Protected Habitat Added to Smith Lake Waterfowl Production Area

Private landowners, conservation groups and wildlife agencies collaborate to safeguard wetland complex

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

More than 250 acres of bird and wildlife habitat were recently conserved as easements in the Smith Valley due to partnerships between private landowners, conservation groups and federal wildlife agencies.

The recent project adds 257 acres to a block of over 1,800 acres of conserved lands safeguarding a large wetland complex in the Smith Valley for people and wildlife.

The conserved lands include the Smith Lake Waterfowl Production Area and adjacent private lands 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 new addition to the Smith Lake Waterfowl Production Area includes 240 acres of wetlands and surrounding lands along a third of a mile of Ashley Creek. It also provides scenic views for people traveling on U.S. Highway 2 and bikers and pedestrians using the Rails to Trails path, both of which are adjacent to the newly protected acreage for nearly a mile.

“We are thrilled that such key bird habitat is now permanently protected and another special place in the Flathead Valley will be available for future generations to enjoy in perpetuity,” Laura Katzman, of Flathead Land Trust, stated, noting that protection of the land was made possible by funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Migratory Bird Conservation Fund. The congressionally authorized Migratory Bird Conservation Fund provides grants to protect migratory bird habitat throughout the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System.

“Partnerships are the key to making great strides towards conserving wildlife and wild places,” Matt Hogan, deputy regional director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, stated. The addition of the protected parcel possible because of the strong partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Flathead Land Trust, The Conservation Fund and gracious private landowners in Flathead County, he said.

“Together we are protecting these lands for future generations,” Hogan said.

In recent years, Flathead Land Trust has completed two other conservation efforts on the Smith Lake Waterfowl Production Area to protect an additional 331 acres of wetlands and bird habitat. One addition facilitated the donation of private land and the other involved purchasing property that had gone into foreclosure owned by a local bank; both properties were made up mostly of wetlands.

“The Flathead Land Trust’s dedication to the protection of this land is unmatched,” according to Gates Watson of The Conservation Fund. “We are proud to have supported them and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with this important conservation effort.”

To visit the Smith Lake Waterfowl Production Area, take U.S. Highway 2 west and turn left on Kila Road. Visitors should note that Northwest Montana Waterfowl Production Areas are closed to all public access from March 1 to July 15 each year to limit disturbance to nesting birds.

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