Another Piece of the Flathead River Conservation Puzzle Falls into Place

Land Trust adds 155-acre parcel to network of conserved land totaling 12,000 acres

By Tristan Scott
An aerial view depicting a portion of the 150 acres of wetland along the lower Flathead River recently protected under a conservation easement brokered between the Flathead Land Trust and the Danford family. Courtesy photo

The Flathead Land Trust has placed 155 acres of land under a conservation easement in the lower Flathead River corridor, adding to the network of nearly 12,000 acres it has already preserved or helped protect through easements and partnerships.

Dubbed the Flathead River Conservation Project, the latest piece of the conservation puzzle was completed through a years-long collaboration between the nonprofit organization and the Danford family, which has farmed the land for nearly a century. The conservation easement protects key wetlands and riparian habitat as well as rich farm soils along a third of a mile of the Flathead River adjacent to 725 acres of conserved private land.

Billed as a key stepping stone toward maintaining the water quality of Flathead River and Flathead Lake, the project also benefits fish and wildlife, farm soil, “and the incredible quality of life we enjoy in the Flathead Valley,” Paul Travis, executive director of the Flathead Land Trust, said.

According to Travis, the organization has been working to secure the land through an easement for several years, during which time it raised matching community funds and received widespread support.

“It’s an incredible piece of the lower valley along the Flathead River which will now never change,” Travis said.

The land serves a suite of wildlife species while the wetland adjacent to the project property is home to threatened bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout, a species of special concern. Thousands of waterfowl use not only the river and wetlands on the project property, but also its farmland to feed and refuel during their migrations.

The easement prevents the disruption of fecund farm soils identified as some of the richest in the nation by the Natural Resource Conservation Service in agriculture, Travis said.

“The Danford family has been good stewards of this wildlife-rich land for almost 100 years,” Travis said. “This conservation easement ensures the family’s agricultural legacy, as well as the open space and rich wildlife habitat along this stretch of the Flathead River lives on in perpetuity.”

“We are very thankful and fortunate to work with the folks at the Flathead Land Trust that helped us make this ultimate goal come true to perpetually protect and preserve our beloved family farm and its unique wetlands for the future generations to come,” Bob Danford and Terri Peterson said in a statement.

The project was made possible with a federal grant from the Natural Resource Conservation Service Agricultural Land Easement Program. The grant program provides funding to farmers to maintain their land for agricultural uses as development pressures loom.

Non-federal matching funds were also needed to obtain the grant, which the Flathead Land Trust secured by working with local organizations. The non-federal matching funds were provided by the Flathead Lakers, Cinnabar Foundation, Horne Family Foundation, Charlotte Martin Foundation, Vital Ground Foundation, Montana Ducks Unlimited, Montana Trout Unlimited, Flathead Valley Trout Unlimited, Flathead Wildlife, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Conoco Phillips Spirit of Conservation program, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Wildlife Mitigation Program, and over 100 other individuals from the community.

The Danford family also donated over a third of the value of the conservation easement through a bargain sale, Travis said.

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