Landowners Help Flathead Land Trust Protect Bird Habitat

Flathead Land Trust and its partners received final approval for a North American Wetland Conservation Act grant recently

A pair of local families who donated large sections of land to the Flathead Land Trust have helped the organization acquire a $1 million grant to protect migratory bird habitat near the Flathead River.

Flathead Land Trust and its partners received final approval for a North American Wetland Conservation Act grant recently. The grant required matching funding and land conservation contributions. Conservation easements donated by two major landowners helped Flathead Land Trust and its partners obtain the grant to protect important migratory bird habitat, according to the organization.

“This Thanksgiving season we are especially thankful for Glenn and Hazel Johnston who donated a conservation easement to Flathead Land Trust on their 700 acres along the Flathead River in 2007 and the Roth family who donated a conservation easement to Montana Land Reliance on 700 acres they own in the Swan Valley in 2012. Because of their generosity we were awarded this substantial grant that will help us take a large step forward in the protection of migratory bird habitat in the Flathead and Mission valleys,” said Paul Travis of Flathead Land Trust.

The area being protected has been identified as a crucial feeding stopover for thousands of migratory birds each year. These birds depend on wetlands, spring creeks, and agricultural lands in the Flathead and Mission valleys to fuel their northward migration to breeding grounds, according to Travis.

The grant will help conserve 525 acres including projects that add to the Smith Lake Waterfowl Production Area and North Shore Wildlife Management Area, increase protection of wetlands along the Mission Mountain Front and east of the National Bison Range, and restore 125 acres of wetland habitat and over a mile of spring creek east of Columbia Falls.

A collection of groups helped acquire the grant, including the Flathead Lakers, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, American Bird Conservancy, Montana Land Reliance, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Another donated conservation easement held by Flathead Land Trust on 121 acres near Creston also provided match for the grant.

“The property has been in my family since it was homesteaded in 1885. It was important to me to keep it intact. The best way to do this was with a conservation easement. A conservation easement takes away the option we wanted to take away, subdivision. The ripple effects of helping to conserve more special places in the Flathead is just a bonus,” said Glenn Johnston.

“We need to remember it’s not just for the birds. Our children are living more and more in an artificial, man-made world and they need the opportunity to experience the real, natural world with its lessons and sense of wonder and delight.”

Project implementation will begin in 2015 upon an approved Federal budget appropriating funding for these important migratory bird habitat conservation projects.