Youth Protect Native Cottonwood Stands in Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument as part of 21st Century Conservation Service Corps

In 2011, flood waters surged across the riparian floodplains lining the Missouri River through the National Wild and Scenic River section of the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Within weeks, floodplains lining the river were covered in an emerald blanket of native cottonwood tree seedlings – a welcome sign of recovery for the endemic cottonwood forest.  The floods, however, also resulted in the massive dispersal of invasive tamarisk. Within months it was clear that new tamarisk stands were displacing native cottonwood seedlings and the valuable wildlife habitat provided by the cottonwood gallery that historically lined the river.

This summer, as part of the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps, twenty youth with the Montana Conservation Corps are joining volunteers of the Friends of the Missouri River Breaks Monument to help the BLM protect native Cottonwood stands along this 149 mile section of Wild and Scenic Missouri River.  While removing the tamarisk and erecting fencing to protect cottonwood seedlings from grazing and browsing, the youth will learn about native plants and the historic, cultural and natural values of the Missouri River corridor. For centuries, this river corridor was utilized by Native American tribes following the great herds of bison, and in 1805, Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery navigated the Missouri on their way to and from the Pacific.

Made possible by a grant from PPL Montana, a local power utility managing hydro-electric dams on the Missouri River, the MCC crews will work for five weeks under the direction of BLM scientists, and a volunteer coordinator with the Friends of the Missouri River Breaks Monument group.  This innovative partnership between a public agency and two nonprofits, and with funding from private industry, reflects the synergistic goals of the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps that Secretary of Interior, Sally Jewell, has been advancing.  While the young Montana Conservation Corps member will be helping with a stewardship priority for the BLM, they will also get to explore the wild lands of Montana’s newest national monument and develop skills for careers in natural resources.

Friends of the Missouri River Breaks, executive director, Beth Kampschror, is anticipating that MCC members will remove 75-80% of the tamarisk found at three designated sites and significantly improve the efforts to restore native cottonwoods in this “first-ever restoration project of its type.” In addition, the crews will inventory the area and provide land management officials with information necessary to develop a long-term strategy to mitigate the harmful effects of tamarisk.

For MCC corps member, Miriam Jaworski, a native of Billings, MT, this project presents a reconnection with her home state.  As a teenager in MCC’s Youth Service Expedition program in 2012, she reflected that: “Before MCC, my plans for my future were to escape Montana’s desolate lands. Due to my MCC experience, I find myself reluctant to leave and wondering how I ever lived seventeen years without discovering the beauty that has always surrounded me.” After a freshman year and the bustling city experience she yearned for in Chicago, Miriam is back in Montana this summer for an AmeriCorps term of service with MCC. To her, the personal growth the corps experience offers is “just as important as helping improve and maintain Montana’s wild lands.”

-Submitted by Montana Conservation Corps

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