Flathead Lake Bio Station Expands Monitoring Program to Polson Bay

May 06, 2019

The Jessie B research vessel nears Polson during the Flathead Lake Biological Station’s inaugural sampling trip to new Polson Bay monitoring site.YELLOW BAY – The University of Montana’s Flathead Lake Biological Station is adding Polson Bay to its overall monitoring and research profile.

The addition of Polson Bay as a new sampling site was made possible by the Flathead Lakers, who made a financial leadership contribution, and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, who granted a permit for the new monitoring site and who support additional data collection.

“We’re really excited about the Polson Bay monitoring site,” said FLBS Director Jim Elser. “It’s effectively a whole different lake down there, so we can imagine many new scientific insights and opportunities arising out of this effort.”

The new site allows the Bio Station to include the southern basin of Flathead Lake and continue producing meaningful research that stewards the ecological and economic benefits of Flathead Lake. The new sampling site also allows FLBS to expand data and bolster cutting-edge research related to the early detection of aquatic invasive species.

“Adding the Polson Bay site to the Flathead Monitoring Program will help us understand Flathead Lake’s ecology and dynamism like never before, as well as strengthen our ability to fulfill our role as stewards of the lake,” said Shawn Devlin, an assistant research professor overseeing FLBS watershed monitoring. “The fact that the Flathead Citizen Science program and its enthusiastic participants’ hard work helped to facilitate the expansion is inspiring. The Flathead Lake community is dedicated and passionate and, above all, very much appreciated by FLBS.” 

Although the FLBS research and monitoring program has sampled more than 60 sites around Flathead Lake and another 20 sites within its river systems, few sites are visited more than once each year. Regular, monthly sampling in the lake is conducted primarily at a single sampling site in the deepest part of the lake off Yellow Bay at a station known as “Mid-Lake Deep.”

FLBS data show that this site represents the conditions throughout the deep, open water portion of the lake, but it may not reflect conditions or capture negative changes in other areas of the lake, such as near the shoreline or in the shallow south basin.

Spurred by compelling spatial data gathered by citizen scientists, researchers at FLBS felt it was time to add another sampling site to the station’s water quality monitoring program.

Located in the middle of Flathead Lake’s southern basin, the new Polson Bay monitoring site is located between the shorelines of Polson and the chain of islands referred to as “The Narrows.” Data collection began at the site in mid-April and will continue throughout the summer and fall until ice cover forms.  

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation granted UM a permit for the new monitoring site.          

“CSKT is honored to partner with the Bio Station,” said Ronald Trahan, chairman of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. “We have some of the finest employees who work to protect our waters, lands, fish, plants and wildlife, utilizing the best science available.”  

The Flathead Lakers is a volunteer organization that protects and improves water quality through advocacy, education and stewardship. Philanthropic support from the station’s generous community, especially shoreline homeowners, comprised the remaining funding for the expansion.

“The Flathead Lakers are pleased to help support water monitoring by FLBS in Polson Bay,” said Flathead Lakers President Thomas Cox. “Early detection of any changes in water quality or the appearance of invasive species may allow intervention before it is too late. This is extremely important to the community of Polson and everywhere else around the lake.”

Additional funding is still needed to ensure monitoring in Polson Bay can extend well into the future and support FLBS scientists in their early detection of aquatic invasive species and other water quality threats. Recently announced fundraising efforts, such as the Bio Station Business Drive, will support enhanced research and water quality monitoring in the Flathead watershed.

“Polson Bay is a real focal point for how so many people in our community experience and enjoy the lake,” Elser said.

 “We need to have a better sense of what is happening there so we can try to head off any problems that might arise, which is part of our mission in serving our community with the best possible science. We really rely on the support from the community in making that happen.”

Known as the “Sentinel of the Lake,” FLBS has maintained a scientifically rigorous research and monitoring program in the Flathead watershed since 1977. The station currently boasts one of the best long-term lake and river datasets in the world and its monitoring program plays a critical role in the watershed’s health by predicting threats to its environmental health.

For more information about the new Polson Bay Monitoring Site or to learn how to support the monitoring program, email Elser at jim.elser@umontana.edu or call 406-872-4500.

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Contact: Tom Bansak, assistant director, Flathead Lake Biological Station, 406-872-4503, tom.bansak@flbs.umt.edu; Ian Withrow, FLBS media/information specialist, 406-872-4544, ian.withrow@flbs.umt.edu.