Partnerships Producing Possibilities

The MRCDC River Rendezvous highlights the success of partnership efforts to control saltcedar on the South shore of Fort Peck Lake

Over 30 folks loaded into boats gathered at the Devil’s Creek Recreation Area at Fort Peck Lake on August 25th to tour a unique, cooperative effort to combat the invasive tree, saltcedar (Tamarisk ramosissima). Saltcedar is native to Eurasia, produces thousands of seeds that float on water and germinate in the wet soils left behind as the lake level steadily drops through the summer. The tree uses large amounts of water and exudes salts into the soil altering its ability to support more desirable plants. Saltcedar has drastically altered riparian systems in the Southwestern US, prompting concerted efforts to control the plant in Montana.

After a 30 minute ride on a rare glass-like surface of Fort Peck, the boats landed at the mouth of Seven Blackfoot Creek, providing tour attendees with a first-hand look at the extent of saltcedar infestation and the challenges imposed by the rugged terrain. A delta of trees ranging from seedlings to six-foot tall individuals sprinkled with emerging cottonwoods testify of the complexity of treating the full area. To add to the challenge, the 56,000 acre drainage encompasses both public and private ownerships, steep terrain, and very limited road access. So why pick such a challenging area for a saltcedar treatment?

The project was proposed at a meeting of the Montana Saltcedar Team (MST) which is a group of over 50 public and private partners whose mission is to promote strategic, cooperative management of saltcedar along the Missouri and Musselshell Rivers in Montana. During the first meeting, the group identified the Seven Blackfoot Creek area in Garfield County as a key area for managing saltcedar on the south shore of Fort Peck Lake. The group has since spent nearly a year organizing partners, obtaining funding, and developing a treatment plan that includes the full array of landowners with the goal of controlling saltcedar in the entire watershed. “This project is important to the private landowners in Garfield County, and we hope it provides an example for how to manage saltcedar and noxious weeds in other areas”, said Dean Rogge, Chairman of the Garfield County Conservation District and the MRCDC.

The treatment plan is a cooperative effort between the US Army Corps Of Engineers (ACOE), US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Garfield County Conservation District, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), private landowners, and the Missouri River Conservation Districts Council (MRCDC). Patricia Gilbert of the US ACOE believes that having everyone at the table helps keep the support for the projects coming from the federal agencies. “It’s important that we all understand how management of weeds on our land affects our neighbors and their land”, she continued.

Currently, treatments have been applied to the private land near the head of the drainage, and will continue with applications on BLM, US FWS, and US ACOE land scheduled for summer of 2016. Herbicide treatments will be applied with helicopter, UTV spray rigs, and backpack sprayers as dictated by the terrain and infestation density. This collaborative approach to managing saltcedar on a landscape scale will result in more impact to the plant community and more efficient use of everyone’s limited resources.

The MST was formed in April of 2014 to bring federal and state agencies together with local government and private individuals to combat a common problem. The Team promotes on –the-ground projects and working together across land ownership boundaries to control saltcedar. To support that mission, the MST also hosted an Americorps Member stationed in Petroleum County to help coordinate saltcedar management efforts, provide education and outreach benefits to the Missouri and Musselshell River watersheds, and create a database of current infestations of saltcedar to help MST members prioritize future areas of treatment.

The MST also serves as a source of communication about other saltcedar treatment efforts going on within the watersheds. Sara Meloy, volunteer coordinator with the Friends of the Missouri Breaks Monument described their use of Montana Conservation Corps (MCC) volunteer teams to survey and hand-pull saltcedar from the Missouri River between Fort Benton and the Fred Robinson Bridge. This program removed saltcedar from over 100 miles of river the past year and there are plans for more removals and surveys in 2016.

On the ride back to Devil’s Creek, the boats stopped to survey a small site of Eurasian Watermilfoil, where Patricia discussed the impacts of lake level on the growth of the plant. Lake level forecasts are used to determine the need for treatments for both milfoil and saltcedar on an annual basis, and help guide the long-range plan of the Corps in controlling these aquatic invasive species.

Thanks to Jim Gordon with Crop Production Services for supplying the lunch for the tour participants and to Patricia Gilbert and cohorts from the US ACOE and Bridget Neilsen and fellow USFWS boat operators for a near-perfect day on the water, despite the smoke from area fires. To learn more about the MST and their projects, contact Rachel Frost, Coordinator for MRCDC, at mrcdc@macdnet.org.

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