Resource Management

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Smith Lake WPA is an excellent area to view waterfowl and shorebirds during spring and fall migration. Mountain Bluebirds and Tree Swallows nest in bird boxes along the fence lines.  

  • Northwest Montana Wetland Management District Flathead County

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    Northwest Montana Wetland Management District Flathead County manages approximately 5,131 acres of land that include temporary, seasonal, and permanent wetlands, riparian areas as well as adjacent grass and forested uplands. Wetland and upland areas provide habitat for migratory and nesting waterfowl, shorebirds, waterbirds, raptors and other upland birds. Montana mammals also call these areas home including white-tailed deer, badgers, coyotes, striped skunks, mink, muskrats and voles.

    Over the years a variety of different management techniques have been used by Refuge staff on each of the five Waterfowl Production Areas in the Northwest Montana Wetland Management District Flathead County. Regardless of the management strategy used, the ultimate goal is to maintain and enhance lands under our management for resident and migratory wildlife. Management techniques include prescribed burning, haying, grazing, seeding and weed management including both chemical and bio-controls. Each of five Waterfowl Production Areas under the District has a unique history and future.  

     

  • Seasonal Closures and Law Enforcement Issues

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    Northwest Montana Wetland Management District Flathead County WPAs are closed from March 1 – July 15 each year to limit disturbance to resting migrating birds and help protect nesting waterfowl and other wetland birds. Ground nesting birds such as waterfowl, shorebirds, water birds and grassland birds are vulnerable to disturbance and predation. Dogs pose a particular threat during the nesting period because they range over a large area and are adept at smelling and finding birds and nests. Restricting all public access to WPAs during nesting season is one management tool used by staff to help protect these important ground nesting birds. 

    Flathead WPA is located on the north end of Flathead Lake next to the community of Big Fork and Somers Montana. Flathead Lake water levels change due to Kerr Dam releases at the south end of the lake. Fluctuating water levels often result in seasonal exposure of open beaches during times that migrating birds stop over and rest along their route and bald eagles and waterfowl are nesting on the WPA. Refuge Law Enforcement Officers patrol and educate both Big Fork and Somers residents as well as seasonal visitors to the area about the WPA closures.
     

  • Restoration Projects - Flathead WPA

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    The 2,370 acre Flathead Waterfowl Production Area was acquired in the early 1970’s. It is located on the northern shore of Flathead Lake. When purchased, the WPA consisted of approximately 7 miles of shore line and a 400 acre island at the mouth of the Flathead River. Years of wave erosion (resulting from higher water levels due to Kerr Dam) have caused extensive habitat losses to the WPA. Several miles of wetland habitat along the Lake’s shoreline as well as the delta island at the mouth of the River have eroded resulting in up to a ½ mile wide strip of an open, seasonal “mud flat” beach existing at low lake levels. Mitigation funds resulting from this damage allowed the Service to acquire both McGregor Meadows WPA and Lost Trail National Wildlife Refuge. 

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  • Restoration Projects - McGregor Meadows WPA

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    The 799 acre McGregor Meadows Waterfowl Production Area was a partially drained wetland with seasonally flooded meadows when purchased by Montana Power Company in 2000 and conveyed to the US Fish and Wildlife Service to mitigate the loss of habitats due to the operation of Kerr Dam on Flathead Lake.

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  • Weed Management Issues

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    Weeds have a destructive impact on federal lands such as Waterfowl Production Areas because they displace native plant species which provide food and cover for wildlife. The long term impacts of these weeds can have a devastating effect on WPA wildlife such as ducks, geese, shorebirds and other smaller birds such as seed eating sparrows. Mammals such as deer can also be harmed as non-native weeds out compete important native forbs which are important foods for our native wildlife.

    Northwest Montana Wetland Management District Flathead County has an active integrated weed management program on all WPA’s that includes targeted herbicide spraying, mechanical (pulling or mowing), fire, as well as biological controls. Refuge staff cooperates with both the Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Invasive Species Program and the Flathead County Weed Coordinator to manage our noxious weed issues. 

  • Water Control Systems

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    Batavia WPA is the only WPA within the Northwest Montana Wetland Management District Flathead County with water control structures.

    Ashley Creek, a free-flowing tributary of Ashley Lake, flows through the WPA and offers the only source of water to the unit. There is a high groundwater table in this area and much of the area was farmed prior to becoming a WPA. There are still a few areas of upland native grass remaining around the artificial impoundments. Dikes and then islands were created in the impoundments in the mid to late 70’s which are still present today. The dikes were reconstructed in 1998.

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  • Fencing

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    Flathead County is the fastest growing county in Montana. Residential and subdivision development continues to increase throughout the Flathead Valley. Lands surrounding Blasdel WPA are increasingly being converted from agricultural/pastures to houses. Along with this increase in development comes an increase in public use both legal and illegal. Fencing WPAs with wildlife friendly fencing materials is one way to help reduce livestock trespass as well as off-road ATV and vehicle use. 

  • Maintaining and Documenting WPA Water Rights

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    Montana waters belong to the state and not to individual land owners. Land owners only possess a right to use water within state guidelines. This right to use water is determined by the order in which the water was first used – “first in time is first in right”. Water users are limited to the amount of water that can be beneficially used – the rest of the water must pass down to the other users in order of when they claimed their share. During wet years this water rights system works pretty well but in dry years water can become scarce.

    Three of the Northwest Montana Wetland Management District Flathead County WPAs have Montana State Water Rights - McGregor Meadows WPA,Smith Lake WPA and Batavia WPA. Two do not - Blasdel WPA and Flathead WPA. In order to protect the WPA “first in time is first in right” water right, water use must be documented to prove its use is beneficial according to Montana State Water Rights law. For WPAs, water rights have been set aside for fish and wildlife and irrigation (also for wildlife such as waterfowl). Staff must document fish and wildlife use on an annual basis on each WPA in order to protect their state granted water rights.