It's for the birds



Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has its eye on 189 acres of land along the north shore of Flathead Lake with the goal of leaving it for the birds.

The proposed acquisition is part of FWP's goal of preserving water quality in and around Flathead Lake and creating hospitable bird habitat, especially for migratory species looking for a stopover. If the sale goes through it would be just one part of a larger conservation effort called the River to Lake Initiative,—a multiparty effort that seeks to preserve the Flathead Valley's environmental integrity.

The land, which borders a similarly sized FWP management area, was on the real estate market when the Flathead Land Trust approached the owner. The owner agreed to an all or nothing sale for $1.6 million, or $130,000 less than full market value.

The money for the purchase would come from a fund given to the state by the Bonneville Power Administration to offset the impacts of the Hungry Horse Dam. FWP would own the land but BPA would hold a conservation easement on the property to ensure the state followed through on its commitment to keep it a wetlands habitat.

According to a report released by FWP, Montana Audubon designated the lake's north shore as an Important Bird Area in 2009. The group recorded more than 229 bird species visiting that particular part of the lake, with 172 species deemed regulars.

Most of the property in question is currently working cropland and prone to seasonal flooding—exactly why FWP says it would make ideal bird habitat.

"In the spring 60,000 waterfowl can come through this area," says Alan Wood, FWP science program supervisor. "It's a key stopping point for migratory birds, especially pintails and tundra swan. "

FWP is taking public comments on the proposal until Aug. 31 and will hold a public hearing Aug. 20 at the Flathead Lake Inn and Suites near Somers.

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