Volunteers Help Restore Land Along Flathead River

The Flathead River to Lake Initiative works to preserve riparian environment in the valley

Volunteers with the Flathead River to Lake Initiative have stayed busy this spring as they work to protect and restore critical land along the valley’s namesake river.

This spring, 35 volunteers planted more than 1,000 shrubs and trees on two different properties along the river. The plantings help stabilize riverbanks, known as a riparian area, so they can withstand the powerful river and reduce the amount of sediment going downstream.

“We’re always working to protect and restore our natural areas,” said Aaron Clausen, river program coordinator.

The initiative began in 2000 to help craft and coordinate conservation projects that help the environment and private landowners. Since then, thousands of acres of land in the river basin and floodplain area has been protected or restored. According to Clausen, because of the efforts of the River to Lake Initiative, 41 percent of the area’s floodplain has been protected with various land easements.

The initiative has numerous partners, including the Flathead Lakers, Flathead Land Trust, the American Bird Conservancy, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the Flathead Audubon, the Intermountain West Joint Venture, Montana Land Reliance, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, the USNA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Flathead Conservation District and the Flathead River Commission.

Clausen said the initiative’s work has only grown in recent years and this year it has added another member to their team. Megan Stockfisch joined the effort in cooperation with the Big Sky Watershed Corps, part of AmeriCorps. Clausen also started as a Corps member last year and is staying on to help the Flathead River Steward program, which helps coordinate conservation projects.

Among those projects was the restoration of 1,400 feet of riverbank south of Kalispell on land owned by Ken Louden in April. The work, completed by volunteers, will help improve the area habitat for fish and wildlife and protect water quality. Besides planting shrubs and trees to stabilize the soil, volunteers occasionally build fences to keep deer and other animals away from the land to prevent the riverbank from eroding and falling into the water.

Officials with the initiative say projects like the riverbank restoration will be even more important in the coming years as the valley’s population continues to grow.

For more information, visit www.flatheadrivertolake.org.