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A Group Effort: Passive Restoration on Private Land in the Madison Valley

 
An irrigation ditch flows through the Endecott ranch in the Madison Valley.

This post was written by Big Sky Watershed Corps member Mitch Hoffman as a part of a series reviewing the stops along the 2019 Missouri Headwaters Watershed Tour. Mitch shares more about our stop at the Endecott ranch in the Madison Valley and the passive restoration used there.

In the Madison watershed, collaboration is king. A visit to the Endecott family ranch during the Missouri Headwaters Watershed Tour was a clear demonstration of the principle Linda Owens of Madison Valley Ranchlands shared with Tour participants: “Our local groups knit this community together.”

Attendees of the Missouri Headwaters Watershed Tour move through a pasture on the Endecott ranch to view various aspects of the restoration project.

The tour visit of the Madison Valley started with a talk from local partners including the Madison Conservation District, Madison Valley Ranchlands Group and its Weed Committee, Wildlife Conservation Society, Montana Land Reliance, and ranching families. This collaboration has clearly unlocked many doors for the small community and appears to be far from done. Friendly smiles, banter, and discussions were present in spades.

The Endecott family is as much a part of the Madison Valley as the river itself. The family grew up along the Madison and have built their lives there. When Janet Endecott noticed stream banks eroding along South Meadow Creek, which runs through her property, she went to the local Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) office to try to find the best solution, and soon a host of local watershed partners were on board. Prior to the project, the stream was regularly grazed by cattle. This caused erosion, stream widening, high levels of sediment and nutrients in the water, and decreased fish habitat.  

It was decided early on that this project should focus on passive restoration. The idea was that if the stream was fenced and the cows only had limited access to the riparian zone, the stream would – for the most part – fix itself. Water tanks had to be added in order to make this feasible, but the majority of the project was to simply put up fencing around key riparian areas. The project was made possible by funds from the NCRS, DNRC, NorthWestern Energy, and several smaller donors.

Overall, the endeavor was a huge success. The stream narrowed and deepened, providing better habitat for larger fish to return to the area. Upstream, minor channel movement was necessary, but overall, the majority of the restoration work was done by Mother Nature. Today, cattle graze the area for less than one week in the fall, allowing more than enough time for the riparian vegetation and banks to recover from grazing impacts each year. Since the project took place, rainbow trout have returned to the area, and the water temperature has lowered. 

The Madison Conservation District (MCD) serves largely in the Madison Valley. This group works in the second-fastest growing county in Montana, behind only Gallatin County. With the Madison’s unique blend of recreationists and ranchers, it can often be hard to balance the community’s needs. That’s where partnerships come in. By working with different resource users throughout the valley, MCD is best able to tackle a wide variety of challenges. They’re also able to accomplish conservation projects on a limited budget by earning the trust of landowners and other stakeholders like the Endecotts.

To find out more about the Madison Conservation District and the work they do in the Madison Valley, visit their website

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