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Big Sky Watershed Corps Project Support: Riparian Revegetation in the Bitterroot Watershed

Overview:

The North Burnt Fork Creek has been impaired by excessive sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorus pollution, all of which eventually flow into the Bitterroot River. The Bitter Root Water Forum’s Big Sky Watershed Corps (BSWC) member, Ellie DeVos, applied for and received Big Sky Watershed Corps Project Support funding from the MWCC Watershed Fund to remedy this issue. Ellie’s project involved revegetation of the stream bank by local volunteers, as well as fencing maintenance and cattle crossing fortifications at the site of a completed riparian management corridor project in 2020. The 2020 project included 100’ of livestock/riparian fencing on each side of the stream, a reinforced water gap, a reinforced cattle crossing, a non-reinforced cattle crossing, 120 riparian plants, and an off-stream watering system. Through Ellie’s project, the Water Forum was able to continue its work at this site to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution by building a healthy riparian area to stabilize the stream bank. 

Accomplishments:
  • 28 stakeholders engaged, including 1 private business, 3 private landowners, 21 volunteers, 1 local business, 1 Conservation District, 1 State Government Agency
  • 2 conservation practices implemented:
      • Riparian infrastructure improvements
    • Riparian revegetation planting
  • 2.2 acres made more resilient: 
    • Floodplain/riparian buffer
  • 0.25 miles (1,320 feet) of stream improved
  •  70 trees and shrubs planted, 300 willow stakes planted
How will this project improve water quality and other natural resources in the Bitterroot Watershed?

The majority of riparian plantings were native willows and a variety of shrub species. The willows are fast growing and have a unique root system that makes them excellent for preventing erosion along the stream banks. Erosion will further be controlled with the repaired fencing and reinforced crossings to prevent livestock from entering the stream. Excluding cattle will also reduce waste being excreted in or directly adjacent to the stream bank, which can contribute to nutrient issues. These efforts will increase the overall water quality of the North Burnt Fork Creek and ultimately the Bitterroot River. 

Impacts of the Watershed Fund: How has this project helped build capacity for the Bitter Root Water Forum?

With the success of the Water Forum’s initial project in 2020, the landowner wanted to improve the stream bank vegetation even further. Katie Vennie, the Communications and Outreach Manager for Water Forum, said that with the quick turnaround of the Watershed Fund, they “were able to jump on the opportunity to do additional work. Having landowners who want [the Water Forum] to do more greatly increases our reach and allows us to do more projects like this.” The landowner’s neighbors have already reached out with interest in doing similar projects. 

Impacts of Big Sky Watershed Corps:

Ellie, the BSWC member serving with the Water Forum, helped make it possible for the nonprofit to complete two on-the-ground projects this fall instead of its usual one. Ellie not only spearheaded this project but also contributed to other aspects of the group’s work. According to Katie, “Ellie is also vital for our education program, really helping with building virtual platforms for field trips and lessons.” The BSWC program has increased the Water Forum’s capacity to do more and gave Ellie important professional skills she can take to future jobs. When asked about what this experience has taught her, Ellie said, “I have learned how to coordinate projects from start to finish, from obtaining funding and applying for permits, to negotiating with a contractor. It has taught me how to manage important details… [and] I have learned the importance of thorough communication.”

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