Land trust gets $1 million wetlands grant

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Enduring a brief snow squall, Canada geese forage Monday afternoon in a stubble field just north of Flathead Lake in Somers. The Flathead Land Trust has been negotiating with several landowners on the north shore of Flathead Lake in hopes of securing conservation easements or land purchases that will help protect wetlands and farmland adjacent to the Flathead Lake Waterfowl Production Area. The land trust will use part of a recent $1 million federal grant in negotiations with north shore landowners. Karen Nichols/Daily Inter Lake

The Flathead Land Trust ranked third out of 25 applicants nationwide for federal grant funding that will go toward wetlands conservation in the Flathead River Basin.

"We were the only project approved in Montana through this process," said Marilyn Wood, the trust's executive director. "It's pretty exciting. We're thrilled."

The trust is getting about $1 million through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act that was approved as part of the federal budget last week. The funding required the trust and its partners to provide more than $5 million in matching contributions for a combination of conservation projects totaling about $6.5 million, Wood said.

The matching contributions mostly come in the form of recent land purchases or donated conservation easements. A major easement donation came from Dr. Glenn Johnston two years ago involving about 700 acres of land along the Flathead River east of Kalispell.

It was the largest single-ownership easement ever executed on the Flathead Valley floor.

"That conservation easement was huge, and we used that as a match," Wood said.

The trust applied for the grant last August and learned that the application was approved in November, ranked third out of 25 across the country.

The $1 million will go toward three projects: an easement or outright land purchases on the north shore of Flathead Lake adjacent to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service waterfowl production area; an easement purchase of land along Church Slough on the Flathead River; and a wetlands conservation project in the Mission Valley.

It is the second North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant that the trust has received. It acquired just more than $900,000 in 2004 for similar projects.

Wood noted that the application review for the latest grant also considered the extent of partnerships with other organizations and landowners in conservation efforts, as well as the ecological benefits that the projects provide.

Besides landowners, the trust has teamed up with organizations such as Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks; Flathead Audubon; the Flathead Lakers; and the American Bird Conservancy.

Support for conservation projects 'shows a recognition of the value of our rivers and wetlands, to clean water and wildlife habitat here," Wood said.

Reporter Jim Mann may be reached at 758-4407 or by e-mail at jmann@dailyinterlake.com

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