In December, we celebrated our first anniversary as Swan Valley Connections, following the merger of Swan Ecosystem Center and Northwest Connections. The synergy from joining our two organizations has allowed us to provide a broader array of programs, increase their depth and impact, and maximize efficiency to better serve our community and landscape.
Collaboration in Conservation
In 2016 we amplified our efforts to facilitate collaboration in conservation, providing a forum for convening stakeholders to determine best approaches for maintaining and enhancing the long-term ecological viability of the Swan Watershed. We began the year hosting the annual meeting of the Swan Lands Coordinating Network, bringing together over 20 agency partners, non-governmental organizations, private landowners, and other stakeholders to devise and implement strategies to meet our collective conservation goals.
We were actively involved with the Southwestern Crown of the Continent Collaborative (SWCC) by staying closely engaged with the USFS Blackfoot Swan Landscape Restoration Project (BSLRP), a large landscape restoration effort that spans three ranger districts on three national forests. Our participation with SWCC also provides opportunities for outreach and experiential learning through interpretive field trips to areas such as Beaver Creek, where significant restoration is underway.
We hosted, convened, and participated in numerous committees, meetings, and events throughout the year, including the Native Fish Committee, the Water Quality Technical Advisory Group, and Swan Valley Bear Resources. We provided outreach for the Flathead National Forest plan revision, supported the Seeley Swan Fuel Mitigation Task Force, and continued our work on the Montana Department of Natural Resources (DNRC) Fire Safe Council. We joined a new collaborative working group, convened to address the threat of Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) in Montana.
Conservation Action and Restoration
Forest Carnivore Monitoring
For the fifth year, we continued our partnership with USFS on the SWCC Forest Carnivore Monitoring Project in the Swan and Clearwater Valleys, in addition to The Nature Conservancy lands in the Blackfoot Drainage that were incorporated into our monitoring footprint in 2016. We completed a successful 2016 winter season and are currently engaged in the 2017 monitoring season. The data we collect through this work informs forest management and restoration across the Seeley-Swan-Blackfoot region of Montana. Our game camera footage is revealing rarely observed behavior of wolverine, helping us to understand their behavioral ecology.
In 2016, we saw a decrease in demand for forest stewardship projects, which we attribute to a wet year (requests generally increase in dry years when threat from fire is more prevalent). Nonetheless, we conducted $121,000 in cost share project work and made plans to expand into the lower Swan Valley. We applied for and received a Hazardous Fuels Reduction grant for $100,000 from DNRC to assist private landowners and increased our sales of pheromone packets to ward off beetle infestation in ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, and Douglas-fir.
In 2016, we continued a long-term, intensive study of the genetic health and hybridization levels of westslope cutthroat trout in the Swan. Over 23 field days, we captured around 550 individual fish from 7 streams, mostly cutthroats, and gathered genetic samples from over 420 of them. UM’s Conservation Genetics lab is analyzing data from our partners’ and our samples, and we should be getting results back in the coming months.
Noxious Weed Treatment
We were successful in securing $23,000 in noxious weed cost share support from the Montana Weed Trust Fund to assist 37 private landowners in treating 1048 acres.
We secured $55,000 from the USFS and Montana FWP’s Recreational Trails Program to open and maintain campsites and trails in the Swan Front and Mission Mountains Wilderness for 2016 and 2017. We also completed one of the year’s signature projects, “Explore Montana’s Swan Valley: Map and Guide.” We addressed the need to provide community members and visitors with better information by publishing a map and guide that tells the story of the Swan Valley’s human history, natural history, and highlights recreational access to trails, campgrounds, and other public amenities.
We led the effort to secure a $70,000 grant from DEQ for watershed restoration work in the Lower Swan. We will work with DNRC to repair roads at five sites in the Lower Swan to help reduce sediment runoff to streams.
Wetland and Stream Restoration
In partnership with the USFWS, we maintained our dialogue with landowners on wetland/stream restoration projects, completing a second restoration project for one landowner totaling 14.25 acres to date and continuing progress on a two-acre aspen restoration project on another property.
In collaboration with Swan Valley Bear Resources (SVBR), we implemented conflict avoidance actions and conducted private property consultations, meeting 100% of property owners’ requests for assistance. We constructed two permanent electric fences, two temporary fences and completed one fence repair. We also purchased 35 bear resistant containers, which we loan to residents free of charge. Our partnership with SVBR includes hosting outreach events like the Spring Bear Wakeup Social and the Summer Bear Fair. The 2016 Bear Fair was held at the north end of the Swan Valley in Ferndale, an area that has emerged as a conflict hotspot for grizzly bears and people in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. Over 225 people attended these two events to learn about bear ecology, behavior, conservation, and conflict resolution strategies.
This past year, we continued providing experiential learning for college students through our semester programs: Wildlife in the West and Landscape & Livelihood. These programs challenge young adults to understand the complexities of land and resource management. We provided internships for five alumni and college students in 2016.
