Most of us would find absolutely nothing wrong with Montana’s Bull River Valley. With the stunning Cabinet Mountains as the backdrop, the river itself cuts through land that’s thick with bountiful trees and greenery. In terms of epic Pacific Northwest beauty, it’s about as picturesque as it gets.
The Bull River is the largest tributary to the Cabinet Gorge Reservoir and provides critical habitat for threatened Bull Trout, and species of special concern, Westslope Cutthroat Trout.
Despite its serene beauty, the Bull River and its surrounding wetlands are out of ecological balance. Once a cedar forest lined with diverse vegetation, the banks of today are covered almost exclusively by reed canary grass.
That’s a problem because the thick grass is a bully. It chokes out native vegetation, promotes erosion, and isn’t even appealing to most wildlife. With this grass in the way, other vegetation (including those Cedar Trees) don’t have a chance to gain a foothold.
Now for the good news: the painstaking work of restoring balance is underway. In 2014, the Lower Clark Fork Watershed Group received a $290,000 grant from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality for road decommissioning and sediment reduction in the Bull River tributary, and for a large scale revegetation effort on private property along the mainstream of the Bull River.
The project represents a large commitment from private property owners and is anticipated to provide benefits to water quality and the fisheries, as well as providing a more diverse habitat for birds and wildlife.
Ridding the area of reed canary grass is a challenging process that takes time. It starts with conservation workers laying black solar mats over the grass itself. The mats allow the sun to literally bake away the invasive grass over the course of a year or two. With the grass out of the way, the land is left with rich soil that is perfect for reintroducing native plant life.
This work is being done in partnership with numerous entities including private landowners, county, state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations and Avista.