By Sunni Heikes-Knapton
Madison Watershed Coordinator
If you ask an average member of the angling community what the threats are to the health of the Madison River fishery, you will get an average set of answers – high temperatures, low flows or sediment.
If you ask an extraordinary member of the angling community the same question, the answer will also include a not-often recognized factor – noxious weeds. Fortunate for our area, the number anglers that would include this in their response just increased significantly, due to the recent Madison River weed-mapping event.
Held on July 27, the first ever event accomplished a tremendous task of mapping infestations of noxious weeds along a 50-mile stretch of river. Volunteers and agency professionals could be seen rowing boats along both sides of the banks, spotting weeds and recording data about the species, level of infestation and exact location.
“This was a tremendous effort from members of our community and individuals from our local agencies,” co-organizer Melissa Griffiths said of the event. “I was really inspired by the number of people who were willing to become educated on a resource issue that many assume only affects our grazing and ag lands.”
As the weed coordinator for the Madison Valley Ranchlands Group Weed Committee, Griffiths has been involved in multiple projects in the Valley.
“Not only did this do a great job of educating members of the public, it also provides a valuable management tool because of the continuity of the mapping- we now have data for the majority of the river that is currently under weed management,” she said.
As many residents know, managing noxious weed infestations is a constant battle. Populations change with climate conditions and land use, and managers are constantly on guard for new invaders. Yellow toadflax, an infrequent invader to the area, was recorded during the weed-mapping event in an area where it had not previously been seen.
“Now we can give this information to our weed control contractors to make sure the population is eradicated before it has a chance to expand”, Griffiths noted.
Co-organizer Richard Lessner, executive director of the Madison River Foundation, explained clearly the link between the health of the fisheries and the management of noxious weeds.
“Noxious weeds are a threat to the native riparian plant community, which provides many beneficial functions,” Lessner said. “These native populations are a critical habitat for terrestrial insects, which comprise as much as 50 percent of a trout’s total protein intake over the summer months.”
A joint project of community groups and agency managers, the event participant list reads like a “Who’s Who” of conservation-linked entities for our area; Madison River Foundation, Center for Aquatic Nuisance Species, Madison Conservation District, Madison Valley Ranchlands Group Weed Committee, Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Montana State University Extension, Ranchland Resources, and the Madison County Weed Board. The event drew 50 participants and collected nearly a thousand points of data.
The project also provided a glimmer of hope, noted Margie Edsall, Madison County weed coordinator.
“Some of the areas that I recorded data on were real hot spots in previous years, but the populations that I saw today seem to be responding well to the weed control measures taken in those areas,” Edsall said. “We just need to stay on top of it, and having this data will be a great help”.
Organizers all agree with the sentiment, and look forward to making this event an annual part of local noxious weed education and control programs.