The Flathead Lakers work with our Critical Lands Project and River to Lake Initiative partners to conserve and restore lands critical to water quality, including wetlands, vegetated stream and river banks, floodplains, shallow groundwater areas, and associated prime farm lands.
Project accomplishments include more than 5,000 acres of critical lands protected through voluntary conservation easements and land acquisitions. The McWenneger-Weaver Project was the first such collaborative project.
1,500 Acres Protected
Several Flathead farm families deserve thanks for their commitment to conserving wetlands, riparian areas and prime farm land on their properties through the McWenneger-Weaver Sloughs Conservation Project.
Flathead Lakers President Rose Schwennesen presented Ray and Darlene Sanders and Susan and Steve Cummings with framed aerial photographs of their lands during a celebration in Kalispell hosted by the Flathead Lakers. Other families recognized for their participation in the project included Rusby and Liz Seabaugh, Larry and Bernice O’Connell, Mr. and Mrs. John Heine and Dave Heine, and Eric and Rebecca Smith.
“This project gives landowners the opportunity to be compensated for development values they forego,” Lakers President (at the time) Rose Schwennesen said. “But most importantly, conservation of critical areas and important farm land at this scale happened only because of their conservation ethic.”
The project protects nearly 1,500 acres through voluntary purchased and donated development rights. The lands remain in private ownership and in continued agricultural production. These lands around Weaver and McWenneger Sloughs and at Foys Bend along the Flathead River help protect water quality, provide fish and wildlife habitat, support recreation, and contribute to maintaining the agricultural heritage and economy in the Flathead Valley.
Conservation planning expert Marty Zeller said, “Until you actually see conservation projects…until you have stories coming out of the land, you can’t see the true potential” of these efforts. The “power of place” is what engages the community in embracing the conservation of priority critical lands, “and you have it in spades.”
The Weaver-McWenneger Project, was the first collaborative effort to secure the protection of high priority wetlands, riparian areas and associated farm land.
What is significant about the Weaver-McWenneger Project?
Weaver and McWenneger Sloughs have long been recognized for their multiple conservation values. These significant wetlands protect water quality and provide valuable wildlife habitat, including waterfowl habitat. Another component of the project, at Foys Bend along the Flathead River, also protects important fisheries habitat. The areas protected also include prime farm lands and contribute to maintaining our agricultural heritage and economy. The long-time farming families who participated in the project have a strong desire to protect both the farm land and conservation values of their properties.
Success of the Critical Lands Project hinges on finding ways to protect lands with the highest conservation values. The purchase and donation of development rights is one such way, and has been used in the Weaver-McWenneger Project. Purchasing development rights fairly compensates the private landowners for foregoing subdivision while still maintaining private ownership and private land management. The land owners also agreed, as part of the project, to accept a “bargain sale,” or lower than fair market price, for their development rights.
Assembling the funding needed to protect Weaver and McWenneger Sloughs and Foys Bend required far more effort than a single entity could muster. At least 28 organizations, agencies and farm families participated in making this project a success. The project is a working example of how the many participants achieved common goals and saved outstanding community assets for future generations.
More Conservation Project Success
Siderius Family Flathead River Projects
Siderius family members placed conservation easements on several parcels along the Flathead River in 2008. The 670 acres protected include rich riparian forest lands, sloughs and prime agricultural lands. The Siderius family has farmed the lands for generations, and the easements will protect them as working farms and valuable wildlife habitat, and protect water quality. The easements were secured with grant funding from the federal Farm and Ranch Protection Program and from the Bonneville Power Administration’s Hungry Horse Dam fisheries mitigation program.
First North Shore Conservation Project
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks purchased 160 acres on the North Shore of Flathead Lake west of the river from Doug and Donna Miller in 2008, a first step in achieving the River to Lake North Shore conservation vision. The property is adjacent to the Flathead Lake Waterfowl Production Area. The north shore is one of the only east-west wildlife corridors left in the valley, connecting the Jewel Basin area of the Swan Range with the Blacktail Mountain area. The largest stretch of undeveloped shoreline around the lake, the north shore provides critical habitat for tremendous flights of waterfowl, as well as many other bird species and a wide variety of wildlife. FWP plans to manage most of the property for fish and wildlife habitat and create a small state park.
Johnston Flathead River Project
A 2008 conservation easement donation by the Johnston family protects nearly 700 acres of wetlands, riparian forests and associated farm lands along the Flathead River. We greatly appreciate the Johnston family’s contribution to critical lands conservation and their stewardship for the benefit of clean water, fish and wildlife, and future generations. The Flathead Land Trust holds the conservation easement in perpetuity.
Church Slough Project
Church Slough is a magnificent oxbow slough along the Flathead River north of Flathead Lake, which is rich in birds and other wildlife. The Flathead Land Trust helped landowners Ben and Maureen Louden place a conservation easement on 300 acres of wetlands, riparian habitat, floodplains and farmland. The conservation easement helps the Loudens maintain their property in one piece to pass on to their children while protecting unique wildlife, water quality, and farmland values. A Fish & Wildlife Service North American Wetlands Act grant, secured by the Flathead Lakers and other partners, helped purchase the easement.
Louden Family Flathead River Projects
Members of the multigenerational Louden family placed three conservation easements on 540 acres of farmland, wetlands, riparian habitat and floodplain. The properties stretch along the Flathead River to the east and west of Church Slough, increasing the connectivity between existing conservation areas along the river and associated wetland sloughs.
Foys Bend Fisheries Conservation Area
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) purchased a 243-acre property along two miles of the Flathead River at Foys Bend. The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), which funded the acquisition to mitigate fisheries impacts of Hungry Horse Dam, holds a perpetual conservation easement on the property. A draft management plan will include recommendations for public access, habitat enhancement, weed management, agricultural land uses, education, and other activities.
Bigfork Fisheries Conservation Area
Bigfork Fisheries Conservation Area: FWP purchased a 70-acre property on the North Shore of Flathead Lake east of the Flathead River. The property is adjacent to the Flathead Lake Waterfowl Production Area (WPA). This project and the acquisition of 160 acres on the North Shore west of the river last year are a first step in achieving our North Shore conservation vision. Partners continue working with landowners to achieve practical conservation solutions that will sustain the North Shore’s special qualities.