State may get $2 million riverfront property

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John Vore, area wildlife biologist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, walks through riparian habitat on a 245-acre parcel of land along Foy's Bend on the Flathead River, which the department is slated to acquire this spring. The project, which will provide protections for more than 2 miles of riverfront riparian habitat, will be considered for approval by the state FWP commission and the state Land Board. Karen Nichols/Daily Inter Lake

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is closing in on two waterfront land acquisitions with Bonneville Power Administration funding.

A 245-acre parcel of undeveloped land along Foy's Bend on the Flathead River south of Kalispell is being purchased for just more than $2 million, plus a 53-acre parcel along Hay Creek in the North Fork Flathead River drainage is being purchased for about $400,000.

Environmental reviews for both projects were amended to clarify terms of conservation easements that will be held on both properties by BPA.

Both projects will be considered for approval by the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission this month and both must be approved by the state Land Board to proceed, according to Joel Tohtz, the state's regional fisheries mitigation coordinator.

The Foy's Bend property adjoins 190 acres of land that are already under conservation easement and is across the river from another 265 acres under easement. The project will provide protections for just more than 2 miles of riverfront riparian habitat.

"I think it's a marvelous acquisition for a bunch of reasons," Tohtz said, noting that it fits in perfectly with the patchwork of other conservation protections along the braided lower section of the Flathead River.

In addition to protecting fish, wildlife and waterfowl habitat, the project will provide for public access from the river and from Steel Bridge Road adjacent to the property. However, BPA's easement comes with restrictions that probably will prohibit development of a fishing access site.

Tohtz said it more likely will be managed for public access, including hunting and fishing, in a manner similar to state wildlife management areas. There may, for instance, be seasonal closures to provide security for waterfowl nesting.

The particulars for managing the Foy's Bend and Hay Creek properties will be determined through management plans that have to meet the approval of BPA and its easement restrictions, said Gael Bissell, a state wildlife biologist who worked on the projects.

"That will be a whole new process' that will include opportunities for public review, Bissell said.

Both projects got considerable public support during comment periods last year.

"In both cases the projects will not only preserve and protect native fisheries habitat but will also provide long-term benefits to many other wildlife species associated with the riparian and upland habitats on both properties," the Flathead Audubon Society wrote.

The Hay Creek project will provide protections for 53 acres of undeveloped land near the creek's confluence with the North Fork Flathead River.

Both projects were ranked through a process that involves Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, BPA and the Confederated Salish-Kootenai Tribes. The funding comes from BPA's fish and wildlife mitigation program, which is aimed at offsetting habitat loss that resulted from construction of Hungry Horse Dam and other federal hydropower projects in the Northwest.

The arrangement with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the tribes was reauthorized two years ago with $8 million for fisheries habitat projects in the Flathead River basin. The state and the tribes already have spent about $3.5 million of the money on habitat projects in the Swan, Flathead and Jocko valleys.

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

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