How You Can Help Save Critical Lands

Protecting riparian areas doesn’t mean limiting access or recreation. It means using the resource wisely and maintaining the health of sensitive areas. The keys to clean water are healthy riparian areas, wetlands, forested areas and natural, undeveloped floodplains. In addition, conserving these areas protects the scenic value of the Flathead.

The following are things we can do to protect riparian areas and maintain the health and beauty of our waters.

If you live near a stream, river or lake:

  • Maintain or restore a buffer strip of native vegetation along stream and river banks, lakeshores and wetlands. Buffer Strips help filter out sediments and pollutants from runoff before it enters a stream, river, lake or groundwater.
  • Build on upland areas, away from riparian areas.
  • Maintain your septic system with annual checks, and pump your tank as needed.
  • Keep pets out of riparian areas.
  • Use stream-friendly bank stabilizing methods, such as revegetating with native plants.
  • Avoid activities that destabilize streambanks and harm riparian vegetation, such as clearing existing vegetation.
  • Consider placing a conservation easement on all or portion of your land to protect its riparian areas and wildlife habitat values for future generations.


  • Avoid applying pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers near streams.
  • Don’t dispose of yard clippings in streams.
  • Leave natural debris such as leaves and downed branches in place along riparian areas.
  • Use “least-toxic” pest management by integrating biological, mechanical and physical methods with chemical methods. The less toxic the method, the safer it is for aquatic, human, plant and animal life.


  • Fence livestock away from stream and river banks.
  • Do not mix, apply, or dispose of weed-control chemicals, used motor oil, or other toxic substances near streams.
  • Use farming practices that reduce soil erosion and increase water infiltration, such as minimum tillage, leaving fields in stubble over winter, and vegetated stream and river banks.


  • Stay on the trails and avoid low spots and watercourses when cycling, horseback riding, hiking or riding ATVs.
  • Prevent the spread of noxious weeds and exotic aquatic plants and animals by washing vehicles and boats.
  • Help prevent erosion by boating at no-wake speeds near riverbanks.
  • Take care to avoid spills when fueling boats.

Disposing of toxic materials and waste:

  • Dispose of paints, thinners and other solvents at a household hazardous waste collection facility.
  • Recycle motor oil and antifreeze. Do not dump into waterways, a septic system or down storm drains.
  • Use household cleaning products that have less than 0.5 percent phosphorus.
  • Avoid dumping cleaning wastewater into streams or nearby storm drains.

Leaving a legacy for future generations:

  • Encourage your neighbors, developers, and state and local governments to protect riparian areas in your watershed. Support local land use policies and voluntary stewardship practices to help protect these critical areas.
  • Consider placing a conservation easement on all or part of your land to protect its riparian areas and wildlife habitat values into the future.
  • Join the Flathead Lakers to support our efforts to protect riparian areas, critical lands and water quality.

Help for protecting riparian areas

As a landowner, you are not on your own in protecting riparian areas. You can get technical and financial assistance from a number of agencies and organizations. They can help you assess the health of a stream or wetland on your property and offer ways to protect it for future generations.

The Guide to Stream Permitting in Montana lists the laws that must be followed before initiating any activity in or near a stream, lake or wetland. A hard copy is available from your local Conservation District.

The Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (406-751-2240) can help you implement grazing Best Management Practices (BMPs) in riparian areas to help protect water quality.

Landowners can receive assistance from various agencies and organizations with riparian protection projects including erosion control, bank stabilization, fencing, protecting water quality, forest management, fish and wildlife habitat improvement or protection, irrigation systems improvement, revegetation, and resource protection in crop, ranch and forest lands.

See our BMPs Tool Box for more information about implementing water quality best management practices on your property.