our River Steward Program and other expert help to get you started.

  • Maintain or restore a buffer of native vegetation along stream and river banks, lakeshores and wetlands. Buffers help filter out sediments and pollutants before they enter a stream or river, and provide important habitat for local fish and wildlife.  If your stream has plants along it, do not remove them. They help stabilize your stream bank. Also, by building on upland areas, away from wetlands and riparian zones, you will reduce the risk of flood damage to your property, and help protect clean water.
  • Avoid draining or filling wetlands.  This will help reduce the risk of flood damage for you and your neighbors, while providing important habitat for wildlife.
  • Maintain your septic system with annual checks, and pump your tank as needed. This will save you money and hassle in the long run, and protect our water.
  • Keep stock animals out of sensitive wetland and riparian habitat.
  • To learn more... check the Living by Water Brochure.

Landscaping – Keep the View Plus a Whole Lot More

  • Check this Waterfront Landscapes Brochure. Drawing by Sue Ball

    Retain existing native vegetation. Native plants preserve Montana’s scenic beauty, protect and enhance your privacy, provide essential fish and wildlife habitat, and protect clean water.

  • Minimize lawn size and avoid fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides near streams and wetlands. Use “least-toxic” pest management by integrating biological, mechanical and physical methods with chemical methods. The less toxic the method, the safer it is for human, aquatic, plant and animal life.
  • Don’t dispose of yard clippings in streams, but leave natural debris such as leaves and downed branches in place along riparian areas.
  • To learn more... check the Waterfront Landscapes Brochure.


  • Fence livestock away from stream and river banks.

  • Prevent over-irrigating by using electronic moisture measuring devices, drop tubes and low pressure sprinkler heads, and mulching where feasible. These reduce water use dramatically and pay for themselves quickly in reduced electric bills.
  • Do not mix, apply or dispose of weed-control chemicals, used motor oil or other toxic substances near streams.
  • Use farming practices that reduce soil erosion and increase water infiltration, such as minimum tillage, leaving fields in stubble over winter, and maintaining vegetated stream and river banks.
  • To learn more visit your local Natural Resources Conservation Service office in Kalispell or call (406) 752-4242.


  • Stay on the trails and avoid low spots and watercourses when cycling, horseback riding, hiking or riding ATVs.

  • Help prevent erosion by boating at no-wake speeds near riverbanks.
  • Prevent the spread of noxious weeds and exotic aquatic plants and animals by washing vehicles and boatsbefore transporting to a new lake or river.

Disposing of toxic materials and waste

  • Dispose of paints, thinners and other solvents at a household hazardous waste collection facility.
  • Recycle motor oil and antifreeze. Do not dump into waterways, your septic system or down storm drains.
  • Avoid dumping carpet cleaning wastewater into streams or nearby storm drains.
  • To learn more or report a spill call Flathead County Disaster & Emergency Services at 406-841-2911 (24 hours).

Conserve special places on your property

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

As a landowner or resident, you’re not on your own in protecting the river. Technical and financial assistance is available from a number of agencies and organizations. They can help you assess the health of a stream or wetland on your property and show you how to protect it for future generations.

There are also a variety of tools such as conservation easements, which allow landowners to voluntarily protect key areas.

For more information.. read our Conservation Easements and You Handout or Contact Us or the appropriate Partner agencies and organizations for information on the right program for you.

Living in Flathead Guide: Learn about additional land and water stewardship solutions and resource in the Flathead.

Publications & Maps

Check Publications & Maps for information on shallow groundwater areas, prime agricultural soils, river migration, and water quality sensitive areas to help you make good stewardship decisions on your property.


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