River dispatch: Tree-caretakers’ final hitch

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.

Spending the last four months on the Missouri has been such a delight; I’ve come to realize that I’ve known few places as well in such a short amount of time. Reflecting back on the season, there are many things that have inspired and challenged me. But of all the time spent on the river I can say that the most memorable trip will always be the last one.

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Sabrina’s dog Barkley exploring Hole-in-the-Wall (river mile 62.9). (Photo Sabrina Smits.)

The weather was on our side for the final days of the season as we enjoyed 70 degree days and cloudless skies. But it wasn’t the weather alone that made for an ideal finale. We experienced the brilliant colors of the changing leaves, the total absence of mosquitoes, the solitude and the rewarding experience of seeing the dozens of thriving seedling we’ve nurtured all summer. As if this all wasn’t enough of a sendoff, we got to experience the lunar eclipse from the shores of the Missouri on our first night of the hitch.

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The lunar eclipse on September 27 seen over the Missouri River. (Photo Sabrina Smits.)

Although, I can’t deny how excited I am to sleep in a bed again (we’ve slept some 130 nights in tents this summer), I don’t think I have come to terms yet with how much I will miss the river. Though, I suspect it won’t be too long until I find myself back in this neck of the woods.

— Sabrina Smits, Tree caretaker

Friends, BLM celebrate National Public Lands Day at Wood Bottom

We celebrated National Public Lands Day at Wood Bottom on Sept. 26 with a fantastic group of volunteers. This is the fifth year in a row that we’ve worked with BLM on this event — our role is to recruit volunteers and to serve lunch (courtesy of the Public Lands Foundation).

Our volunteers re-painted the main fence surrounding the grounds and removed fencing that was scorched by a recent grassland fire. More than a dozen people turned out. The extra hands meant a quick finish of the work, and more time for the volunteers to get to know each another and share stories of past trips on public lands. Here’s to another great year of celebrating our public lands!

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A Friends volunteer paints old fence posts along the river. (Photo Friends.)

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Thanks volunteers for restoring an important piece of Wood Bottom! (Photo Friends.)

 

 

River dispatch: A trip with U of M freshmen

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!

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Incoming UM freshmen work cooperatively to water one of about 130 trees planted in 2014 and 2015 at Dark Butte (river mile 68.8) on the Upper Missouri River. (Photo Friends.)

As we got them set up to water the trees at Dark Butte (river mile 68.8) 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.

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.)

A UM student waters 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 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

River dispatch: Photos of the season so far

This dispatch was sent by Kevin Maher and 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.

Just photos this time. Enjoy!

— Kevin Maher and Sabrina Smits, Tree Caretakers

A family of Northern Flickers graced us with their presence week after week. (Photo Sabrina Smits.)

A family of Northern Flickers graced us with their presence week after week. (Photo Sabrina Smits.)

Kevin decked out with hoses galore, and our trusty 4-stroke Honda pump. This is the gear we use to water the trees both here at Dark Butte and near Coal Banks Landing. (Photo Sabrina Smits.)

Kevin decked out with hoses galore, and our trusty 4-stroke Honda pump. This is the gear we use to water the trees both here at Dark Butte and near Coal Banks Landing. (Photo Sabrina Smits.)

Looking downstream the beautiful Missouri from a phenomenal vantage point atop LaBarge Rock near Eagle Creek. (Photo Kevin Maher.)

Looking downstream at the beautiful Missouri River from a phenomenal vantage point atop LaBarge Rock near Eagle Creek. (Photo Kevin Maher.)

 

Canoe pig-pile at Eagle Creek during our orientation trip with Beth, Sara, Annie, and our amazing board members! (Photo  Sabrina Smits.)

Canoe pig-pile at Eagle Creek during our orientation trip with Beth, Sara, Annie, and our amazing board members! (Photo Sabrina Smits.)

Sara checking up on the growth of our cottonwoods at Dark Butte. Many have as much as a foot of growth this summer! (Photo Kevin Maher.)

Sara checking up on the growth of our cottonwoods at Dark Butte. Many have as much as a foot of growth this summer! (Photo Kevin Maher.)

A butterfly lands in Kevin's hand. That has to be good luck. (Photo Sabrina Smits.)

A butterfly lands in Kevin’s hand. That has to be good luck. (Photo Sabrina Smits.)

