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A valuable resource for Flathead newbies

by Daily Inter Lake
| January 28, 2024 12:00 AM

During Montana’s peak covid-induced migration frenzy, a rumor circulated that some 30,000 new residents had moved to the Flathead Valley seemingly overnight.

While that figure turned out to be wildly inaccurate — the county actually added 3,600 residents between July 2020 and July 2021 — for locals there was no denying it felt like it could be true as parking lots and trailheads filled up with vehicles brandishing Texas and California license plates. 

While the rate of people moving into Montana from other states has slowed since that climax, the state continues to trend among the fastest-growing in the nation.

New Census Bureau data shows Montana’s 2023 net migration — arrivals into the state minus departures — at 10,100 new residents last year alone. That compares to a net migration of 21,100 during 2021. Since 2020, it’s estimated that about 51,600 more people have moved to Montana than have left for reasons we can’t fathom. 

That’s a lot of new pressure on the natural resources and community amenities that likely attracted these newcomers to the Treasure State in the first place. And while it would be unfair to categorize all of these new arrivals as noobs without a clue, there's no doubt that the realities of living in Montana require a certain learning curve. What locals take for granted as common sense might not be so obvious to new residents from, say, Dallas or Atlanta.

For example, most locals should know that leaving out unsecured trash is a recipe for a bear conflict. Or that feeding wildlife — as cute as those baby fawns might be — puts their own safety and the animal’s life at risk. And don’t get us started on the weather extremes around here — a winter blizzard with wind chills of minus 60 are as common as a summer scorcher heatwave that whip up dangerous wildfires.

But you don’t know what you don’t know — and that’s where the newly released “Living in the Flathead Guide'' will come in handy for the droves of Montana newbies.

The Flathead Lakers and other local agencies teamed up to launch this online resource aimed at promoting responsible living in Northwest Montana. The hope is that this guide assists in educating people on how to live in harmony with wildlife, protect the area’s treasured lakes and rivers, while also supporting local communities.

“How do you care for this place that we all love, so we don’t love it to death?,” asked Constanza von der Pahlen, who helped spearhead the effort behind the resource guide.

The site offers information about living with wildfires and explains the need for forest management in the urban-wildland interface. A section on water wades into how mountain snowpack, rivers and lakes are all interconnected. The “living on land” tab provides facts about native plants and noxious weeds, best farming practices and the valley’s heritage of conservation.

It’s a fantastic resource that will help Montana’s most freshman residents understand more about the place they now call home, while also serving as a reminder for locals about why this corner of paradise is worth looking after.

Check it out online at livinginflathead.org.