Bull River Re-vegetation Projects


Reed canarygrass and bank erosion is a common sight along the Bull River

Today, the Bull River is lacking in native shrubs and trees along its river banks. Loss of riparian forest, modified hydrology and highly competitive reed canarygrass limit the natural regeneration of other species. A healthy river is lined with diverse vegetation which has varied root systems that hold streambanks intact (in addition to providing important shade, cover, forage, and habitat for many fish and wildlife species). Much of the Bull River today is bordered almost exclusively by dense mats of reed canarygrass. Once introduced in hay fields, reed canarygrass has spread extensively along the banks of the Bull River. Reed canarygrass forms a dense rhizomatous mat in the uppermost layer of soil, but does little to protect or stabilize the soil underneath. This leaves much of the exposed streambank underneath exposed and prone to erosion. Once underlying soil has been washed away with the river, large clumps of reed canarygrass often fall into the river as well.

From Berray - Edwards-Stein-Zigan

Weed barrier is laid along the banks of the river to suppress reed canarygrass.

Bull River Re-vegetation Projects

The Lower Clark Fork Watershed Group (LCFWG), along with other partners (Green Mountain Conservation District, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the Kootenai National Forest and Avista), is implementing a large-scale re-vegetation effort along the banks of the Bull River, which are currently largely dominated by the non-native and highly competitive reed canarygrass. In order for plantings to be effective, the reed canarygrass must first be killed. This is accomplished by laying down a heavy fabric barrier over mats of reed canarygrass. This fabric, left in place for 1-2 years, will kill the grass and leave a space for other plants to establish.

After the the weed barrier has been installed, the areas are also fenced in order to protect the young plants to be planted from wildlife browse until they are established enough to withstand this pressure.

Bull River Re-vegetation Photo

Enclosures are built to protect young plants as they first establish.

A variety of native vegetation is then planted within these enclosures, including: western red cedar, willow, alder, water birch, choke cherry, service berry, golden currant, red osier dogwood, elderberry, black hawthorn, woods rose, black cottonwood, white pine, Engelmann spruce, and western larch. They are then maintained and protected for the next 5-10 years, until they are strong enough to withstand competition from reed canarygrass and wildlife browse pressure.

In our most current effort, the we are working with local landowners to implement this re-vegetation technique throughout the mainstem Bull River. With funding from Montana Department of Environmental Quality, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, Montana Department of Natural Resources, and Avista Corporation, work commenced in 2014. In June 2015, over 14,000 square yards of fabric were laid on 7 different sites initiating the re-vegetation process. In fall of 2016, planting began with the harvest and planting of 7500 willow starts. Planting continued in 2017 with thousands of containerized plants and a few hundred supplemental willows through all properties. The Kootenai National Forest is also implementing a separate re-vegetation effort on national forest lands in the Bull River.

Re-vegetation exclosure full of new growth from willows and other native vegetation planted in 2017.

Alternative technique

Alternative technique for re-vegetation along the Bull River features individual plantings.

In 2017, LCFWG staff experimented with a different method with the goal of  reducing implementation time and long-term maintenance costs – making re-vegetation efforts along the Bull River more appealing for small landowners and organizations. Instead of large exclosures, this technique features individual plantings, which are less likely to sustain a large amount of damage each year due to their smaller size and sturdy construction and are easier for one person to fix with a few hand tools. To implement this technique, an approximately 3’ x 3’ area was dug in the reed canary grass down to mineral soil, a native tree is planted in the center, a small square of weed suppression fabric is installed around the tree and fixed to the ground with landscaping staples, a t-post is pounded into the ground, and an 8-10’ piece of welded wire fencing is made into a hoop around the planting and fastened to the t-post.

Our goal for the Bull River

This project is anticipated to transform the Bull River’s banks into a healthy riparian area that promotes water quality and provides better habitat for native fish and wildlife. The paintings below, by local landowner Judy Triboulet, demonstrate the possible transformation of the Bull River from its current condition now to its anticipated state over the next 25 and 50 years. The LCFWG partners with other organizations and landowners to steward to the river – hoping to leave it in better condition than we found it.

A hedge of woody vegetation now grows along the Bull River on the property pictured here as a result of efforts began in 2011.

Latest on the Bull River