In July 2006, the Bundy Bridge Fire burned more than 90,000 acres of public, private and state land about 20 miles north of Pompeys Pillar. Some of the areas were burned so severely that no vegetation survived to resprout this spring.
In order to restore some of the big game habitat and stabilize the tops of some critical drainages, the BLM proposed a habitat enhancement project to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF). The foundation approved the project and provided $8,000 for shrub seedlings. Twenty-five hundred seedlings were purchased from the Montana Conservation Nursery. Selected species included silver buffaloberry, chokecherry, skunk sumac, American plum, black hawthorn, and plains cottonwood.
From the beginning, the collaborative project involved numerous participants. Just getting the seedlings from Missoula to Billings included several different hand-offs. Once the seedlings reached Billings, they were stored in commercial coolers that were donated by local businesses.
All that was left was getting them into the ground. The planting date was set for Saturday, March 31. Equipment was borrowed from other offices, the Boy Scouts were lined up, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation volunteers were ready, BLM employees were good to go, the Porta-potties were delivered, and chili was ordered for lunch.
Then it snowed eight inches Friday night.
Urgent calls to local ranchers revealed that conditions were not right for a bunch of people to plant seedlings; the roads were extremely muddy and impassable. Fortunately most of the volunteers were contacted before they left town, and only a couple of BLM employees didn’t get the word in time and drove out to the site.
The planting was rescheduled. April 14 dawned sunny and beautiful and a troop of Boy Scouts, RMEF volunteers, BLMers, and a few others started putting shrubs in the ground.
Everyone worked hard and did a great job. They took a lunch break for chili, cornbread and brownies, and then went back to work. About half the shrubs got planted. Several days of soaking rain followed, giving the seedlings a good start.
But what about the rest of the seedlings?
Montana State Office and Billings Field Office employees were encouraged to sign up for a day in the field. The night before the chosen day it rained….and rained…and rained. The roads were a muddy mess, so the work day was cancelled.
The BLM finally issued a small contract and the seedlings were all in the ground by the middle of May. As of June 29, the seedlings are leafed out and doing extremely well -- except for a few pulled out by a curious elk that obviously had not read the news release. We plan to monitor the planting for three to five years to assess the success of the project.