Wetland and riparian resources have always been highly valued by the Salish, Pend d'Oreille, and Kootenai people. The great abundance and diversity of wetland and riparian resources on the Flathead Indian Reservation (FIR) have been adversely impacted by logging, grazing, and agricultural practices; construction and operation of hydroelectric and irrigation dams and facilities; land conversion for agriculture, development and roads; long-term drought, and surface and ground-water withdrawals; and introduction of non-indigenous aquatic invasive species. I would venture to say that the Flathead Reservation has one of the most diverse wetland types in the State, from side hill seeps to high mountain wet meadows. No matter where one travels in the mountains of the Reservation he doesn’t have to look hard to find water from one source or another. I assume this served our ancestors in many different ways in the past. 

The Tribes’ goal is to halt wetland and riparian losses on the Reservation and ultimately work to restore quantity and quality of these important aquatic resources. To help achieve these goals the Wetlands Conservation Program assesses wetland and riparian status and trends through field assessments and NWI updates; examines issues and projects affecting Reservation wetland and riparian areas; provides technical assistance, public outreach and education; and articulates Tribal wetland conservation goals and objectives.

The Wetlands Conservation Plan sets both an interim goal and a long term goal for the wetland and riparian resources of the Flathead Indian Reservation. The interim goal is to halt the loss of the remaining wetlands and riparian areas and the decline in wetland and riparian quality. The long-term goal is to increase the acreage of wetlands and riparian areas and improve the quality of the resource.

A Shrinking Resource
By the 1980’s the contiguous United States had lost 53 percent of the wetland area in existence at the time of European settlement (Dahl 1990). The area that is now Montana is estimated to have lost 306,700 wetland acres or 27 percent of the original wetland area. Although the rate of wetland loss has been reduced in recent years, the United States continues a net loss of approximately 100,000 acres of wetlands every year (EPA 1998). The Flathead Reservation forms an important key to reversing wetland losses in the United States.

The interim and long terms goals are a synthesis of Tribal goals for wetlands and riparian lands articulated in prior plans, strategies, ordinances, consent decrees, environmental standards, and best management practices listed below:

  • Ordinance 64A, Shoreline Protection (CSKT 1977);
  • Ordinance 87A, Aquatic Lands Conservation (CSKT 1985);
  • Integrated Noxious Weed Management Plan (USDI/BIA 1992);
  • Lower Flathead River Corridor Management Plan (CSKT 1992);
  • Wetlands Conservation Strategy For the Flathead Indian Reservation (CSKT 1994b);
  • Flathead Reservation Comprehensive Resources Plan, Volumes I and II (CSKT 1994a);
  • Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Surface Water Quality Standards and Antidegradation Policy (CSKT 1995b);
  • Forestry Best Management Practices (CSKT 1995a);
  • Flathead Indian Reservation Draft Forest Management Plan (CSKT 1996);
  • Kerr Dam Mitigation and Management Plan (FERC 1997);
  • Kerr Dam Fish and Wildlife Implementation Strategy (CSKT et al. 1998a);
  • Draft Jocko River Watershed Plan (CSKT 1998);
  • State of Montana and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes vs. ARCO, April 19, 1999; and Nonpoint Source Assessment For Streams and Rivers, Flathead Indian Reservation, Montana (CSKT 1999).

The Wetlands Conservation Plan is not intended to replace existing wetlands protection and restoration mechanisms, rather the intention is adoption and incorporation. The wetlands conservation plan provides the framework linking and coordinating Tribal programs with wetland or wetland-related duties so all function together as a comprehensive wetlands protection program. Objectives of the wetlands conservation plan are presented throughout the plan and are summarized in Chapter 6: Plan Implementation.

Wetlands provide many functions that are valued by people. These functions (and their values) include: surface water storage (flood control), shoreline stabilization (wave damage protection/shoreline erosion control), stream flow maintenance (maintain aquatic habitat and instream flows), groundwater recharge (replenish water supplies), sediment removal and nutrient cycling (water quality protection), supporting aquatic productivity (fishing, shell fishing, and waterfowl hunting), production of crops (timber harvest and wild rice), production of herbaceous growth (livestock grazing and haying), production of peaty soils (peat harvest), and provision of plant and wildlife habitat (hunting, trapping, plant/wildlife/nature photography, nature observation, and aesthetics).

In recognition of the need to protect quantity and quality of wetland and riparian resources, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) developed a Wetland Conservation Strategy in 1994 under the Tribal Wildlife Management Program. Completion of baseline wetland mapping of the National Wetland Inventory (NWI) in 1992 from 1984 color infra-red (CIR) photography was a critical goal achieved through the development of the Strategy, but only limited mapping of riparian areas has been completed to date. This initial mapping effort identified over 101,811 acres, almost 8% of the 1.3 million acre Reservation, are wetlands and deepwater habitat. Beginning in early 2006, the Wetlands Program has begun updating the NWI and mapping riparian resources from 2005 digital 1m CIR. To date, the Wetlands Program has completed updating on approximately half of the quads covering the reservation, though the need for Quality Assurance and Quality Control (QA/QC) needs to be completed on them all.

Funded by EPA 104(3)(b) wetlands development grants and matching Tribal funds, the Tribes created a separate Wetlands Conservation Program in 1995 and developed a comprehensive Wetlands Conservation Plan adopted by Council in 1999. The purpose of the Wetlands Conservation Plan is to provide direction to Tribal programs for the protection and restoration of all wetland and riparian resources of the Reservation. The Plan provides a framework for linking and coordinating regulatory and non-regulatory programs (Tribal, State, and Federal) and wetland-related activities so all function together as a comprehensive wetlands protection and restoration program.

The Wetlands Program is involved in many areas of Natural Resources other than simply on the ground activities, though that is the nucleus of the Program. We are also active in starting what we call the DATA-NODE project, which has the long range goal of building a data base which will include data from the entire Natural Resources Department (NRD). This DATA-Node will centralize all the data from each program within NRD pertaining to water, period. Once this is up and running a program will be able to access it and obtain all the information pertaining to any water body on the Reservation. An example might be Mission Creek, the Fisheries Program will be able to obtain data from this site gathered from Wildlife, Wetlands, Shoreline Protection, etc., as will any other Program within the Tribe.

The Wetlands Program continues to work with other Government entities in the fight non-native invasive aquatic weeds, on all levels, Federal, State, County, as well as City. We have begun to put together a brochure that will help everyone throughout the Reservation identify these non-native invaders as well as their native look-a-likes. Most of the non-natïve infestations have been identified in Flathead Lake, which as time passes and more boaters, fishermen, etc. use the lake it becomes more important than ever to wash their boats and trailers as they move them from one water body to the next. The past few years have brought an increase of lake users that exceeded any ones thoughts, bringing on the possibility of providing a mobile boat wash station at the largest boat launch facilities both on and possibly off the Reservation, though this is still in the earliest stages of the process. We are also in partnership with Salish Kootenai College in research of how best to manage invasive weeds around Flathead Lake, as well as throughout the entire Reservation. Hopefully the findings of this research will be adopted by other Government Agencies both on and off the Reservation.