Monument (and guides) get some love from Minneapolis paper

Wow! The Monument received some great coverage in the Minneapolis Star Tribune over the weekend — a long article extolling the wonders of a fully outfitted trip through the White Cliffs.

strib screen grabWhile we were pleased that the writer had great things to say about the Monument…

Then, we entered the White Cliffs — sheer walls of white sandstone rising as high as 300 feet straight up from the river bed. It was so stunning that I stowed my paddle to watch the formations slip by…

 

…In our tent, with a cool breeze finally coming through the screens, I dozed off, marveling about how the Breaks were able to erase 210 years of time…

 

…I was hot, tired, bug-bitten and in a state of bliss. I wanted to stay here, in the middle of this odd and rugged landscape, floating between the past and the present…

We’re also extra tickled that the writer mentioned our friends at Missouri River Outfitters by name. Besides being great at what they do, they have been so amazingly helpful to us this season. We’re happy to see their name (and their anti-snake charm) in print.

charm - snakeThank you, Star Tribune, for the lovely story.

— Beth Kampschror, Executive Director

River Dispatch – August 4, 2015

This dispatch was sent by Kevin Maher and 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.

“Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.” – Gary Snyder

When I look out over the Missouri River and the cottonwoods, I don’t feel quite so far from home; in fact I feel more at home among the 200+ young saplings that we are caring for this summer than I have in a long time. The same species of cottonwood trees (Populus deltoides) can be found dotting the wet, deciduous forests that I grew up exploring back in the northeast. But it’s not my familiarity with these trees that have made me feel so connected to the Missouri Breaks Monument.

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Tree Keeper Kevin Maher enjoying cottonwoods both young and old at Dark Butte, one of the Tree Keepers’ weekly watering spots. (Photo Sabrina Smits.)

 As one of the largest hardwood species that grows in North America, the plains cottonwoods (Populus deltoides monilifera) that line the banks of Missouri River provide the Monument’s myriad visitors with much-needed shade during the hot months of the summer. Unfortunately, the majority of cottonwoods that exist in the stretch of the Missouri River that Kevin and I float weekly are closing in on the upper reaches of their lifespan (plains cottonwoods typically live between 70 to 100 years, though some can grow older). The reason that these cottonwood galleries are made up primarily of mature trees is because seedlings have not been successfully establishing over the last half century or more.

The seeds of the plains cottonwood require bare, mineral soil to successfully regenerate. However, since the installation of numerous dams on the upper Missouri River (ten mainstream dams within Montana alone), floods that once provided soil conditions ideal for cottonwood establishment have been absent from the landscape. These difficult conditions called for creative measures, and because the cottonwoods were not establishing on their own, the Friends and BLM began to plant young cuttings in 2013 to ensure the legacy of the plains cottonwoods in this landscape.

Tree Keeper, Sabrina Smits, showing the size of the young cottonwoods.  Thank you Kevin and Sabrina for taking great care of the Monument!

Tree Keeper Sabrina Smits showing the new growth on the young cottonwoods the Friends and BLM planted earlier this year. (Photo Sabrina Smits.)

The strong connection that I feel for the Monument principally stems from my passion for being involved in restoring healthy cottonwood galleries along the Missouri River. Returning to the same trees week after week and seeing their progress has been incredibly rewarding and has left me with a particularly strong feeling of attachment for Missouri Breaks. In just two short months this place has become a very dear to me – in fact, it’s become home.

— Sabrina Smits, Tree Keeper

River Dispatch – July 30, 2015

River Dispatch – July 30, 2015

This dispatch was sent by Kevin Maher and 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.

We are this summer’s Tree Caretakers and are responsible for watering the galleries of cottonwood saplings planted this year and in 2014 by Friends volunteers and the BLM.

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Sabrina Smits (left) and Kevin Maher at the former Eye of the Needle site. Kevin and Sabrina are taking care of our cottonwoods this season. (Photo Friends.)

Follow us this summer as we paddle past white cliffs, ogle the Missouri’s rich wildlife, and cheer on the growth of the cottonwoods.

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Tree Keeper Sabrina Smits watering a young cottonwood at Dark Butte. Dark Butte is one of three sites that Kevin and Sabrina are watering regularly this summer. (Photo Friends.)

We’re no more than humble seasonal employees with an obsession for wild places. But when we stumbled on the Friends, we couldn’t have been happier to join the team and spend our summer re-populating the Missouri’s riparian areas with native cottonwoods.

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Kevin and Sabrina’s canoe. Thank you for all of your hard work this season! (Photo Kevin Maher.)

Sabrina is a graduate of the University of Vermont’s forestry and environmental studies programs, and is definitely more at home among trees than I, an environmental studies student from the University of Montana, but we’ve both been captured by the Friends’ cottonwood project and must admit that we’re now emotionally attached to the young trees.

— Kevin Maher, Tree Caretaker

Friends, MCC, BLM fence Little Sandy campground

Earlier this spring, we hired MT Conservation Corps (MCC) to help BLM erect a cattle exclosure fence around Little Sandy campground. The Little Sandy area is rife with songbirds and other wildlife and lies on river left about five miles downstream from Coal Banks Landing.

