Wild Horse Island
Flathead Lake with Wild Horse Island visible in the distance
|Area||2,163 acres (875 ha)|
|Highest elevation||3,749 ft (1,142.7 m)|
|Indian Reservation||Flathead Indian Reservation|
|Official website||Wild Horse Island State Park|
Wild Horse Island is the largest island on Flathead Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Montana. For centuries, the Salish-Kootenai used the island, approximately 2,164 acres (876 ha) in size, in order to pasture horses and keep them from being stolen by other tribes. The island was part of the Flathead Indian Reservation from the time of its creation in 1872 up until its dismantlement in 1904, when the island was divided into individual plots of land. A number of attempts were made on the island towards agricultural development, but none succeeded.
Between 1910-1915, homesteaders on the island cut down much of the old growth trees and introduced non-native grasses and other plant species. These species have competed with and overtaken much of the short-grass prairie that herbivorous wildlife need to survive. This short grass prairie is one of the last few remaining in Montana, and because of this efforts must be made to control various animal species on the island in order to preserve the grasses from over-pasturing and extinction. Bighorn Sheep, for example, are managed at around 100 sheep. In 2014, the population was between 160-200 sheep, and Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks worked to relocate 59 sheep to other herds in Northwest Montana.
Protected as a state park since 1977, the island near Big Arm Bay is home to abundant wildlife including bighorn sheep, mule deer, waterfowl, and bald eagles. As of 2013[update], the wild horse population was five mares and one gelding. Access is by boat only and for day–use only. It is managed by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and lies within both the Flathead Indian Reservation and Lake County, Montana. There are 56 private lots on the island, about an acre (0.4 ha) each. The highest point is at 3,749 feet (1,143 m), which is 853 feet (260 m) above the island's shores.
Climate and topography
A study conducted over a 25-year span has shown the average yearly precipitation on Wild Horse Island to be 15.7 inches (400 mm). The average daily temperature ranges from 24 to 66 °F (−4 to 19 °C), with spikes sinking below 5 °F (−15 °C) during colder months and afternoons above 90 °F (32 °C) during the hotter months in dryer years. Overall, the island experiences below freezing temperatures about two thirds of the year.
Wild Horse Island was formed by the Cordilleran Glacier, giving the island a varying topography. Its shores are 2,900 feet (880 m) above sea level. The glacier caused the six summits in the center of the island, ranging in heights between 3,277 and 3,745 feet (999 and 1,141 m), to be formed into rôche moutonnée, with rugged northern faces and rugged southern cliffs. Meadows sprawl the western and southern shores, while grasslands cover the southeast. The northern side of the island has forests of Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir trees.
- "Wild Horse Island State Park". Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. 2008. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
Although 56 privately owned parcels still exist along the shore areas, most of the island (2,163 acres [875 ha]) is now a state park.
- "Wild Horse Island High Point, Montana". Peakbagger.com.
- "Flathead Lake". Montana Office of Tourism. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
Flathead Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi in the lower 48 states, with over 200 square miles [520 km2] of water and 185 miles [298 km] of shoreline.
- Philley, M. Peter; McCool, Stephen F. (1978). Wild Horse Island Recreation Study. p. 1. OCLC 884564441. Retrieved 2015-03-14.
The Island, comprising 2,165.09 acres [876.18 ha], is in Lake County, Montana, and also within the boundaries of the Flathead Indian Reservation.
- Tipton, Diane (2001). "Wild Horse Island". Montana: The Magazine of Western History. 51, No. 1 (Spring): 70–71. JSTOR 4520301.
- Kautz, Darrell R. (1981). "Range and Wildlife Resources of Wild Horse Island, Flathead Lake, Montana". search.proquest.com. Ann Arbor. Retrieved 2016-12-13.
- "Wild Horse Island bighorn sheep capture operation completed" (Press release). State of Montana. February 27, 2014. Retrieved May 31, 2018.
- Scott, Tristan (April 23, 2013). "Oldest horse on Flathead's Wild Horse Island dies". Missoulian. Missoula, Montana. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
The old horse's death leaves five mares and one gelding, a population that still outweighs what is technically allowed by Wild Horse Island State Park's management plan – a maximum of five wild horses to run free on the island's 2,164 acres [876 ha].
- "Wild Horse Island / Flathead Lake State Park". Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. Retrieved December 13, 2016.
- Schneider, Robert H. (1965). A summer art school for Wild Horse Island, Flathead Lake, Montana (Undergraduate thesis in architectural design). Montana State University. OCLC 41737400.
- McCurdy, Edward B. (1975). Wild Horse Island, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. Polson, Montana: Treasure State Publishing Company. ASIN B000730F64. OCLC 41721811.
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