The Bull River pre-restoration

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.

Revegetation Technique #1: Individual Plantings

Bull River; Wood Duck; Western Red Cedar fenced planting

Example of an individual planting installed along the Bull River.

LCFWG’s preferred technique for establishing native trees and shrubs features individual plantings. 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. Relative to larger exclosures described below, this technique has a shorter implementation time and reduced long-term maintenance costs, as individual plantings 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.

1. Prepare planting sites

restoration of the watershed, tree planting

2. Plant native tree or shrubs.

person installing a weed barrier in the bull river

 3. Install weed matting.

4. Install fencing.

Revegetation Technique #2: Enclosures

Bull river with weed barriers near the banks

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

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), has implemented 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.

protecting plantings on the banks of the bull river

Exclosures are built to protect young plants as they first 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 restoration in autumn

Revegetation exclosure full of new growth form willows and other native vegetation.

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.

Our Goal For The Bull River

Bull river with woody vegetation along the banks

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

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 LCFWG partners with other organizations and landowners to steward to the river – hoping to leave it in better condition than we found it.

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