An MCC crew member shows off some of the crew's work at Little Sandy. (Photo BLM).

An MCC crew member shows off some of the crew’s hard work at Little Sandy boat camp. (Photo BLM.)

This project is one of the first of multiple exclosures BLM will use to reduce conflict between cattle and recreationists on the Wild and Scenic Missouri River.

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MCC crew members level fence posts along the shores of the Missouri at Little Sandy campground. The crew spent a week at the site. (Photo BLM.)

The t-post and wire fence extends up the hill to the north and is hardly visible from the river and campground. (Photo BLM.)

This project was made possible with both public support (via our National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant, and by BLM) and also private support, including Patagonia and the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation.

The crew after a hard week's work. (Photo BLM).

The crew and BLM Maintenance Ranger, Sean Reynolds (front right), after a hard week’s work. Thanks, MCC, for all your help! (Photo BLM.)

We’re looking forward to continuing to help with these projects, while also keeping in mind aesthetics, wildlife-friendly fencing options, and other site specifics.

A fence like the one at Little Sandy may not be the best option for every campground or for protecting riverside cottonwood forests, so we’re exploring other creative ideas (like riparian pastures). The idea is to protect cottonwoods while ensuring that we’re respecting valid existing rights on the Monument, as per the Monument Proclamation that guides all of our work. We’ll keep you posted!

— Sara Meloy, Restoration and Volunteer Coordinator

Friends, BLM Plant 150 Cottonwoods on Upper Missouri

Read on for a recap of our 2015 cottonwood planting! This story below was published in the Great Falls Tribune, among other local and regional newspapers.

This spring, 150 new cottonwood trees are taking root at two sites in the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, thanks to the Friends, BLM, and 20 hard-working volunteers.

“This project is our most popular volunteer event of the year,” said Sara Meloy, Restoration Coordinator for the Friends. “Just about everyone can get behind the idea of planting a tree.”

Lynn Hinch, Arlene Mari, and Dave Mari (left to right) plant and water a new cutting at Dark Butte earlier this spring. These plantings are only made possible with the help of many dedicated volunteers! (Photo Friends.)

Cottonwood forests – so important for wildlife, shade, and overall river health – are in decline along this stretch of the Missouri River. There’s very little natural regeneration of these trees due to flood control, ice jams, and human development. The majority of the trees are more than 50 years old.

That’s why collaborative efforts by the Friends, BLM and other partners to restore these forests are critical. This year’s planting project, generously funded by NorthWestern Energy, marks the third year of successively bigger and more-remote planting projects that will eventually begin to regenerate significant stretches of new trees on the river. Considering that a mile-long stretch of riverbank may only hold 40 mature cottonwoods, planting 150 trees is a huge increase. 

Volunteers work amid the limbs of old cottonwoods. The average age of cottonwoods on the upper stretch of the river is 50+ years old.

Volunteers work amid strewn branches of old-growth cottonwoods. The average age of cottonwoods on the upper stretch of the Missouri is 50+ years and counting. (Photo Friends.)

Planting cottonwoods will not be a heal-all solution to restore habitat on the entire river, but it’s a step in the right direction. Other activities the Friends, BLM and other partners are working on include removing invasive weeds that outcompete native cottonwoods and willows and exploring fencing projects to create riparian pastures.

“We want to do everything we can to help BLM get conservation work done on the Monument,” said Friends Executive Director Beth Kampschror. “And regenerating cottonwoods is something we can do that will make an enormous difference, thanks to our great partners and amazing volunteers.” 

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Thanks, volunteers, for a great day! Keep an eye on our events page to find out how to volunteer on future projects. (Photo Friends.)

The April plantings saw Friends’ volunteers turn out from Havre, Lewistown, Billings, Helena, Choteau, Great Falls, and Fort Benton. The Friends have plenty of other cottonwood-related and other events coming up this field season. For more information, please click over to missouribreaks.org/events.

If you’d like to help in the field, please contact Friends Restoration and Volunteer Coordinator Sara Meloy at sara@missouribreaks.org. 

Read our summer newsletter!

Our summer newsletter is out!

Please click on the link below to read about:

  • The results of our amazing field season — more than 121 miles of river and coulees walked in a bid to remove invasive salt cedar from the Monument.
  • What we’re doing to protect our wild prairies – thanks to you!
  • Upcoming events, including National Public Lands Day, and our first-ever hosting of the Wild and Scenic Film Festival in Lewistown in October.

Friends newsletter summer 2014

Our members got the early-bird special — a paper copy of the newsletter mailed to them a few weeks ago. If you’d like the same, as well as that warm fuzzy feeling that comes from supporting a mighty little group like the Friends, please click here to join the Friends today. Thanks for all you do!

– Beth Kampschror, Executive Director