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Montana Watershed Coordination Council | P.O. Box 1416 Helena, MT 59624 | info@mtwatersheds.orgClick Here to Sign-up for our Watershed Newsletter

Project Support: East Fork Bull River Revegetation Project

LCFWG Coordinator Brita Olson plants a cottonwood tree along the East Fork Bull River

The East Fork Bull River (EFBR) is an important tributary to the Bull River and essential to the long-term survival of native fish. Species of fish include bull trout, west slope cutthroat trout, and mountain whitefish. The bull trout is listed under the Endangered Species Act and their numbers are declining in this stream. To improve the habitat, the Lower Clark Fork Watershed Group (LCFWG) used MWCC Watershed Fund Project Support to complete a revegetation project along the EFBR which was overtaken with reed canarygrass and other invasive species. The invasive grass lacks the deep root systems necessary to avoid riverbank erosion and offer high-quality in-stream and riparian habitats for fish and wildlife. LCFWG received support from the Watershed Fund to revegetate this area with local woody shrubs and trees, including conifers, black cottonwood, and companion shrub species. To prevent weeds from taking over, LCFWG removed weeds effectively and put weed matting around the individual trees, and to protect from the wildlife, they added fencing. They will maintain the revegetation site to ensure that the new plants are protected until they are mature enough to compete with invasive weeds. This technique has proven successful in reducing erosion, increasing shade, and improving habitat for aquatic and terrestrial species. 

  • 30 stakeholders engaged, including private landowners, the local conservation district, and volunteers. 
  • 1 conservation practice implemented: Riparian vegetation planting
  • 0.75 miles of EFBR improved
  • 25 acres of riparian and floodplain areas made more resilient
  • 511 trees and shrubs were planted
Future impacts on the Bull River Watershed and its communities:

This project, completed in the spring of 2021, is a part of a drainage-wide revegetation effort in the East Fork Bull River and the larger Bull River watershed. We plan to continue phased revegetation along the East Fork Bull River and mainstem Bull River in coming years, as opportunity and funding allow, and this project contributed to building momentum. It is an ongoing process that requires maintenance, adaptive management, and continued investment, until trees are established above browse height and the canopy is dense enough to shade reed canary grass and allow forest succession to occur naturally. Landownership along the East Fork Bull River consists of two committed private landowners, who in addition to supporting revegetation efforts have put their land in conservation easements, as well as the Kootenai National Forest. This is a unique opportunity to pursue drainage-wide river conservation efforts with continued commitment from landowners and land managers, and sets an example for other landowners interested in conservation throughout the Bull River drainage and elsewhere in the Lower Clark Fork Watershed.

An LCFWG Volunteer prepares a site for planting along the East Fork Bull River
Impact of the Watershed Fund:

While revegetation efforts have been ongoing in the Bull River drainage for decades, the investments made in this project by the Watershed Fund and other funders in 2021 have helped reinvigorate enthusiasm for ongoing work in the Bull River drainage. Despite unusually hot and dry weather, including a heat wave with temperatures elevated well above 100 degrees in June shortly after planting efforts occurred, plant survival has been excellent. As of fall 2021, very little mortality was observed, and many seedlings nearly doubled in size by fall. In addition to maintaining past projects, we are getting more trees in the ground, more landowners are engaged, and we are accomplishing new work at a scale that we can sustain into the future. Our commitment is to growing trees over the long term (not just planting them), and willingness from funders to invest in a phased approach supports an ongoing presence in the drainage. This project is a model and is already poised to be replicated in new areas in spring and fall of 2022.