By Rose Leach
Happy New Year! Because January is when our annual report to National Audubon is due, I am happy to report that I finished it on time, which is an enormous relief. We had some highlights this year, despite Covid dampening our in-person meetings until recently.
First, I want to recognize the herculean efforts from Jim Brown, Poody McLaughlin, Gerhard Knudsen, our student intern Clint Whittle-Frazier, Lena Viall, and our other partners and collaborators who collectively finalized our updated Grass Valley Important Bird Area (IBA) brochure and map. Having accurate information about land ownership and conservation lands in map form helps us when we offer testimony on local planning (which we do often throughout the year) and when we apply for grant funding. Hard copies of the brochure are available now, and you can download a copy of the IBA from our website. Thanks to everyone who made this years-long-effort possible.
Chapter volunteers have spent more than 3,000 hours on various project this year. One such project is the ongoing planning for the Fort Missoula Natural Area, aka the Gravel Pit ponds behind the soccer fields. The site is a true gem for our city, where open grassland habitat on McCauley Butte meets the Bitterroot River’s riparian habitat, and both are adjacent to two fairly large-sized open water habitats. The result of the close proximity of these diverse habitats is excellent bird and wildlife habitat in an easily accessible site. The current bird count for the ponds and some adjacent forested area is a whopping 224 species. For context, that is slightly more than half of the entire bird list for our very large and diverse state (442 species!). The official state list of Montana birds is available here.
The two ponds host significant numbers of migrating waterfowl, in part because they are relatively large and secure from roads, dogs, and other human disturbance during important migration seasons. This fall alone, the north pond had a Long-tailed Duck from November 12th until the ponds froze over in mid-December. This is a large sea duck not often found in Missoula County. The south pond had another sea duck—a Black Scoter (a female or first winter bird) for at least a day, as well as a late-season Common Loon, who also hung around till the ponds froze over. None of these species would be found and viewable in the Missoula area without the habitat and viewing opportunities afforded by these former gravel pit ponds.
Speaking of McCauley Butte, our Chapter has been working hard to provide meaningful input into a proposed subdivision on the north-facing slope of the butte. We have gathered data from eBird as well as our night-flight recorder system to help with our analysis. The area provides habitat as part of a larger migration corridor connecting the Bitterroot and Clark Fork valleys. Stay tuned for more on this effort.
The Chapter provided letters of support for a variety of planning and granting opportunities this year, as we have since our inception. One of the most consequential was our support of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ proposed management of the National Bison Range, which came to fruition this year. We received a nice thank-you from Council Chairwoman Shelly Fyant for our efforts, which is always great to hear.
The Chapter again partnered with Five Valleys Land Trust (FVLT) to do bird surveys on some of their lands of conservation importance. We often contribute dollars to the purchase of conservation easements through this partnership, which helps in their securing conservation grant funds. This year, they received an astounding 3.7- million-dollar grant for agriculture conservation in the Flint Creek Valley, where we have helped in bird and habitat surveys. We are proud and so pleased to help our conservation partner successfully obtain and implement this grant funding. If you would like to be involved in these surveys, keep an eye on the newsletter, or contact board member and FVAS founding father Jim Brown for more details. Partnering with others really gives us more bang for our conservation efforts.
Speaking of grants, we recently sent a letter of support to the Clark Fork Coalition to help them apply for funding for the proposed Grant Creek Restoration project, focusing on the part of the creek that flows through town, downstream of I-90 and down to the river. Imagine the benefits to our city with this successful project! Stay tuned for more on this topic, and thanks to our member and partner Will McDowell for connecting us to this project.
Now that I think of it, there are even more projects we have worked on, so much so that I will need another PEEPs to cover it all. In listing all that we have accomplished, I am so grateful for all our hard-working members and conservation partners in our wonderful community. Who knew that the drudgery of compiling our annual report would lead to this warm feeling? Happy late winter to all our readers and members, and we will see you in the coming field season for more conservation success stories.