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Meet the Friends of Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge

Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge

Local nonprofit supports and promotes wildlife refuge through outdoor education programs and community events By Christian Weaner| Photo by Steve Jamsa

Linda Ellett-Fee started working for the U.S. Forest Service at the age of 19, and she spent her entire 38-year career in North Idaho, Eastern Washington and Montana, fulfilling roles ranging from Forester to District Ranger.

But once she retired, Linda's affinity for the outdoors stuck with her. That is when she first considered joining the Friends of Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge (KNWR). “My desire to be a steward of the land somehow did not go away after retirement," Linda noted. “And I have always been interested in the Wildlife Refuge System.”

Ten years later, Linda is now the president of Friends of KNWR, which supports the wildlife refuge in Boundary County through community engagement and outdoor education.

In the early 1900s, migratory birds across America were being decimated by hunters, leading to the establishment of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) in 1918, prohibiting the killing, capturing and selling of protected migratory bird species.

Thanks to the MBTA, the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge was later approved in 1964, and through land purchases over the next 20 years, it was expanded to its current 2,774-acre property.

According the KNWR's website, the refuge has more than 300 species of wildlife, including 223 species of birds that have been observed there.

As Linda explained, Friends of KNWR was formed in 2006 with the mission "to support and promote the KNWR in its mission, through education and interpretation, and volunteering.”

The group donates to The International Selkirk Loop organization, which helps to attract tourists to the area by highlighting the KNWR in its Selkirk Loop travel guide. “The KNWR is a large attraction for people passing through,” Linda explained. “And much of that is due to the Friends group’s promotions.”

Other events and opportunities that Friends of KNWR have facilitated include partnering with the Kootenai Tribe to bring Birds of Prey Northwest to the local elementary schools, leading a fly-fishing workshop with Trout Unlimited, putting on a bullfrog education program, and hosting renowned author and teacher Jack Nisbet.

“In the past, we have put on all manner of wildlife presentations, as well as local geology, archeology, David Thompson history, photo workshops, educational hikes, art shows and the list goes on,” Linda added.

She and the group are always looking for new volunteers to join the group, which asks only for a $10 annual membership fee.

Linda credits the group's Board of Directors, who "make everything happen," for their hard work and dedication to Friends of KNWR and its mission. This board includes Allen and Jan Rose, charter members of the organization, Linda's husband Jeff Fee, as well as Steve Jamsa, Nancy Weatherstone, and Carol and Chuck Giordano.

“We are a team, not one person is in charge,” Linda noted. “Everyone is hardworking and contributes 100 percent. And everyone is passionate about our mission.”

Ultimately, as she reflects on what she enjoys most in her position as president of Friends of KNWR and all that she gets to do to support the community and promote outdoor education, Linda knows she is exactly where she needs to be.

“What I like most is easy,” Linda explained. “The beauty of the place.

“The natural environment is similar to what it used to be before development, watching hundreds of birds in flight or on the water or a moose traveling across a field,” she continued. “We need places like this, apart from the rest, that are there to hold a spot for the good of everything else on the earth besides us and our personal needs.”

To learn more and get involved, you can call the refuge at 208.267.3888 or email and ask about Friends of KNWR. You can also visit "Friends of Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge" on Facebook to get connected.

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