By Blackfoot Challenge staff
Hard to believe it’s already two months into 2023. We don’t want to let too much of this year roll by without recognizing all of our landowners, partners, supporters and team who made 2022 a banner year for Blackfoot watershed stewardship programs. Thanks to all of you who helped support and take part in the many accomplishments listed below!
Coordinating land conservation and stewardship to keep working landscapes intact. Est. 2000.
- Hosted an in-person annual gathering for more than 30 public and private conservation practitioners to share information and leverage one another’s land conservation efforts. The meeting led to the creation of a work group that will coordinate on rapid response needs related to development threats and land conservation priorities.
BLACKFOOT COMMUNITY CONSERVATION AREA
A working landscape that balances ecological diversity with local economic sustainability. Est 2005.
- Completed 65 acres of forest treatments to improve forest health and resilience.
- Conducted planning and inventory of an additional 380 acres.
- Controlled invasive weeds on road systems, forest treatments, and native prairies through integrated approaches across 200 acres. Completed Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Wildlife Habitat Enhancement Program (WHIP) with support from Powell County Weed Coordinator.
- Hosted multiple volunteer days with university and hunter groups to remove conifers from aspen stands, collect old wire, pull weeds, and improve the kiosk area.
- Hosted multiple presentations on/about the BCCA to visiting groups including local schools, university and international groups.
- Participated in educational programs (utilizing the BCCA) with area school groups, reaching more than 150 students.
- Provided year-round public access on 5,600 acres, including hiking trails, 6-week motorized use season, and hunting via the Block Management Program.
- Expanded walking trails by 2 miles.
- Partnered with the US Forest Service and Montana DNRC on road improvements required to open a seasonal, cross-boundary motorized loop in 2023.
- Renewed the NRCS Conservation Stewardship Program for an additional 5 years, including four additional resource enhancements.
- Assisted with the community forest case study and interviews – facilitated by a graduate student from Oregon State University.
Nurturing watershed awareness and stewardship through place-based education. Est. 1993.
- Provided training on winter safety, gear and survival, and basic avalanche safety to students at Lincoln, Helmville, Ovando, Potomac, and Seeley-Swan schools.
- Provided Bear Aware education to classes at Bonner, Potomac, Sunset, Helmville, Ovando, and Lincoln schools.
- Hosted all-day Bear Aware event for Lincoln School with stations on bear biology, securing attractants, recreating in bear country, and more.
- Offered bird education lessons to students at Bonner and Helmville schools.
- Hosted education table at International Wildlife Film Festival event.
- Hosted 90 students and teachers from Seeley-Swan High School for a day of watershed education activities on the Blackfoot Community Conservation Area.
- Tabled at community Loon and Fish Festival in Seeley Lake.
- Provided aquatic ecology activities and monitored stream flows with students from Potomac, Sunset, Ovando and Helmville schools.
- On September 15, 125 middle school students from five of our watershed schools attended our annual Youth Field Day on the Blackfoot Community Conservation Area near Ovando. Blackfoot Challenge staff along with partners from the US Forest Service Fire Sciences Lab and Swan Valley Connections provided hands-on activities about forestry and ecology that met science standards and made learning fun.
- Ten watershed residents in our citizen science program monitored populations of long-billed curlews and common loons.
- More than 80 people attended a Pure Montana Tales program Zoom presentation on Regenerative Ranching by members of the Mannix Brothers Ranch (https://blackfootchallenge.org/regenerative-ranching-in-the-blackfoot-an-evening-with-the-mannix-family-ranch/ ). Hosted an outdoor event on FireWise homes.
- Finalized, printed, and distributed approximately 250 copies of the Blackfoot Watershed Stewardship Guide.
Restoring forest health and reducing wildfire risk near communities. Est. 2008.
- Facilitated 438 acres of prescribed burning on private lands and supported public partner burns across more than 1,900 acres.
- Completed 144 acres of forest thinning to improve forest health and reduce fire risk.
- Conducted six outreach / education tours or events throughout the Blackfoot to showcase prescribed fire effects and efforts.
- Staff attended the annual Fire Learning Network workshop in Virginia.
- Staff attended a prescribed fire training exchange hosted by the Klamath Tribe and Mid-Klamath Watershed Council.
Supporting landowners through stewardship assistance to enhance watershed-wide resilience. Est. 2016.
- Partnered with NRCS on development of the North Ovando Fuel Reduction TIP (Targeted Implementation Plan) to provide funding for fuel reduction treatments to mitigate catastrophic wildfires and create resilient forest stands on over 1,000 acres of private forest north of Ovando. Provided outreach to multiple landowners within the TIP boundary to increase awareness and participation in the program.