We conducted six youth programs including Seeley-Swan Discovery Day, Game Cameras in the Classroom at Potomac Middle School, Animal Tracking at Seeley Middle School, three Summer Day Camps, a Herp survey and native fish work at Bigfork High School, and ran a Children’s Learning Station at the annual Blackfoot Trumpeter Swan release day. We also successfully engaged with Seeley schools and have a broad array of programs planned for elementary education in 2017.
We offered numerous community learning opportunities for people of all ages throughout the year, including children’s activities at the Summer Bear Fair and an interactive booth at the Condon 4th of July celebration with educational materials, artwork, and game camera videos. We conducted a field tour in May for partners of the Owl Creek Restoration Project and the general public to view the remarkable transformation of this once degraded stream. In July we offered an Animal Tracks and Sign workshop, teaching participants how to identify wildlife by track, scat, behavior, and gait patterns. In August we offered an evening program related to the Northwest Montana moose population and also hosted an interactive three-day forest stewardship course to teach management skills for a healthy forest. In the fall, we offered an all-day educational tour, “A Walk in the Woods.” This event for community members and business leaders included visits to local businesses that utilize wood products and a tour of private lands forest stewardship projects to highlight the value of our local natural resources. October also included the Carnivore Monitoring Update, an annual opportunity to share results of our ongoing effort to gather baseline data on wolverine, Canada lynx, and fisher across the Southwest Crown of the Continent landscape.
Thanks to our partners, 2016 was a successful first year for Swan Valley Connections!
American Rivers • Blackfoot Challenge • Big Blackfoot Chapter Trout Unlimited • Clearwater Resource Council • Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes • Defenders of Wildlife •Flathead National Forest • Friends of the Wild Swan • Lake County•Lolo National Forest • Montana Conservation Corps • Missoula County • Montana Department of Environmental Quality • Montana Department Fish, Wildlife & Parks • Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation • Montana Land Reliance•Montana Natural History Center • Montana Wilderness Association • The Nature Conservancy • Southwestern Crown of the Continent Collaborative • Swan Lakers • Swan Valley Community Council • Swan Valley Elementary School • University of Montana College of Forestry and Conservation • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service • Vital Ground Foundation
Swan Valley Connections Executive Committee oversees the fiscal management of assets, balancing long term financial stability with current operational needs. The executive committee provides oversight for investment (through a professional investment manager) of fiscal assets to provide long term growth as well as current income within a balanced and appropriately conservative investment portfolio. In addition, the executive committee recommends for approval by the entire board of directors an annual operating budget and the strategic allocation of unrestricted and board designated net assets to support the continuing mission of Swan Valley Connections.
Larrine & Russ Abolt • John S Addis • Don & Sally Aldeen • RA & BA Ames • Pat & Jeff Aresty • June Ash • Sage Baker • Judy Banning • George & Emily Beck • Josephine & Dr. James Bennington • Susan Bracken • Nancy Braun • Bill Brenner • Jeff & Michelle Brodie • Charles Brown & Anne Marie Thomas • Dan & Sheri Burden • California Community Foundation • Thomas Camp • Lynn & Roselyn Carey • Jo Ann Chambers • Mike Childs & Diann Ericson • Chill Expeditions • Cinnabar Foundation • Citizen’s Alliance Bank • Liz Claiborne Art Ortenberg Foundation • Christopher Cory • Don & Toy Cross • Bob & Sue Cushman • Cygnet Lake Property Owner Assoc • Anne Dahl • Joseph & Leslie Day • Dorothy G Delger • Trina Delzer • Kathy DeMaster • Cory DeStein • Andrea DiNino • Dave & Janet Downey • Scott & Jill Doyle • Jim & Wendy Drasdo • Dale Dufour • Betsey & Steve Ellis • Tom & Mary Fitzsimon • Pam Forder • Flathead Community Foundation • Flathead Lake Brewing Co. • Susan Ford & Ivan Cordray • Sally & Richard Fredericks • Larry & Pamela Garlick • Marie & Steve Geisler • Sean & Kayla Gerrity • Hank & Cathy Goetz • Julia Goodhart • Peter, Elizabeth & Henry Goodhart • Ted Graf • Great Northern Brewing Co. • Robert Griffes • Rip Grubaugh • Joanne Guyer • Robert Guyer • Pam & Dan Hamilton • Jeff Harritts • Ann Hartness • Carol & Doug Harwood • Susie & George Hashasaki • Leo & Dottie Heath • Charlotte Heldstad • Daniel Holland • Vickie & Chris Honzel • Charles & Gloria Horejsi • Russ & Dian Jenkins • David & Penny Johnson • Monica & Charles Jungster • Thomas & Jane Junkert • Krista Kaarre • Leon Kauffman • Shauna Hanisch-Kirkbride • Kathy Koors • Julie Kotschevar & Ken Hunzicker • Steve & Sandra Kratville • Marty & Claudia Kux • Lucas Lamar • Sharon & Steve Lamar • Bill & Jean Langlas • Keith Lanier • Donn Lassila • Laughing Horse Lodge • Lindbergh Lake Homeowners Assoc. • Land Lindbergh • Janet Linderman • Jean Lix•Don & Joan Lodmell • Maria Mantas • Jerry & Sharon Marks • Addrien Marx • Cori & Ryan Mattke • John & Joan McMahon • Dixie & Neil Meyer • Zane & Brandy Meyer • Lori Micken • Michael Milochik • Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks • Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation • Montana Land Reliance • Jerye Motschman • Rick & Jenny Murney • National Fish and Wildlife Foundation • Alan & Susan Newell • Charley & Linda Orth • John & Judi O’Steen • David & Kathryn Owen • Stephen & Judith Page • Katie Parker • Patagonia • Bill Peabody • Jeffrey & Maryann Pearson • Marsha Penner & Dilip Bhadra • Leo & Deborah Perkins • Stan Pine • David & Sandra Pogge • Jim & Terry Quinn • Floyd & Sandra Quiram • Barb & Joe Raible • Paul Rana • Robert Rasmussen • Dick & Margaret Reeve • Rosa’s Pizza • William & Ihlene Rossing • Jane Roth • Bruce & Joanne Rupp • Mark Schiltz • L.E. Scovel • Mary Shaw • Steven Sheriff • Ken Siderius • Wayne Simoneau • Mary & Gary Sloan • Randy Smith • Virgil & Marjorie Smith • Barbara & James N Snyder • Noah Snyder • Georgina & Walter Staggs • Nikol Stirling • Dan & Susan Stone • Loren Stormo • Swan Lake Cabins • Swan Mountain Outfitters • Swan Valley AARP • Harry & Linforth Sultzer • Alan & Susan Taylor • The Capital Group Companies Charitable Foundation • The Nature Conservancy • The Vital Ground Foundation • The William H Donner Foundation, Inc. • William A Thomas • Rich & Sally Thomason • Gene & Patricia Tingle • Scott Tomson • Daryl & Joyce Trites • Upper Swan Valley Historical Society • US Fish and Wildlife Service • Juanita Vero • Joel & Barbara Vignere • Roger Wade & Debbie Groehl • Laughlin & Sue Ellen Waters • Rebecca White • Judy & Ross Wilcox • Gary & Rita Wolfe • John & Judi Yajko
Russ Abolt • Amanda Aldridge • Travis Althouse • Aspen Anderson • Kvande Anderson • Leita Anderson • Evan Blanford • Lex Blood • Abbasse Bodian • Sara Bodian • Talla Bodian • Allen Branine • Jim Burchfield • Devannie Burke • Riley Burke • Mirela Burst • Sophie Campbell • Carolan Coughlin • Anne Dahl • Jacob Damaskos • Kathy DeMaster • Betsey & Steve Ellis • Mark Ensio•Diann Ericson • Sofia Fall • Polly & Rick Ferguson • Ray Fox • Daniel Franceschina • Gary & Wanda Freyholtz • Morgan Fuhrmeister • Larry Garlick • Kathy & Paul Gereg • Zosia Glass • Steven Gnam • Dakota Gooder • Jeff Graham • Rip Grubaugh • Kari Gunderson • Sophie Hainline • Pam & Dan Hamilton • Jess Harrell • Mark Holm • Sarah Hood • Austin Hover • Tyzer Hover • Chuck Howey • Kristy Howrey • Hailey Hubbard • Dave & Penny Johnson • Kate Johnson • Kaleb Juntunen • Krista Kaarre • Lauren Kearns • James Keil • Sarah Keller • Bridget Kennedy • Laabs Family • Bob Laabs • Courtney Laabs • Hayden Laabs • Jamie Laabs • Joe Laabs • Kelly Laabs • Luke Laabs • Mary Laabs • Tom Laabs-Johnson • Lydia Lapporte • Don Lassila • Gary Lazarowski • Tim Lenzmeier • Hannah Lillie • Rusty Limback • Lucyanna Labadie • Kegan Luhr • Ryan Mannix • Patti Maverick • Stefan Maverick • Mike Mayernik • Chris McClure • Robert McClure • Mikie McDonnell • Samantha McKeachnie • Erynn McNeill • Ryan Meenach • Alex Metcalf • Neil & Dixie Meyer • Helene &Tom Michael • Avery Mickey • Montana Conservation Corp • Kristin Murray • William Owings • Tess Pangle • Tom Parker • Del Polish • Jim Quinn • Barb & Joe Raible • Nate Roberto • Jenny Rohrer • Mark Ruby • Mark Schiltz • Zach Spinner • Edward Strickler • Heidi Strickler • Carolyn Sulzen • Jenner Sward • Sarah Szabo • Isaiah Tanner • Alan Taylor • Rich & Sally Thomason • Ben Thompson • Steve Thompson • Gene & Patti Tingle • Scott Tomson • Kem Trice • Carl Unfred • Jesse Unfred • Cody Unred • Juanita Vero • Jee Wong • Kong Yang