Fish, Wildlife and Parks looks to expand a share-cropping effort on the North Shore of Flathead Lake to open up more land for farming, and more food for wildlife. Migratory birds in particular utilize the spring farm fields in the Flathead as a stopover on their annual journey back north.
The North Shore of Flathead Lake consists of low lying farm land running east and west between Somers and the Flathead River as it enters the lake at Bigfork. Much of it is active farmland next to housing developments and a Waterfowl Protection Area. Last year “we tried some farming on our north shore properties last year,” Science Program Supervisor Alan Wood with Fish, Wildlife and Parks said, “the waterfowl responded beyond our expectations.”
FWP contracted with a local farmer to plant grain on about 80 acres of the 160 acres of FWP property. Wood says one day they counted upwards of 5-thousand-birds feeding on this patch of ground during the annual migratory waterfowl counts this past spring.
“There were a whole variety of waterfowl species. There’s a lot of Gadwall and Widgeon, and Pintail, and Mallards, and Canada Geese, were all there in the field kind of swarming around together,” Wood said.
The Flathead Valley sees waves of migrating waterfowl stopping off to refuel each spring. Wood says the annual spring migration counts that have been conducted by volunteers and biologists over the past couple of years are an effort to quantify how the birds are using the valley. He says farm fields are important stopping points for the birds and in the Flathead the number and size of farm fields has been shrinking, “where, most of the state, agriculture is still a real major staple of the economy, and on our properties, we would be focusing on cover, and nesting areas and things like that in other parts of the state,” Wood said. “But here, the agricultural crops are so important, and relatively few, and declining through time.”
Wood said they’ve entered into similar agreements with farmers in the Mission Valley. FWP contracts with a farmer who will plant grain on a set amount of land. The farmer harvests a certain amount, and leaves some for the birds, as well as other wildlife like deer and small game.
“It’s actually a pretty good strategy for us because we can get the farming done, and weed control, and some of the things that just go along with land management, and get somebody to do that for us so that there’s no cost to the state and so they can continue and expand their business in terms of crop production,” Wood said.
FWP is proposing continuing the share-cropping arrangement on the North Shore for an additional three years. The proposal is out for public review with comments due to Region One headquarters in Kalispell this Thursday, July 12. Farming on the land would then go out for bid.