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2017 in review: Activities in the Bull River valley

Over the past year, Lower Clark Fork Watershed Group (LCFWG) members working to establish increased vegetation along the Bull River have both continued maintaining/enhancing past re-vegetation efforts as well as completed implementation of a multi-year project funded through the Green Mountain Conservation District.

Continued implementation

Re-vegetation exclosure in October 2017 full of this year’s new growth.

Over the last few years, 89 re-vegetation exclosures have been built on 7 properties throughout the Bull River. In fall of 2016, planting efforts began with willow staking. In this technique, live cuttings are taken from willows (roughly thumb-size) and pounded into the ground with a rubber mallet. In the spring of 2017, these sprouted and filled the exclosures with new growth. Approximately 5,000 trees and shrub plugs were then planted in June 2017, and approximately 600 trees and shrubs (gallon-size) were planted in October 2017 along with approximately 300 supplemental willow plantings.

New planting technique

Individual planting on the Wood Duck property, October 2017.

Also, in October, LCFWG staff worked with the Montana Conservation Corps to try out a new re-vegetation technique. The traditional method that has been used for re-vegetation efforts throughout the Bull River valley over the last ten years (and elsewhere where reed canarygrass is found extensively) is a multi-year process. First, heavy black fabric is laid to suppress the weeds and exclosures are built, and finally after two years planting is completed. In 2017, the LCFWG experimented with a different method. The goal  was to experiment with a technique that could reduce 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. A total of 270 plantings were installed on the Wood Duck property and one other private ownership.

Maintenance efforts

A young cottonwood seedling planted on the Wood Duck property, May 2017.

On the Wood Duck property, owned by Avista Corporation, maintenance was completed on a large re-vegetation effort that began in 2011. This effort consisted of 13 large exclosures. In 2016, staff from Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) and LCFWG staff worked in partnership to repair exclosures, and make modifications aimed at better preventing beaver browse. Additional cottonwoods were also planted to supplement the original plantings in both 2016 and 2017. In May 2017, 250 cottonwoods were planted to fill in gaps in previous planting efforts. In October 2017, with the assistance of the Montana Conservation Corps, all remaining exclosures were maintained, repaired, or (in some cases) removed. Another 600 native trees (cottonwood, alder, willow, white pine, douglas fire, ponderosa pine) were planted in and around the remaining exclosures. 

Additional cottonwoods were also planted to replace mortalities on another private ownership and weed control efforts were undertaken. Members of the LCFWG remain committed to the long-term success of these re-vegetation efforts and making lasting improvements to the health of the Bull River watershed.