The Madison River Foundation is organizing a volunteer effort to plant willows along the Madison River south of McAtee Bridge to rehabilitate riverbanks.
The project came about after the Bureau of Land Management did a watershed assessment for the Madison River and found some areas of along the river that had experienced degradation from years of livestock grazing, said Richard Lessner, executive director for the Madison River Foundation.
One such section of ground was the BLM land south of McAtee Bridge on the west side of the river. They land was pulled out of the agencies grazing program and Lessner looked into the possibility of working with the agency on a rehabilitation project.
“We suggested they might consider doing rehabilitation work on the riverbanks and they were open to that,” Lessner said.
The river foundation offered their support and volunteers for the project and the BLM is donating some manpower and about 600 sandbank willows, which are native to the Madison Valley.
Streamside vegetation is important on the Madison River for a variety of reasons, he said. It provides shade that helps cool water temperatures and provide cover for fish. It also provides stabilization for streamside soils. Without that stabilization the banks can erode into the river and cause sedimentation problems, such as silting in spawning habitat for trout. The streamside vegetation also provides crucial habitat for terrestrial insects that can comprise up to 50 percent of a trout’s diet during the summer.
The project is meant to be a pilot project of sorts and if it’s successful, the foundation and the agency will look to do it at other places along the river, Lessner said.
The BLM is always willing to work with local groups on conservation projects like this, said Tim Bozorth, BLM field manager in Dillon.
“I think there’s other opportunities to do this on an expanded basis,” Bozorth said.
For Lessner the project fits directly within the mission of the Madison River Foundation.
“Our mission is to preserve, protect and enhance, so anywhere we can do something to directly improve the habitat along the river … this is really a restoration project,” he said. “We’re really pleased when an agency like the BLM is open to this kind of project, this kind of cooperation on these issues.”
Lessner is still rounding up volunteers for the planting work, which will start at 10 a.m. on Friday, June 1 at McAtee Bridge. To help with the project call Lessner at 682-3148.