This dispatch was sent by Kevin Maher and/or Sabrina Smits, Friends seasonal staff on the river this year. A huge thanks to our project supporters — including NorthWestern Energy, BLM, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and our members, for investing in our cottonwoods work.
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!
As we got them set up to water the trees at Dark Butte, we 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.
Noel also spoke about the volunteer tree planting 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 seven 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 this part of the Monument healthy!
— Kevin Maher, Tree Caretaker