By Mariah McIntosh
Five Valleys Land Trust, the sponsoring organization for my internship, purchased the property that contains the confluence of Rock Creek and the Clark Fork River in 2012. Previously, it had been destined to become a 36-unit subdivision, where people could purchase large houses that would look out on a large man-made pond in the center. With local support, Five Valleys was able step in and prevent this outcome. Currently, Five Valleys is working with students from Missoula College and the College of Forestry’s Ecological Restoration program to restore the property.
Currently, much of the Rock Creek confluence property is covered by bare ground or noxious weeds. Previous Ecological Restoration students have conducted monitoring surveys to quantify noxious weeds at this site, with a focus on monitoring protocols that can be carried out by volunteer citizen scientists. My current project involves summarizing the monitoring work that has already been done, evaluating its efficacy, proposing a new monitoring method, and providing the resources to carry out my protocol in the future.
While a lot of my work involves computer work, I visited Rock Creek in the fall before it was blanketed in snow in order to see the state the property is in. Before it was a development site, this property had been overgrazed for many years, leaving mostly invasive weeds behind. Where the developers had begun to dig a pond (which was filled by water from Rock Creek), Missoula College students had moved thousands of pounds of Earth using heavy machinery to even out the landscape, so much was bare. I went back out to the Rock Creek confluence property last weekend to help plant shrubs and trees along the old pond, which will end up as more of a wetland area. Ducks and Canada Geese flew overhead, and while not much grew, we planted over 200 native shrubs and trees to begin repopulation.
I am looking forward to seeing how the Rock Creek property changes over time. Even a year from now, it will look very different, as native plants (and invasive weeds) begin to fill in the area that had been overturned by heavy equipment. The restoration process will be slow, and my hope is that the monitoring program I design will help Five Valleys to quantitatively understand how vegetation is changing over time as restoration and weed management activities occur. All I know is that a field of weeds that slowly becomes a native Montana grassland is a whole lot better than 36 new houses.