Bird and Wildlife Habitat Protected in Smith, Mission Valleys

Flathead Land Trust secures easements on more than 300 acres of wetlands and scenic corridors

By Tristan Scott
A conservation area in the Smith Valley adjacent to the Smith Lake Waterfowl Production Area. Courtesy Flathead Land Trust

More than 300 acres of bird and wildlife habitat were recently conserved as easements in the Smith and Mission valleys after two separate landowners partnered with the nonprofit Flathead Land Trust.

The conservation projects will ensure that about 180 acres of wetlands and 1.5 miles of streams are protected as wildlife habitat in perpetuity, while also preserving ranch land as a working farm.

Ron and Carley Iverson donated 142 acres of their land near Smith Lake west of Kalispell to the Flathead Land Trust, which will transfer the land to the Smith Lake Waterfowl Production Area administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The newly donated land will be added to that block of conserved lands, which totals more than 1,600 acres, and includes private land with conservation easements held by Flathead Land Trust, Montana Land Reliance and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

According to the Flathead Land Trust, the wetlands complex provides a critical feeding stopover for tens of thousands of birds each year during their migration journeys.

The donation will also protect about a half-mile of Ashley Creek and its scenic views for those traveling on U.S. Highway 2 and on the Rails-to-Trails bike path west of Kalispell. The Iversons have owned the property for almost 20 years, and said they wanted to protect the special habitat for wildlife and future generations.

On Dec. 8, the Flathead Land Trust also purchased a 159-acre conservation easement in the Mission Valley from landowner John Weaver. The land will remain in private ownership and under Weaver’s management as a working farm, but the easement will ensure the land remains undeveloped open space.

The property is flanked by views of the Mission Mountains and is less than a mile from the National Bison Range. It includes more than a half-mile of Sabine Creek and another half-mile of an unnamed creek (both spring-fed), as well as 38 acres of wetlands used by a suite of wildlife species, including black bear, grizzly bear, white-tailed deer, hawks, waterfowl, and other small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.

Fireflies even use the property, according to the Land Trust, making the easement the second location in western Montana where the bioluminescent bugs are known to frequent.

The Flathead Land Trust purchased the conservation easement from Weaver with funding from a North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant, and through the landowner’s cooperation and support.

“Purchased conservation easements are a great tool for conserving important fish and wildlife habitat on private lands, especially for those with little or modest income,” Weaver said.