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Landowners petition state to keep Tepee Lake non-motorized

by CHRIS PETERSON
Hungry Horse News | December 1, 2020 12:00 AM

A group of landowners and stakeholders last week formally petitioned the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission to restrict a remote and fishless lake in the North Fork of the Flathead River area to manually powered boats only.

While there have been no conflicts to date, the petitioners asked the commission to begin the formal process of rule-making that would ban motorized use on the 17-acre Tepee Lake.

Rachel Potter, a landowner on the lake, was joined by 36 others who support the new rule.

The commission, after hearing testimony via Zoom videoconference from Potter and others, concurred and voted unanimously to set the process for creating a new rule in motion.

“If you can’t limit this type of use on this water, then Montana is in big trouble,” chairman Shane Colton said after the vote.

Colton noted the final decision will come from a new set of commissioners, as incoming Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte will likely name new members next year.

Since the 1940s to the mid-1980s Tepee Lake was stocked 29 times, but the fish never survived for lack of oxygen. It does, however, support a robust population of leeches, which the loons use, in part, to feed their young.

What it does have is a resident summer population of nesting loons, which have utilized a floating nesting platform put in by Potter family members. The loons have been coming to the lake and raising young as long as anyone can remember.

About 70% of the lake is surrounded by Flathead National Forest and the other 30% by private landowners, including the Potters, the Borge and the Kaminskis, who are co-petitioners.

“There is no current or past use of motors on Tepee Lake. We believe unless a rule is made, it is inevitable a neighbor or visitor will eventually put a motorboat or Jet Ski on the lake,” which would lead to a host of impacts, including displacing loons and their chicks, disturbing the quiet of the lake and loss of water quality.

“Now’s the time to act before a conflict takes place,” Potter told the commission.

The commission also heard from several other North Forkers, including Brace Hayden, Teagan Hughes, Gail Bissell and Flannery Coats.

In addition, more than three dozen people wrote support for the rule.

In the coming months, Fish, Wildlife and Parks will formalize the rule and take further public comment on the petition. If it’s approved, it will be codified into law.