FWP SEEKING TO IMPROVE HABITAT CONSERVATION, RECREATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES ON FLATHEAD LAKE ISLANDS
By Moosetrack Megan

Posted: October 24, 2021

Kalispell — Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) is proposing a plan to improve management of public recreation on its Flathead Lake Island properties, including BirdCedarDouglas, and Goose islands.

FWP manages the four islands as Wildlife Habitat Protection Areas (WHPAs) guided by a plan developed in 2009 by a committee of stakeholders, including residents, Tribal members, a county commissioner, business owners, and nonprofit organizations.

Recreational use of the islands continues to grow along with impacts to wildlife habitat. FWP is seeking to address issues of human waste, garbage, vandalism and more. In 2020, a wildfire with an unknown cause occurred on Bird Island. Over time, FWP enforcement staff have observed campfires that were not properly extinguished, and staff have documented and cleaned up numerous fire rings and associated burn-pile debris.

The most frequently observed impact is associated with the lack of restroom facilities on the islands. During peak summer months, heavy day use and overnight visitation has been documented on Cedar and Bird Islands and has resulted in large amounts of human waste. With growing use, litter is also persistent, and vandalism has been extreme.

FWP is seeking public input on a variety of proposals that seek to balance recreational opportunities and habitat conservation on the four islands. A breakdown of the specific proposed actions is detailed in a draft environmental assessment published online at https://fwp.mt.gov/news/public-notices.

Written comments can be mailed to: Flathead Lake Islands Proposed Recreation Management, cc: Coltrane; Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks; 490 N. Meridian Road; Kalispell, MT 59901, or sent by e-mail to JColtrane@mt.gov.

Comments can also be submitted online at https://fwp.mt.gov/news/public-notices.

Public comments will be accepted through 5 p.m., Nov. 22, 2021.

A virtual public information meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m., Nov. 3, 2021. The meeting will be streamed online through Zoom at https://fwp.mt.gov/aboutfwp/regions/region1.

FWP believes these proposals would positively impact the wildlife, vegetation, and water quality of the islands. The proposed actions would also enhance the recreational experience of visitors to the islands now and for years to come. These proposals build upon the 2009 Flathead Lake Island Management Plan, which was developed with extensive public engagement.

FWP proposals include:

  • Establish and enforce designated campsites for overnight stays on Bird and Cedar Islands. These campsites would be located in traditional use areas to limit proliferation of additional sites and overall impacts to the island’s wildlife habitat.
  • Campsites would be offered on a first come, first served basis. There would be a fee for camping, with revenues contributing toward island operations and maintenance. Mainland state park campgrounds on Flathead Lake utilize a campsites reservation system, and the WHPA campsites could be added to the reservation system at a future date.
  • Camping would not be permitted on the smaller Douglas and Goose islands to conserve wildlife habitat, and to conform with existing WHPA management.
  • Install and maintain centrally located composting toilets on both Bird and Cedar Islands to address human waste concerns and visitor health and safety issues.
  • Construct a minimal trail system to connect campsites and the composting toilet on Cedar Island.
  • Install appropriate signage and informational kiosks on all four islands to inform recreationists of the islands’ history and regulations.

There are alternatives to these proposals outlined in the draft environmental assessment. One alternative includes “No Action,” which would result in continued unregulated visitor use that will diminish the primary function of the islands as bird nesting habitat. A third alternative would involve prohibiting recreational use of any kind on the islands. This alternative would make it illegal for the public to recreate on the islands in any capacity, reducing overall public recreation opportunities within Flathead Lake.

For more information, visit https://fwp.mt.gov/news/public-notices.