North shore preservation planned

BPA would pay $1.6 million for land near lake

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The metal blades of an old windmill clanged over the fields of golden wheat last week on the north shore of Flathead Lake. An old red barn, left over from the Wittlake family farm, still stands, while rusted old farm implements lie in the tall grass.

In the shadow of the 100-year old barn, farmer Dan Brosten chatted with Gael Bissell about a lease agreement on the 189 acres of land that spread out around the barn. This is his wheat he planted, and it’s the wheat he’ll be harvesting.

Bissell, a wildlife biologist with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, may soon be enjoying the harvest as well. Bissell is helping negotiate a purchase of this land that’s tucked between the Flathead River and the north shore of Flathead Lake. Bissell is working on the details of having the state purchase the land from Kalispell attorney Darrell Worm and place it in a conservation easement. The easement will keep the land in farming, and also will benefit wildlife and public recreation. The $1.6 million purchase price will be paid by the Bonneville Power Administration. BPA frequently reimburses the state to mitigate damage caused by the creation of Hungry Horse Dam.

Built in the 1940s, the dam controls water levels in Flathead Lake, causing shoreline erosion and loss of wildlife habitat. Although this land does not adjoin Flathead Lake, it has direct effects on Flathead Lake wildlife, Bissell said.

Buying this land is part of the ongoing conservation effort along the north shore of Flathead Lake for farming, wildlife and public use. There are about 1,000 acres along the north shore of Flathead Lake that are being farmed but do not have permanent conservation protection on them, Bissell said.

Flathead Land Trust had sought to purchase an easement on the property and had been working with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks for several years on the details. Then BPA “changed its mind,” Bissell said, and sought to work with only one party — the state.

Flathead Land Trust had helped do much of the legwork with the landowner and get the conservation easement process started, Bissell said. It doesn’t matter who finalized the conservation easement, he added. What matters is that the land is protected.

“They got the project off the ground and moving,” she said. “We’re very appreciative of all their help.”

If the state finalizes the deal, BPA would retain a conservation agreement on the property. The primary reasons for buying the land are to protect ground water, surface water and wetlands near Flathead Lake. Other benefits would be protecting and managing the land to restore and improve natural habitats and continue annual crop production.

The land currently is leased to Dan Brosten, who farms several other properties along the north shore. The property lies adjacent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Service waterfowl production area to the south, and the 160-acre North Shore State Park and wildlife management area the state acquired in 2008. The land adjoins two private properties that have conservation easements on them.

“It fits really well” with the existing land uses, Bissell said.

Public comment will be taken through Aug. 31 on the proposal to use federal money to purchase and manage the property. Comments can be emailed to Nancy Ivy at nivy@mt.gov.

A public meeting will be in Somers Tuesday, Aug. 20, at 6 p.m. at the Flathead Lake Inn and Suites (formerly the White Oak Lodge). The environmental assessment is at fwp.mt.gov in the public notices section.

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