Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) With funding approved and a decision to purchase Marshall Mountain close at hand, advocates of doing so have praised the opportunity as a chance to secure prime wildlife habitat that’s home to a range of imperiled species, from wolverine to the Norther alligator lizard.

While the mountain holds vast recreational potential, it’s also a key piece of connectivity that stretches up the western slope of the Rocky Mountains through Montana into Canada.

According to a recent resource inventory, the 460 acres eyed for acquisition on Marshall Mountain includes 17 acres of wetland, 5 acres of riparian forest and 26 acres of riparian “scrub-shrub.” It also includes at least five springs.

But it’s location – nearly surrounded by public land – makes it a key piece in a north-south wildlife corridor vital to the movement of various species. Such corridors are growing fragmented with human development, but this one remains relatively intact, advocates note.

“It connects to a block of public land that stretches from Marshall Mountain to Glacier National Park,” said Kali Becker, the county’s open lands project manager. “It’s also adjacent to multiple wilderness areas.”

Marshall’s connectivity and diversity make it home to a number of species, including two known species of conservation concern – the westslope cutthroat trout and flammulated owls. Other species in various stages of listing include the Canada lynx, fisher, grizzly bear, wolverine and a number of bird species, along with a special millipede and the stalk-leaved monkeyflower.

“It’s very diverse habitat,” said Becher. “It includes upland forest, wetland and riparian areas. Thirteen species that have been identified as threatened or endangered, or species of concern, have range in the area.”

According to parcel history, the General Land Ownership Survey from 1870 recorded the “Old Trail to Walla Walla” on the property. The Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootanai tribes used the trail, which came off the saddle of Mount Jumbo, to avoid ambush by neighboring tribes.

Marshall Creek was known by the tribes as “has white clay” while the confluence of Rattlesnake Creek and the Clark Fork River was the “place with small bull trout.” The city and its partners have in recent years worked to restore Rattlesnake Creek, and Marshall Creek offers similar opportunities.

Volunteers work in Marshall Creek. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file)

Volunteers work in Marshall Creek. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file)
Trout Unlimited, along with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and the City of Missoula, have already discussed potential stream restoration projects on the creek’s upper reaches, focusing in part on the “highly degraded” segments on private land.

“In terms of Marshall Creek, it is a unique place. There’s a genetically pure cutthroat trout population up there,” said Ladd Knotek, a fisheries biologist with FWP. “It’s extremely productive.”

In 2019, in partnership with Trout Unlimited, a team of volunteers placed a screen – fabricated free of charge by Jackson Construction – over an inlet on Marshall Creek that fed an irrigation field, saving hundreds of cutthroat and thousands of fry.

It’s just one of the efforts that have already taken place in Marshall Creek. At the time, Mark Kruipers, president of the WestSlope Chapter of Trout Unlimited, said “The health of these small streams is so important for the health of the big streams and rivers. The more we can make these tributaries strong, vibrant and healthy, the better it’s going to be for the Clark Fork.”

Knotek had a similar take.

“If you’ve fished the reach of the Clark Fork from East Missoula, you’ve caught fish from Marshall Creek. It’s extremely productive,” said Knotek. “There’s one fish per foot in that stream. We just finished the genetic testing up there on the upper end, and those fish are genetically pure and diverse. We’re going to be using that stock as part of the statewide root stock to stock a lot of the lakes around Missoula and western Montana.”

LOOK: Must-do activities at every national park

Stacker lists the must-do activities at every national park ranked by the annual number of visitors. 

Gallery Credit: Angela Underwood

The Missoula Current is a Montana owned and operated news organization founded in 2015 to help fill the void in local journalism, and we've been free to read ever since. If you would like to read the original article, click here.

More From Newstalk KGVO 1290 AM & 98.3 FM