Flathead Lake Bio Station looks to businesses for financial support

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The University of Montana’s Flathead Lake Biological Station, which has studied and monitored the Flathead Lake watershed for 120 years, relies on philanthropy for roughly 25 percent of its funding.

Many regional residents believe the station’s relevance and role are increasingly important as threats to the watershed, including potential infestation by aquatic invasive species, climate change and leaching septic systems, continue to grow.

On April 15, the biological station, based at Yellow Bay, will launch its first-ever Bio Station Business Drive fundraising campaign.

Lakeside resident Bruce Young, who serves on the research station’s advisory board, spawned the idea for the Business Drive. The fourth-generation Montanan has been a Realtor for more than 40 years and is a longtime advocate for Flathead Lake.

“The greatest mistake we could make is to think someone else is going to look after our most precious resource, which is water,” Young said. “The public must be involved and stay involved, and there is no better place to start than FLBS science.”

Gifts will directly support the biological station’s research and monitoring in the Flathead watershed, which includes Flathead, Whitefish and Swan lakes, as well as local rivers. This support will allow the station to continue and expand its collection and analysis of water samples, use technologically advanced sensor networks and increase chances of detecting unwanted invasive species as early as possible.

Declines in water quality and the arrival of new invasive species continue to be the greatest threats to the world-renowned waters of the Flathead and the economies that depend upon them, the station said. The Bio Station Business Drive intends to highlight the mutually beneficial relationship between the freshwater resources of Northwest Montana and the business communities that benefit from them, Young said. This fundraising effort gives local businesses the opportunity to step up as protectors of these irreplaceable resources, he said.

Invasive mussels are perhaps the most formidable threat to fresh water in the Flathead watershed and the rest of the state. Estimates suggest an invasive mussel infestation would cost Montana more than $230 million annually in revenue loss and mitigation costs. The direct impact of invasive mussels to tourism and recreation is estimated to be more than $120 million per year, while the loss to lake shore property values is estimated to be nearly $500 million.

Young said he hopes he can get as many businesses as possible to support the Bio Station Business Drive, but he said he certainly doesn’t expect support from all businesses to be the same. Businesses are encouraged to participate in the drive in any way, such as helping to promote the station in their respective communities, either by having Flathead Lake Biological Station materials available for their customers, helping to further promote the business drive itself or creating a special “Keep Our Waters Blue”-themed products for purchase, Young said.

“If businesses are able to provide financial support, that’s fantastic,” Young said. “If they come up with some other creative way to engage with the business drive, that’s great, too. Whether business communities participate at a high level or a lower level, as long as we’re all working toward a common goal of doing all we can to monitor and protect the quality of our water, then this business drive will be a huge success.”

Young said he’s already connected with several chambers of commerce in the Flathead area and already has received an overwhelmingly positive response.

“It’s so clearly a win for everybody,” he said. “This isn’t about politics or making a money grab. It’s about water, and water is about life.”

The Bio Station Business Drive will run through the summer and end on Oct. 15. Businesses can participate in the drive by emailing Bruce Young at bruce@mr.flatheadlake.com or by calling 406-249-9787. FLBS Assistant Director Tom Bansak also is available at tom.bansak@flbs.umt.edu or 406-872-4503.

Businesses also can give directly through the Bio Station Business Drive website at http://bit.ly/FLBS-BusinessDrive. More information about Young and the Bio Station Business Drive can be found at http://bit.ly/FLBS-MrFlatheadLake.

Gifts to the business drive are part of Campaign Montana, a comprehensive, seven-year fundraising effort that aims to inspire $400 million in philanthropic giving to the University of Montana by the end of 2020.

Bansak said the University of Montana provides about one-quarter of the biological station’s funding. Research grants pay for many of the science-based activities based at the station but generous support from the region plays a key role, he said.

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