2019 Report on the Wolf Creek Bridge Riverbank Restoration Project to Northwestern Energy’s Madison and Missouri Stewardship Program
Upper Missouri Watershed Alliance
prepared by Joe Kerkvliet, PhD
Planting and nurturing
Beginning May 2018, the Upper Missouri Watershed Alliance (UMOWA) began implementing its portion of the Northwestern Energy’s Madison and Missouri River Stewardship Program Project, known as the Wolf Creek Bridge Riverbank Restoration Project. UMOWA’s portion of the project is to plant, fertilize, protect, and nurture 140 native shrubs along 1200 feet of the Missouri River bank below Holter Dam and above Craig, Montana. The projects’ aims are to restore native vegetation and ecological function to this quarter mile of riverbank that has been impacted by ungulate grazing and, to a lesser extent, and has been impacted by angler use.
In late May 2018, UMOWA spearheaded the effort to plant, fertilize, and protect 140 native shrubs, using 1-2 foot plants in 6’ to 12’ inch pots as planting stock. The plants were an approximately even mixture of six native species: chokecherry, three-leaf sumac, buffalo berry, currant, snowberry, and wild rose. The plants and fertilizer were donated by Gardenwerks, a nursery in Helena, Montana. Planting and fertilizing were done by 4-6 volunteers from UMOWA and 20-25 volunteers from Scouts of America troops from Helena and Montana City, Montana (see photos).
Planted scrubs were randomly assigned to one of three protective treatments. About 40 percent of the shrubs were planted in 5-foot by 10-foot exclosures made with 8-foot t-posts and 6-foot metal utility fabric. These exclosures are expected to provide protection from grazing by ungulates, including domestic cattle, elk, and mule and whitetail deer, as well as protection from cambium grazing by rodents (muskrat, beaver, and mice) and rabbits.
Another 40 percent of the shrubs were protected from rodent and rabbit grazing by using 4-foot utility posts attached to 3-foot poultry wire. The remaining 20 percent of the shrubs were planted without protection, only marked with a 4-foot u-post.
All 140 planted shrubs were watered June 1, 2018 to September 14, 2018 at 6-10 day intervals. UMOWA volunteers conducted the watering using water gravity feed from a 100-gallon plastic water tank mounted on a Ford 250 pickup. Water was provided by Headhunters Flyshop in Craig, Montana. The water tank was purchased by UMOWA and Bill Ryan, a UMOWA board member, provided the ugly yellow Ford 250 pickup.
In July 2018, UMOWA volunteers conducted a weed pull in the project area and pulled several 50 gallon trash bags of Russian and spotted knapweed.
In December 2018, the contractor chosen by Northwestern Energy complete construction of a barbed wire fence along the entire length 1200 foot length of the project site to protect the planted shrubs and the riverbank from grazing by cattle, horses, elk and deer, and two water gaps to allow livestock to access drinking water from the river. In addition, the contractor built two water-gaps to provide access to water for domestic stock (see photo).
As of October 12, 2018, about 85 percent of the planted shrubs have survived and grown (see photos). The surviving shrubs have added one-inch to three-feet of new growth. Especially noteworthy is the 1.5 to 3-feet of growth of some of the wild rose specimens and the presence of rosehip berries on some of the new plants. Of the 15 percent mortality, the majority seems to have been planted closer to the riverbank and many plants were submerged for many days during the high water flows of June 2018.
The fencing discussed above did not occur in time to prevent some damage to the plantings after livestock was release into the adjacent field. In spring 2019, UMOWA volunteers repair the damage done by livestock to the exclosures and other plant protections. UMOWA volunteers will also conduct and monitor the survival of the shrubs planted in 2018 and replace those plants which did not survive livestock grazing prior to the completion of the fence.
In addition, UMOWA will build a stile to provide anglers’ access to the fenced portion of the Missouri riverbank at the upstream end of the project site.
UMOWA will continue to water the surviving shrubs during Spring/Summer 2019 and monitor survival and growth. After spring 2019, UMOWA will analyze survival and growth data to estimate the statistical correlations between species’ survival and protection treatments.
UMOWA acknowledges and thanks the following individuals and organizations for help in the Wolf Creek Bridge Riverbank Restoration Project:
Pete Peterson, Bill Ryan, Joe Kerkvliet, Pat Hunter, Jason Mullen, Alan McNeal, Alan Shaw, Gardenwerks, Scouts of America, Stevie Neumann, and Steve Leath.