FWP Seeking Input on Plan for North Shore Wildlife Management Area along Flathead Lake

Comprehensive strategy would promote long-term soil health, wildlife habitat

By Tristan Scott
North Shore WMA proposed addition. Courtesy Photo

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is seeking public input on a proposed management plan for wildlife habitat along the north shore of Flathead Lake.

The new plan identifies objectives for wildlife habitat, weed management, infrastructure, and public recreation throughout the 427-acre the North Shore Wildlife Management Area (WMA), located approximately seven miles southeast of Kalispell. The plan also lists proposed management actions that would help achieve those objectives. The WMA is traditional farmland that features a mix of cultivated grain fields, seasonally flooded grasslands, and wooded uplands along Flathead Lake.

Owned and managed by FWP, the property abuts the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 1,887-acre North Shore Waterfowl Production Area, which includes conservation easements held on private land by Montana Land Reliance and Flathead Land Trust. Together, the two public areas protect the longest stretch of undeveloped shoreline on Flathead Lake. They also help support over 229 bird species. Annually, these areas host tens of thousands of migrating waterfowl that rest and feed along the north shore.

“Flathead Lake’s north shore is an important landscape for many reasons, including its role as a critical staging area for migratory waterfowl,” said Franz Ingelfinger, restoration ecologist with FWP in Region 1.

“FWP’s primary goal for the North Shore WMA is to manage seasonal wetlands and agricultural fields to provide resting and refueling habitat for migratory waterfowl,” Ingelfinger added. “The secondary goals include promoting habitat for upland game birds, songbirds and other nongame bird species, and to provide public opportunities for outdoor recreation, such as hunting and bird watching.”

Under the proposed management plan, FWP would strive to promote long-term soil health and wildlife habitat. Some management recommendations include drainage ditch improvements to help manage flooding; naturalization of certain areas to expand permanent cover, including woodland; and the use of food plots and leave grain to provide forage and shelter for migrating waterfowl and upland birds.

Agriculture would remain FWP’s primary management tool, and the WMA will continue to be leased to a grower who, in lieu of payment, will leave a portion of the crop standing in the field.

The North Shore WMA was acquired in three phases between 2008 and 2016 with a vision to protect water quality, critical habitat, and wildlife on farmland along Flathead Lake.

The most recent acquisition occurred in 2016, when a 77-acre slice of farmland and wildlife habitat gained permanent protection by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, with help from Flathead Land Trust and the River to Lake Initiative.

Montana’s Wildlife Management Areas are lands managed by FWP to benefit a diversity of wildlife species and their habitats on behalf of the public and provide compatible public access for fish- and wildlife-related recreation.

The North Shore WMA draft management plan is available on the FWP website at http://fwp.mt.gov/news/publicNotices/environmentalAssessments/plans/pn_0025.html.

FWP is accepting public comment on the proposed management plan through Jan. 5.

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