Just 50 miles north of Missoula, Montana are waterfowl havens managed by the Northwest Montana Wetland Management District. The district is a division of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of the Interior. Included in the management district are the National Bison Range, Ninepipe and Pablo National Wildlife Refuges and 9 Waterfowl Production Areas (WPA).
The Northwest Montana Wetland Management District in Lake County was established in 1970. Along with WPAs, the district also manages 6,300 acres under the Conservation Easement Program. Lake County WPAs and Conservation Easements are all within 3 to 9 miles north and northwest of the National Bison Range in the heart of the Mission Valley.
The purpose of management districts like this is to make suitable habitat and lands available for migratory bird use under the Migratory Bird Conservation Act.
WPAs are smaller tracts of wetlands and uplands purchased with funds from the sale of Federal Duck Stamps under the Small Wetlands Acquisition Program. Units that contain habitat for waterfowl are purchased from willing sellers when money and acreage are available. Units are sometimes expanded as opportunities arise.
Lake County conservation easements were begun in 1994 are tracts of land where ownership remain with fee title owner, but the rights to subdivide or develop the tract are purchased by the Service with Land and Water Conservation Funds and Migratory Bird monies.
Landscape characteristics in the production areas located on the valley floor consist of intermountain grasslands mixed with high densities of wetlands. Grassland habitat includes important shrubs and grasses that provide dense nesting cover. Some areas maintain wheat and grain food plots for migratory waterfowl that also help keep these areas weed free before planting back to grasses.
These wetland habitats support many waterfowl species such as mallards, redheads, American widgeon, pintails, northern shovelers, blue and green winged teal, geese, and Trumpeter swans.
Upland areas within the boundaries are used by many birds including ring-necked pheasants and gray partridge. The grasses and shrubs provide nesting habitat for birds such as meadowlarks and sparrows.
One WPA has a peregrine falcon hacking tower that has a nesting pair occupying it annually for a decade. Observations show that the pair regularly fledges young from this nest.
Commonly nesting in the Lake County WPAs are short-eared owls, Great horned owls and northern harriers. Species wintering in the WPAs include rough-legged hawks, red-tailed hawks and northern goshawks.
Shorebirds use the WPAs during migration and for nesting. Some you will see are killdeer, American avocet, black-necked stilts, Wilson’s phalaropes and yellowlegs.
Of course small mammals find these lands suitable for habitation, too and are part of the food chain. Muskrat, striped skunk, mink, badgers, meadow voles and porcupine abound in these areas.
WPAs are cultural resources open to public hunting of waterfowl and upland in game birds accordance with applicable Federal, State and Tribal regulations.
Because Lake County WPAs are located on the Flathead Indian Reservation and Tribal Trust Lands of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, fishing and trapping are allowed in accordance with applicable State and Tribal regulations. Nature observation and wildlife photography are encouraged.
Other uses such as farming, haying and grazing are allowed on the WPAs under Special-Use Permits.
Lake County WPAs units, acreage and dates of purchase are listed below:
Montgomery – 80 acres, November, 1974
Sandsmark – 400 acres, October, 1975
Herak – 80 acres, November, 1975
Duck Haven – 719 acres, March, 1988
Johnson 80 – 80 acres, December, 1989
Crow – 1,549 acres, December, 1989
Anderson – 163 acres, February, 1991
Kickinghorse – 169 acres, February, 1991
Ereaux – 28 acres, 1998
Contacts for the Northwest Montana Wetland Management District – Lake County Units:
Contact: Refuge Manager
Address: National Bison Range
58355 Bison Range Road
Moiese, MT 59824