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Dozens of fisheries, wildlife and habitat improvement projects across Montana are scheduled to receive more than one million dollars this year from the state’s largest public utility.

NorthWestern Energy announced this past week that it plans to distribute $1.6 million in 2021 to fund 35 projects along a 550-mile corridor of the Madison and Missouri rivers. Additional company funds will go to 10 public recreation improvement projects along the rivers this year.

The projects are part of a program the company established in 2000 to help offset the impacts of its nine hydro dams.

The company is partnering with eight government agencies, four private landowners, one state university and nine conservation organizations on several projects this year, said Andy Welch, NorthWestern Energy’s hydro licensing and compliance manager, in a news release.

The utility’s partners are contributing $7.5 million in matching funds and donations. Projects are scattered along the Madison-Missouri River corridor between Yellowstone National Park and the headwaters of Fort Peck Reservoir.

“This program is a great example of cooperation between private industry; state, federal and local government; private landowners; and non-governmental conservation organizations to meet river conservation objectives,” Welch said.

Wildlife habitat improvement efforts are planned on the Lone Tree conservation easement south of Big Sandy and the Whiskey Ridge conservation easement north of Winifred, the company wrote.

Funding is planned also for stream restoration projects at O’Dell Creek, a Madison River tributary and spring creek near Ennis, and Beaver Creek north of Helena. Another four streambed and streambank stability projects on the Madison River are scheduled.

NorthWestern plans to fund ongoing enhancement and monitoring projects for pallid sturgeon, sicklefin chub, sturgeon chub, westslope cutthroat trout, trumpeter swans, migratory songbirds and bald eagles, it wrote.

“Fish population monitoring occurs on some of the state’s top river and reservoir fisheries over more than 500 miles of river,” Welch said in a press release. “We work very closely with the state and federal agencies to maintain long-term databases which helps evaluate the status of fish and wildlife and their habitats.”

NorthWestern Energy and the Missouri-Madison River Fund in February announced plans to launch 10 public recreation improvement projects this year. NorthWestern is contributing $66,000 and the River Fund is contributing more than $437,000 to complete the projects.

The Missouri-Madison River Fund was created through a collaboration between NorthWestern, state and federal agencies, several Montana counties and other public and private partners, according to NorthWestern.

An additional $112,483 in funds will come from agencies and other partners, according to NorthWestern. The company wrote it would grant state, federal and local agencies $472,290 to operate and maintain recreation sites in 2021.

“NorthWestern and its employees are proud to continue to support this collaborative private-public effort to improve recreation facilities and opportunities on these great rivers for all Montanans,” Welch wrote in a February news release.

Public recreation projects for 2021 include site improvements at Hebgen Lake. The upgrades there will be at Romsett Beach, Rainbow Point Boat Launch and a day use recreation site by Hebgen Dam.

Partners plan to replace a boat ramp at the Warm Springs Creek Access Site on the lower Madison. A section of shoreline at the confluence of the Madison and Jefferson rivers in Missouri Headwaters State Park will be revegetated and stabilized, according to the company.

Funding is also planned for replacements at sites around Hauser and Holter lakes, and several projects will occur near Great Falls and Fort Benton.

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Helena Dore can be reached at hdore@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

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