Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Thompson Chain of Lakes easement

by Warren Illi
| March 3, 2022 12:00 AM

It’s still wintertime in the Flathead, but spring is just around the corner - I hope. This past couple of weeks have been busy for many of us that hunt, fish and hike in the great Flathead Outdoors.

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Elk Foundation banquet. Boy, was that a rousing success! The organizing committee was aiming to have a banquet attendance of 600. Instead, they registered 783 banquet attendees. Last year the banquet raised $117,000 for conservation and elk. The committee hoped to exceed that amount this year. While final figures are not in yet, the current estimate is that this year’s 2022 banquet will net about $200,000. The banquet committee appreciates the generous support of donors and the Flathead conservation & hunting community.

Last weekend I attended the Sportsman’s Expo held at the fairgrounds. That weekend event attracted 4,500 paid attendees and another couple hundred workers at the booths. I was one of those workers, handing out over 400 free rods and reels to kids under 8 years of age. Those rods were donated by the Flathead Chapter of Walleyes Unlimited. They have handed out over 5,000 free rods and reels to kids over the past few years. This walleye club is probably the most pro-fishing club in Montana. They are affiliated with Montana Walleyes Unlimited, which has over 4,000 state-wide members. The local club has donated money, material and labor to many local fishing improvement projects such as a new fishing pier at Smith Lake, an expanded boat dock and fishing pier at Lake Mary Ronan State Park and developing a public boat launch facility on Church Slough.

The next big event for the Flathead outdoor community is the annual Walleyes Unlimited Banquet on March 19, at the fairgrounds. This will be an all-you-can eat dinner of fresh fried walleye. There will be auctions and raffle events to raise money for fishing projects. Many folks believe the walleye is the best eating of all fresh-water fish. Tickets can be purchased at Snappy’s, Sportsmen Ski Haus, and Chancy and Dave’s Fish Camp. This banquet normally sells-out, so get you tickets soon.

Here’s some good news for hunters and shooters. Our local sporting shops have more ammunition than I’ve seen for the last year. The local ammo shelves are not exactly overflowing with unlimited boxes of all calibers, but the ammo supply seems to be on the uptick. Don’t wait until next fall to stock up.

Here’s a must do for all local hunters, hikers, anglers and outdoor folks. The Feb. 3 Daily Inter Lake had a front page article about FWP’s proposed Great Outdoors Conservation Project. This is a proposal to use millions of federal LWCF dollars to fund a conservation easement on 114,000 acres of corporate timber land around the Thompson Chain of Lakes between Kalispell and Lobby. This corporate timber land has always been open to free public recreation use for hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, berry-picking and a host of other uses. But in recent years, this timber land has become increasingly valuable for its recreation amenities. This proposal will pay the timber companies the dollar difference between the current market value of their land for all legal uses including recreation and subdivision, and its after easement value of just timber production, while allowing free public recreation use.

Montana’s Senator Daines successfully got Congress to fully fund the LWCF fund and lobbied past President Trump to support this funding level. Federal funds for this conservation effort comes from off-shore oil lease revenue. This proposed conservation easement borders the existing 142,000-acre Thompson Fisher Conservation Easement and other conservation easements from the Thompson Chain of Lakes, west to Libby, and other easements north to the Lost Trail National Wildlife Refuge and U.S. 93. Thousands of Flathead hunters and recreationists use this easement area every year. Many folks have utilized this corporate timber land for recreation, believing this was public land. It isn’t. This proposed Montana Great Outdoors Project will keep this land open permanently for public recreation use. Senator Daines' seat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resource committee provides great leverage for getting this funding to Montana.

So, take a few minutes to write a letter of support to Montana FWP, expressing your support for this project. Write a letter of support to Chris Hammond, MT FWP, 490 North Meridian Road, Kalispell, MT 59901. If you prefer to do it on-line, contact chammond@mt.gov. The due date for letters is tomorrow, March 4. So don’t delay.

Meanwhile, there is good ice on our local lakes, so get out and do some hard water angling. March is my favorite time to ice fish with good solid ice and day temperatures in the 40’s and 50’s. That’s downright balmy for ice fishing. Have fun!