Providing a voice for Whitefish Lake

Whitefish, MT   |


The Whitefish Lake Institute is committed to science, education, and aquatic resource initiatives to protect and improve Whitefish Lake and the Whitefish area water resources of today, while providing a collective vision for tomorrow.

Ruling year info


Founder, Executive Director

Mike Koopal

Main address

550 East 1st St #103

Whitefish, MT 59937 USA

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NTEE code info

Water Resource, Wetlands Conservation and Management (C32)

IRS filing requirement

This organization is required to file an IRS Form 990 or 990-EZ.

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Programs and results

What we aim to solve

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Whitefish Lake affords the community many beneficial uses. It is a popular recreational waterbody, a local economic driver, and source of drinking water for Whitefish residents. Water quality is paramount to the identity and health of the community but is under pressure from the effects of increased development around the lake, land use activities, and recreational impacts. WLI addresses water quality concerns related to public and ecological health. To do this, WLI has initiated a long-term water quality monitoring program to document changes in lake and stream health. WLI also works on projects to prevent water quality and ecosystem degradation from external threats like zebra mussels and other aquatic invasive species. All citizens of and visitors to Whitefish benefit from the work conducted by WLI to restore water quality and to preserve clean, healthy water resources from future degradation. WLI along with community sponsors and program partners provide a voice for the lake.

Our programs

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

What are the organization's current programs, how do they measure success, and who do the programs serve?


WLI completes long-term water quality monitoring on Whitefish Lake and area streams and communicates results to the public and decision makers. WLI also conducts special studies related to public health and lake function, such as an investigation of septic leachate, and gasoline constituent loading. WLI coordinates a volunteer citizen scientist program for 41 lakes in NW Montana and is a leader in the prevention of aquatic invasive species.

Population(s) Served
Children and youth

WLI owns and manages the 30 acre Averill's Viking Creek Wetland Preserve that protects vital stream and wetland habitat near the shores of Whitefish Lake. In 2013, WLI completed construction of the Living Wetlands Interpretive Nature Trail, offering a natural respite and connection to nature for the public. The wetland preserve is used as an outdoor classroom for Flathead Valley school groups.

WLI also works with local schools via classroom presentations, support for individual research projects, and through field trips. WLI hosts university summer interns from around the country.

WLI offers quarterly Science Quenchers for the community where experts in various scientific disciplines share their current research, in addition to other public presentations for community groups and local government.

Population(s) Served
Children and youth

The Whitefish Lake Institute (WLI) is the leader in a number of natural resource issues designed to improve water quality. WLI completed a study documenting septic leachate along the shoreline of Whitefish Lake and has facilitated solutions to address the issue. WLI annually prepares an Aquatic Invasive Species Management Plan that is supported by the City of Whitefish and includes watercraft inspections and early detection monitoring. WLI also studied gasoline constituent loading to Whitefish Lake that led the city to install an interceptor trench at City Beach to protect public health. WLI also spurred the secondary clean-up of lingering pollutants from a 1989 train derailment where approximately 25,000 gallons of diesel spilled into the lake.

Population(s) Served
Children and youth

Where we work


Doris Schumm Community Spirit Award 2010

Whitefish Community Foundation

Goals & Strategy

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn about the organization's key goals, strategies, capabilities, and progress.

Charting impact

Four powerful questions that require reflection about what really matters - results.

WLI is committed to protecting the Whitefish Lake Watershed aquatic resources—its human, ecological, and economic health. Lakes and streams in the watershed provide the clean, safe water that is fundamental for all human, plant and animal life. Located at the headwaters of the Columbia River Basin, Whitefish Lake water flows through the Whitefish River to Flathead Lake, and eventually enters the Columbia River Basin through which it flows to the Pacific Ocean. The health of our water affects not only our watershed, but also all life downstream. Declining water quality in Whitefish Lake may therefore affect multiple ecosystems and their downstream food webs.

Long-term conservation requires a baseline of scientific, cultural, and historical knowledge of an area; an understanding of its physical, biological, and chemical dynamics; and a program to monitor any changes over time from the baseline. With these elements in place, adaptive management plans are developed and actions implemented. WLI developed that baseline understand through its Whitefish Water Resources Report: A Status of the Whitefish Lake Watershed and Surrounding Area. In that report, WLI identified 64 Watershed Restoration Tasks to improve and maintain water quality in the watershed.

