This week, Sabrina and I had the pleasure of working with a group of incoming University of Montana freshmen as part of UM’s “Freshman Wilderness Experience.” The program is designed as an introductory wilderness trip for students interested in pursuing outdoor career paths, and we were fortunate to show them a part of Montana we have come to know and greatly love this summer.
Many students had never seen the Missouri Breaks before, so we enjoyed watching their excitement while on the river. We were also grateful for their help with our cottonwood restoration project!
Incoming UM freshmen work cooperatively to water one of about 130 trees planted in 2014 and 2015 at Dark Butte on the Upper Missouri River. (Photo Friends.)
As we got them set up to water the trees at Dark Butte, we coincidentally ran into Noel Birkland, one of our board members from Lewistown, who was on a canoe trip. He gave an impromptu talk to the group about the initial steps of the cottonwood project and explained its importance for the future health of the river since cottonwoods in this stretch are struggling to regenerate naturally.
A UM student helps water trees. The watering system involves using a Honda gas-powered pump, several hundred feet of fire hose, and a PVC pipe to steady the hose end enough to reach the trees through their protective wire fencing. (Photo Friends.)
Noel also spoke about the volunteer tree planting process and why it was necessary to erect cages to ward off ungulates, cattle, and beaver. One of the students questioned the purpose of the PVC pipes poking out of the ground at the base of each tree and Noel explained how most cottonwood roots go so deep that they actually sit in the groundwater table!
The PVC pipes, which are perforated at the bottom, are essential in order to direct water 7-feet underground where the trees need it most. Next year, Noel mentioned, the Friends and BLM plan to use a biodegradable pipe in place of the PVC in order to tread a little lighter on the land.
Thanks, Noel, for your input, and thanks UM students for all the help keeping the Upper Missouri River healthy and green!