Montana/Dakotas

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Willow Planting in Bell Canyon 

photos and story by David Abrams, Western Montana District Office

 men looking at streambed in Bell Canyon

Steve Lubinski, a seasonal range technician with the Dillon Field Office, tells Reed Pitman, a teen from Deer Lodge, where he'd like to have logs and brances placed in the streambed.

crew planting willows

Reed Pitman, Bryan Nutting of Joliet, and Steve Lubinski plant three of 800 willows alonga mountain stream in Bell Canyon.  Pitman and Nutting were part of a Montana Youth Challenge team assisting the BLM field office with the stream restoration project.

Youth joined experience as nearly a dozen employees from the Dillon Field Office and members of Montana’s Youth Challenge teamed up to help repair a damaged riparian area in Bell Canyon, about a 90-minute drive from Dillon.

The two teens--Reed Pitman from Deer Lodge, and Bryan Nutting from Joliet—spent the day with the BLM crew planting 800 willows along an ice-cold, crystal-clear mountain stream. The group also helped improve the “architecture” of the creek by shaping it with downed branches and streamside rocks.

“Initially, we were going to build fences to protect the riparian area, but now our Plan B is to allow this place to rest for four years, treat it for cheatgrass, and plant willows, allowing the stream to heal,” said Pat Fosse, Assistant Field Manager for Renewable Resources, as she helped the others dig holes for the willows. 

"This stream is in a steep,narrow canyon and is the only water source in a large pasture," she added.  "It has been heavily impacted by past livestock grazing practices.  New livestock management will include a shortened season of use, periodic rest, and offsite water development."

Steve Lubinski, a seasonal range technician with the Dillon Field Office, worked with the enthusiastic Youth Challenge participants, showing them how to correctly place a log mid-stream and how to find the best place to plant the young willows. As he surveyed their work from the bank, Lubinski said, “Now this will flow year-round. One of the cooler things about this project is that we’ll be able to see the effects of this very quickly.”

A few weeks earlier, Dillon BLM employees had seeded the area which had been sprayed for cheatgrass the previous autumn. As the mountain sunshine kept the crew warm in the high altitude, everyone expressed optimism that the project would be a success.

But whatever the outcome, Fosse said it was “a good day at the office.” As she patted soil around a willow shoot, she added, “This is like working in a postcard.”