WLI aims to address the tasks that include long-term and emerging water quality issues such as the threat of aquatic invasive species (AIS), and septic leachate from aging septic systems on and near the lake. Changing climate patterns represent a new water quality challenge, with still unknown long-term impacts on human health and ecosystems. WLI will continue to work on behalf of water quality in the Whitefish area through long-term monitoring, baseline research, and the implementation of on-the-ground projects. In addition to its own efforts, WLI works creatively to assemble and participate in partnerships to extend our reach and accomplish our water quality protection and improvement goals.

WLI is a science and education based non-profit corporation serving the Whitefish community through three key program areas, Science, Education, and Aquatic Resource Initiatives. Unlike an advocacy organization, WLI provides scientific data and education programs to help citizens and resource managers make informed decisions about resource management issues. Funded by members, grants, and partnerships with other organizations, WLI is investing in the community of Whitefish's future.

WLI's success to date is attributed in part to the trusted partnerships we have developed with local and statewide resource managers to provide them with quality scientific research and reporting, and to educators for whom we develop multidisciplinary outdoor education programs.

WLI participates on many boards and committees at a local and regional level to further protect aquatic resources. The committees on which WLI serves include; Upper Columbia Conservation Commission, Flathead Basin Commission, Montana Watershed Coordination Council, and the Haskill Basin Watershed Group.

WLI staff are trained scientists with extensive natural resource management and education experience. WLI's staff includes its founder and executive director who has a Bachelor's degree in biology and extensive professional experience with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, and later as a consultant specializing in fisheries related issues. The Science & Education Director has a Master's in Conservation Biology and diverse experience in field research, education, and communications, and is a published author and master's instructor. The Science & Education Coordinator is a Master's Field Naturalist and has a Bachelor's in Environmental Studies with experience in science, fieldwork, education, and public outreach.

A Science Advisory Committee comprised of experts from diverse scientific disciplines supports the staff, providing reviews and advice regarding our methodologies, programs, and reporting. The organization is led by an eleven member board of directors consisting of diverse community leaders.

WLI has built an excellent organizational reputation and staff members are recognized as leaders in the community. The Whitefish Community Foundation presented WLI with the inaugural Doris Schumm Community Spirit Award, and twice presented WLI with the Russ and Mary Jane Street Community Service Award, including the inaugural year of the award. WLI staff members are represented on numerous community boards and organizations. The Executive Director was appointment by Montana State Governor Steve Bullock to the Upper Columbia Conservation Commission (UC3) and the Flathead Basin Commission. He also serves on the board of directors for the Montana Watershed Coordination Council. The Science and Education Director was appointed by Governor Bullock as Chair of the UC3, serves as a supervisor on the Flathead Conservation District board. The Science and Education Coordinator serves on the Flathead Community of Resource Educators, the Flathead Roundtable, and the Haskill Basin Watershed Group.

WLI has completed a number of projects aimed at preserving water quality in the Whitefish Lake Watershed, many in collaboration with numerous individuals, groups, and agencies. Our scientific program focuses on long-term water quality monitoring of Whitefish Lake and local streams. WLI summarized results from its water quality program in the Whitefish Area Water Resources Report: A Status of the Whitefish Lake Watershed and Surrounding Area. The report was the first to summarize watershed characteristics and water quality trends of the area. WLI also completes investigations on relevant topics of community concern such as the Investigation of Septic Leachate to the Shoreline Area of Whitefish Lake that led to local government forming an ad-hoc committee to develop a wastewater management plan and mitigation recommendations. WLI's Investigation of Gasoline Constituent Loading to Whitefish Lake led local government to install a mitigation device at a city owned boat ramp to protect public health at the adjacent public swimming area. WLI data also prompted a secondary clean-up effort along Mackinaw Bay to remove lingering contaminated soils from a 1989 train derailment during which an estimated 25,000 gallons of diesel fuel entered the lake.

