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$1M awarded to restore wetlands at Swan River National Wildlife Refuge

| April 29, 2021 12:00 AM

Swan Valley Connections, in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has been awarded a $1 million North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant to restore wetlands at Swan River National Wildlife Refuge and other projects.

The goal of the project is to restore the natural water flows of wetlands that were ditched and drained in the homesteading era. The restoration area covers 600 acres of the 1,979-acre refuge near the village of Swan Lake. The restoration will benefit native plants, waterfowl, and a host of other wildlife that call the refuge home. Healthy wetlands also help with water quality improvement by filtering out fine sediment that can be harmful for native fish spawning habitat, serving as flood and carbon storage, and purifying polluted waters.

Before becoming a wildlife refuge, the lands along the inlet of Swan Lake were homesteaded as hay fields, pastures and a muskrat fur farm. Homestead-era landowners created ditches to drain the wetlands, which negatively impacted habitat for mallards, pintails, geese and other wildlife.

Crews will work this summer to restore more natural water flow, following a plan drafted by River Design Group of Whitefish. Swan Valley Connections will oversee the work, along with the Fish and Wildlife Service and River Design Group. Depending on conditions, work is to begin this summer and be completed by late fall.

"This NAWCA grant has provided critical funding for the Swan Refuge wetland restoration project that otherwise didn't exist," SVC Conservation Director Luke Lamar said in a press release. "This is just another example of how Swan Valley Connections is partnering with our government agencies, other local organizations, and private landowners to help expand their capacity and stewardship of the landscape. The overall project will continue to build upon the conservation legacy within the Swan and Blackfoot Valleys and provide towards the local economy."

In addition to the Swan River Refuge, the grant will be used to conserve and restore 3,279 acres on public and private lands in the Swan and Blackfoot valleys.

Approximately 25% of the funds will help to purchase a conservation easement on private property within the Blackfoot watershed and will go to the Big Blackfoot Chapter of Trout Unlimited for a stream restoration project in the Blackfoot.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland recently announced $78 million in grants have been approved by the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission, which will provide the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners the ability to help conserve or restore nearly 500,000 acres of wetland and associated upland habitats for waterfowl, shorebirds, and other birds across North America. The grants, made through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), will be matched by nearly $125 million in partner funds.

NAWCA is the only federal grant program dedicated to the conservation of wetland habitats for migratory birds. Since 1989, funding has advanced the conservation of wetland habitats and their wildlife in all 50 U.S. states, Canada, and Mexico, while engaging more than 6,500 partners in over 3,100 projects.

A virtual tour of the Refuge and overview of the project can be viewed at https://www.swanvalleyconnections.org/presentations