Noxious weed mapping event set for Madison River

Weeds along the Madison River are going to get a lot of attention on July 27 as volunteers from around the area will float the river mapping locations of noxious weeds.

The Madison River Foundation in conjunction with the Madison Valley Ranchlands Group and the Center for Aquatic Nuisance Species in Livingston are teaming up for the first ever Madison River Noxious Weed Mapping.

The three groups are working together on the upper Madison River. The Gallatin/Madison Chapter of Trout Unlimited is going to organize the mapping of the lower river, said Richard Lessner, executive director of the Madison River Foundation.

The idea for the project came from the Center for Aquatic Nuisance Species and a similar mapping project they did on the Yellowstone River last year, Lessner said.

The group was eager to do a similar project on the Madison River and Lessner began to work to get it organized.

“When you’re trying to do 125 miles of river, it requires a lot of volunteer effort,” he said. “It’s a pretty big undertaking for us to do something like this.”

The project will involve volunteers floating, identifying and logging in GPS coordinates for noxious weeds they see along the riverbank.

Each boat will have three volunteers, one to row, one to identify weeds and one to log the GPS coordinates, Lessner said.

Right now, he has 16 boats committed for the event and about 50 people. But they could use more and no volunteers will be turned away.

“If we have more boats, we can shorten the section or put more boats on the section and improve the quality of data,” he said.

All volunteers also need to attend an orientation meeting on July 23 from 10 a.m. to noon at the Ennis Lions Club Park. This will allow the coordinators of the event to educate volunteers on weed identification as well as how to operate the GPS units. At this meeting volunteers will also get assigned to their team, boat and stretch of river.

On July 27, volunteers will be able to start mapping their assigned stretch whenever they’d like. At 4 p.m. all the volunteers will gather again for a barbecue at Ennis Lions Club Park.

Noxious weeds common along the Madison River are knapweed, houndstongue, dalmation toadflax, common tansy and a variety of thistles, said Melissa Griffiths, weed coordinator for the Madison Valley Ranchlands Group.

The weed mapping project will give agencies and landowners fighting weeds a good baseline of the current condition along the river, Griffiths said.

There has been a commercial applicator treating weeds along the river for a number of years, so there is some data about what is out there, but this project will provide a complete look at the weed situation along the river, she said.

Weeds along the river compete with native grasses, shrubs and trees and reduce the forage needed for riparian wildlife, Griffiths said.

“Some of (the weeds) don’t hold water like native plants, so you get increased run off or increased erosion,” she said.

The river is also a big vector for the spread of weeds, so addressing the problem is important.

“If you want to know what you’re next weed is, just look up stream,” Griffiths said.

The hope is to do this project each year with volunteer help, said Sunni Heikes-Knapton, the Madison Watershed coordinator.

“We would like to see this event happen every year,” Heikes-Knapton said.

The final product will be a detailed map of the weed species and their location. The map will be updated each year the project is completed so landowners and agencies can see how the weeds are progressing and how effective their control methods have been, she said.

The other thing the project will do is provide all the volunteers with a good education about noxious weeds, where they are and what they look like, Heikes-Knapton said.

“It’s also an education event because the process of learning to identify weeds is a process we can all use help with,” she said.

To volunteer for the event, call Lessner at 682-3148.

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