Beyond scientific studies, WLI develops programs to promote the health of local aquatic resources. Since 2012, WLI has provided an annual aquatic invasive species (AIS) management plan for the City of Whitefish. In response to the 2016 findings of zebra mussels in Montana, WLI coordinated and developed partners and funding to implement two watercraft inspection stations and a preventative hot water flush station for Whitefish Lake. These activities provided a critical level of defense for Whitefish Lake. WLI also administers and coordinates a citizen science based program to monitor 40 lakes in northwest Montana.

WLI has a robust educational program that annually engages over 1,000 citizens of various ages. WLI developed, owns and manages the Living Wetlands Interpretive Nature Trail to preserve water quality and wetland habitat. School groups visit this 30-acre wetland preserve near the shores of Whitefish Lake that includes a small tributary to the lake. WLI also works with high school classes including advanced chemistry, biology and GIS for field trips and class projects. WLI hosts high school job shadow students and has hosted eleven university interns over the years including students from Northwestern University, Middlebury College, Cornell University, Princeton University and most recently Brown University.

WLI will continue to expand established programs to protect the aquatic resources of the Whitefish area while engaging the next generation of water quality stewards. In the upcoming years, WLI will continue to facilitate finding solutions to septic leachate to the lake, and increase our understanding of lake dynamics to protect public health, the aquatic food web, and our local economy.

How we listen

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Seeking feedback from people served makes programs more responsive and effective. Here’s how this organization is listening.

done We shared information about our current feedback practices.
  • Who are the people you serve with your mission?

    The Whitefish Lake Institute primarily serves the Whitefish, Montana community and visitors.

  • How is your organization using feedback from the people you serve?

    To make fundamental changes to our programs and/or operations, To inform the development of new programs/projects, To strengthen relationships with the people we serve

  • Which of the following feedback practices does your organization routinely carry out?

  • What challenges does the organization face when collecting feedback?



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The people, governance practices, and partners that make the organization tick.


Connect with nonprofit leaders


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Connect with nonprofit leaders


Build relationships with key people who manage and lead nonprofit organizations with GuideStar Pro. Try a low commitment monthly plan today.

  • Analyze a variety of pre-calculated financial metrics
  • Access beautifully interactive analysis and comparison tools
  • Compare nonprofit financials to similar organizations

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Board of directors
as of 01/18/2023
SOURCE: Self-reported by organization
Board chair

Andy Feury

John Collins

Retired, Guy Carpenter

Andy Feury

Western Pacific Plastics

Hank Ricklefs

Retired, Plum Creek

John Muhlfeld

River Design Group

Mike Shaw

Retired, US Forest Service

Camisha Sawtelle

Attorney, Sawtelle Law Firm

Debbie Pierson

Clerk & Recorder, Flathead County

Jim Williams

Region 1 SupervisorMontana FWP

Brian Averill

Owner, Averill Hospitality

Monica Pastor

Owner, UnderScore Art

Board leadership practices

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

GuideStar worked with BoardSource, the national leader in nonprofit board leadership and governance, to create this section.

  • Board orientation and education
    Does the board conduct a formal orientation for new board members and require all board members to sign a written agreement regarding their roles, responsibilities, and expectations? Yes
  • CEO oversight
    Has the board conducted a formal, written assessment of the chief executive within the past year ? Not applicable
  • Ethics and transparency
    Have the board and senior staff reviewed the conflict-of-interest policy and completed and signed disclosure statements in the past year? Yes
  • Board composition
    Does the board ensure an inclusive board member recruitment process that results in diversity of thought and leadership? Yes
  • Board performance
    Has the board conducted a formal, written self-assessment of its performance within the past three years? Not applicable

Organizational demographics

SOURCE: Self-reported; last updated 1/18/2022

Who works and leads organizations that serve our diverse communities? Candid partnered with CHANGE Philanthropy on this demographic section.


No data

Race & ethnicity

No data

Gender identity

No data


No data

Sexual orientation

No data


No data

Equity strategies

Last updated: 01/18/2022

GuideStar partnered with Equity in the Center - an organization that works to shift mindsets, practices, and systems to increase racial equity - to create this section. Learn more

Policies and processes
  • We have community representation at the board level, either on the board itself or through a community advisory board.