Five Valleys Audubon, Montana Audubon, and Five Valleys Land Trust have teamed up to protect lands west of Missoula by focusing attention on birds that use riparian cottonwoods and associated wetlands and grasslands along the Clark Fork River. The Clark Fork River-Grass Valley Important Bird Area (IBA) is approximately 25,000 acres that includes mostly privately owned lands and some city, state and federal ownerships. The IBA was officially approved in 2006 following several years of bird surveys to scientifically document the breeding bird populations particularly for species of conservation concern (see list of birds breeding in the IBA).
Five Valleys Audubon has been engaged in Missoula’s open space preservation effort going back to 1995 when we promoted passage of first open space bonds for the City of Missoula and Missoula County. This has included seeing the IBA designated as a “cornerstone”, an area of focus for Missoula’s open space program. We frequently provide input to the process of selecting lands for which open space bond funds will be expended. This includes identifying specific lands having important habitat values and providing bird survey data for the areas involved. In several instances we have demonstrated our commitment to permanent habitat protection by contributing funds to help secure conservation easements on private lands.
To help protect habitat in the IBA we talk with landowners and city and county planners and decision makers to explain the significance of birds and their habitat in the IBA and promote the importance of protecting this important resource. We make presentations to interested civic groups about birds of the Missoula area and conservation efforts that have been accomplished and are still needed or underway. We explore with land owners their interests in pursuing conservation measures such as habitat improvement and conservation easements for their land. We interact with other conservation organizations to seek partnerships in conservation efforts, for example the Clark Fork Coalition, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Five Valleys Land Trust, Trout Unlimited, National Wildlife Federation, Montana Audubon, American Bird Conservancy, Confederated Salish-Kootenai Tribe, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Hybrid Energy, and Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks. Telling the story about the IBA and the need to protect habitat is an ongoing activity and we extend that outreach to areas outside the boundaries of the IBA.
Advocating for Grasslands
We are fortunate to have a small nesting population of Swainson’s Hawk, a grassland dependent raptor, in the greater Missoula Valley. In Montana it is primarily found in the extensive grasslands east of the continental divide. Our chapter supported a Raptor View Research Institute study of Swainson’s Hawk nest sites and nesting success so that we can monitor what is happening with this fragile population. The Swanson’s Hawk gets along well with human activity but must have grasslands and agricultural lands where it can forage for small rodents, the main food source for raising their young. We want the Missoula community to know about the Swainson’s Hawk and other raptors such as the Long-eared Owl that depend on grasslands in the Missoula Valley. We plan to advocate for conservation of grasslands and agricultural lands that are threatened with development.
Creating an Important Bird Area
This 8-minute short feature with Five Valleys Audubon’s Jim Brown explains how, and why, the IBA was created.
IBA Surveys Find Important Species
Beginning in 2002, Five Valleys Audubon volunteers have monitored breeding birds in this Important Bird Area. These data are essential for nomination of an area as an official IBA. Recent surveys, plus information collected informally by Five Valleys Audubon volunteers over the last 20 years, showed that the Missoula Valley is a special place for birds. Volunteers documented the occurrence of 230 species of birds in the area, more than half of the bird species recorded for the entire state of Montana! Thirteen of these are species of conservation priority nesting in the study area, including 6 pairs of Bald Eagles and high numbers of Lewis’s Woodpeckers, Red-naped Sapsuckers, and Willow Flycatchers. They also documented that the settling ponds at the Smurfit-Stone Container mill are used by 27 species of migratory shorebirds and more than a thousand shorebirds can be found there on a good day during the peak of southward migration.
In 2009 this IBA was awarded status as “continentally significant” because of the numbers of nesting Lewis’s Woodpeckers.