- Assisted Big Blackfoot Chapter of Trout Unlimited, US Fish & Wildlife Service, and landowners with the planning and development of grazing management plan for Nevada Creek stream restoration project (phase 5) including more than 1 mile of riparian fencing and planning off-stream stock water system for 2023.
- Implemented the first year of Cottonwood Creek riparian grazing management plan with success. Assisted additional landowners with grazing management plans/advice.
- Assisted BBCTU and USFWS with planning and implementing a stock water system for a landowner in lieu of an inefficient 2-mile irrigation ditch and associated fish screen.
- Initiated agreement with The Nature Conservancy to plan and coordinate the application of biochar on private agricultural lands in 2023.
- Together with NRCS, continued to plan and coordinate conifer encroachment removal projects on private lands in the Helmville area to conserve grassland/sage habitat and rangeland. Leveraged additional resources to support the overall TIP.
- Assisted BBCTU with maintenance and landowner communications for 8 fish screens to mitigate fish entrainment in irrigation ditches.
Restoring trumpeter swans to their native habitat on Blackfoot wetlands. Est. 2004.
- Seven pairs of trumpeter swans hatched 30 and successfully fledged 23 cygnets. At least 30 additional non-nesting swans summered in the watershed. We have now reached our official goal of at least seven successful nests for at least two consecutive years, and the population is considered “restored.” Additionally, swans are expanding into the neighboring Swan Valley with two successful nests there in 2022.
- One adult swan was fitted with GPS radio collar, allowing us to track summer habitat use, fall migration, and wintering site locations.
Integrated, locally led approaches to invasive plant management across fence lines. Est. 1995.
- Continued to work with landowners to plan and implement integrative noxious weed management practices.
- Offered integrated noxious weed management recommendations to landowners including native and exotic plant identification, herbicide application products and rates, biological control with insects, and appropriate reseeding practices.
- Hosted two weed pulls at the Russell Gates Fishing Access Site for the 24th consecutive year.
- Coordinated noxious weed treatments on the BCCA.
- Provided native and invasive plant identification workshops during multiple Blackfoot Challenge youth education field days.
Voluntary water stewardship grounded in shared knowledge and shared commitment. Est. 2000.
- Convened a stakeholder group and began a process to build shared understanding, vision, and capacity to address river recreation pressures in the watershed.
- The irrigation scheduling program completed its 13thyear, providing weekly irrigation information, tips, drought strategies, and soil health concerns to over 100 irrigators throughout the watershed.
- Our soil moisture monitoring program added 3 additional locations this year bringing the total to 17 locations where irrigators can track daily soil moisture information and manage their irrigation accordingly.
- Coordinated and supported partner efforts on two hydrologic studies in the watershed – one on the Blackfoot River and one in the Nevada Creek drainage. Results will provide important information which will help guide strategic and targeted implementation of water conservation efforts.
- Worked with multiple partners and landowners to explore potential stream and riparian area restoration projects to benefit fisheries, improve drought resiliency, and increase wetland habitats.
- Working with the Blackfoot Drought Response Committee, implemented drought response in late summer and monitored flows in several key tributaries all summer. Voluntary conservation slowed the river’s decline after a cold and wet spring gave way to a hot and dry summer.
Reducing human-wildlife conflicts through proactive and preventative strategies. Est. 2002.
- In 2022, reached the 10,000+ mark for livestock carcasses removed from ranches and delivered to the composting site since the program began in 2003 to reduce conflicts with grizzly bears and wolves.
- Built 6 high-priority permanent electric fences to reduce conflicts with grizzly bears around ranch compounds and calving yards. Also built 16 temporary electric fences to keep grizzly bears out of chickens/feed, bulk livestock feed, barns, shops, grain silos, apples and garbage.
- Deployed 21 electric drive-over mats tied into electric fences in the watershed to reduce conflicts with grizzly bears.
- Hired 2 seasonal range riders to help ranchers monitor livestock, wolves and grizzly bears on their summer grazing leases. Nearly 3,000 head of livestock were monitored for 13 producers across 59,600 acres.
- Employed Elk Hunt Coordinator to respond to information requests from hunters including elk hunting opportunities and scheduled hunts on participating ranches during the elk hunt shoulder seasons.
- Conducted winter surveys in the Southwest Crown of the Continent for lynx, wolverine, wolves, mountain lions, marten and bobcat.