THumb 2

00:00:04:14 - 00:00:07:11 Sean Claffey, TNC

For years we've walked by these high elevation, ephemeral, you know, seasonal drainages and we've seen gullying, we've seen incision into these gully surfaces and head cuts, these vertical drops where erosion is happening and and water is being artificially concentrated and and pretty much shipped off the landscape at an accelerated pace. 

00:00:27:00 - Sean Claffey, TNC

Until recently, we've just walked by these sites. But now we realize there's, you know, being exposed to different methodologies, that we can really simply slow flow up within these gullies and spread that flow out in order to maintain that habitat, that wet meadow habitat and riparian habitat. 

00:00:46:27 - 00:00:51:11 - Sean Claffey, TNC

So historically, in these high elevation meadows, when snowmelt or heavy rainfall leaves the landscape it would spread out and sheet flow just spread out across that whole meadow surface. 

00:00:58:10 - 00:01:01:11 Sean Claffey, TNC

Well, some disturbance has happened in the past that's caused that that water to be channelized or focused and just be shipped off the landscape at a at a faster pace. It's leaving the landscape and it's not being utilized by the vegetation or by the wildlife anymore because it's artificially being moved off the landscape at a quicker pace. 

00:01:18:02 - 00:01:25:20 - Sean Claffey, TNC

With that water leaving leaving sooner and quicker, it's not accessible to the plants. Later into the season, the soils dry out faster and and over time we actually start losing habitat, we start losing that resource as soils dry out and as as our climate warms. 

00:01:39:10 - Sean Claffey, TNC

Without the hydrology, without the water to maintain that vegetation that we call a meadow, a wet meadow, that that meadow is lost. It converts completely to upland vegetation. And now we have we don't have any diversity across the landscape.

00:01:51:21 - 00:01:53:12 - Sean Claffey, TNC

We lose those little ribbons. Those high quality places of forage for wildlife and forage for livestock as well.

00:01:59:05 - 00:02:05:20 - Sean Claffey, TNC

Historically, through a lot of these high elevation drainages, these meadows saw water spread out all over the place, multithreaded, thin sheet flow trickling through the whole meadow surface. And what we see now everywhere is channelized flow. 

00:02:20:15 - 00:02:24:06 - Sean Claffey, TNC

Where that flow is focused. That erosive energy is focused. And you get you get a lowering of the water table and a drying out of that whole meadow surface to the point where we lose that habitat.

00:02:29:14 - 00:02:49:05 - Sean Claffey, TNC

These meadows are critical for for a variety of wildlife species, including sage grouse. Sage grouse in particular they'll bring their, their chicks in. And these meadows have a much higher abundance of, of little flowers, little forbes that they eat. And insects, a greater diversity of insects.

00:02:49:11 - 00:02:57:18 - Sean Claffey, TNC

Which is critical for sage grouse chicks for the first three or four or five months of their lives. Perfect weather. They're in, I guess when they're rearing their young. They're having these meadows provide a little boost in nutrition as well. I don't know.

00:03:04:14 - 00:03:06:00 - Sean Claffey, TNC

It's the same thing for antelope, I guess. This is so this we're kind of you know, this stuff is really good for big game all the way down to songbirds, I guess. So I don't.

00:03:15:14 - 00:03:18:21 - Sean Claffey, TNC

So so when we we talk about restoring these meadows. And riparian areas. It's not about one species. We don't do one species management across the landscape.

00:03:27:00 - 00:03:29:11 - Sean Claffey, TNC

Habitat, diversity and biodiversity supports all wildlife, from big game utilizing these meadows is a little bit higher nutrition forage throughout the year. Down to your smallest little songbirds coming down, also foraging on insects.

00:03:47:03 - 00:03:49:22 - Sean Claffey, TNC

Uh, you know, what we see here at this project site, the incision or the channel position or flow through the meadow is not unique to the site, it is pervasive. When you start looking at not just seasonal flow, but perennial, you know, year round.

00:04:02:13 - 00:04:07:01 - Sean Claffey, TNC

Channels incision or that down cutting into the valley floor is pervasive across the west. 

00:04:16:01 - 00:04:30:01 - Sean Claffey, TNC

So we've yeah we're losing wet meadow and riparian habitat across the west. Whether it be from historic management or or climate. We're losing saturated surfaces.

00:04:30:07 - 00:04:31:23 - Sean Claffey, TNC

I don't like that that much. Okay. I think I knew where I was going. I didn't get there.

00:04:37:23 - 00:04:47:00 - Sean Claffey, TNC

Across the west, water is becoming more and more scarce. It's a critical resource. And the longer we can keep it on the landscape and available for plants and wildlife and us the better it's going to be. And we're losing. We're losing the ability to do that. As we see erosional features and incision and degradation and entrenchment.

00:05:03:21 - 00:05:10:11 - Sean Claffey, TNC

Yeah, we we're we're we're losing that habitat. We're losing the ability to store water in our natural reservoirs, you know, from our our snow banks, our snow drifts to our soils is what hold our holds our water.

00:05:23:16 - 00:05:26:03 - Sean Claffey, TNC

The scale of this problem is is huge. Every single drainage is somehow been impacted and we need a solution that we can equally scale up. So what we've been doing here in southwest Montana and in other places now… so we need a solution that we can scale up to match the problem.

00:05:43:03 - 00:05:45:08 - Sean Claffey, TNC

So using very low tech, simple rock structures built by hand, in other cases, hand built brush structures and sod, we can slow water up and spread that flow back out over that meadow surface or through that floodplain. 

00:05:59:12 - 00:06:02:02 - Sean Claffey, TNC

Right. So the and we've kind of already covered the problem part or I guess I'll just keep repeating stuff.

00:06:07:13 - 00:06:12:05 - Sean Claffey, TNC

Yeah. So the the problem is is well, pervasive. Yeah. Yeah. That's what I said before as I work. 

00:06:13:19 - 00:06:17:04 - Sean Claffey, TNC

Yeah. So the issue is pervasive.

00:06:18:07 - 00:06:20:09 - Sean Claffey, TNC

We're losing wet, mono riparian habitat across. The west and we need a solution that is equally scalable that we can cover as many miles of this habitat as we can. And to do so, we're doing it with simple, very, very simple, hand-built structures, either with rock or wood, to slow flow up and spread it back out. 

00:06:39:07 - 00:06:46:13 - Sean Claffey, TNC

The beauty of these things is they're not engineered. You don't need a degree, you don't need heavy equipment. There's not a lot of impact.

00:06:47:07 - 00:06:49:13 - Sean Claffey, TNC

Really. Anyone can learn to build these structures in a day or less and and can go ahead and and Well, that's probably. 

00:07:01:16 - 00:07:02:16 - Sean Claffey, TNC

Well we call them water flowing and spreading structures which is not very sexy or simple. One rock dams, beaver dam analogs or another.

00:07:10:21 - 00:07:20:10 - Sean Claffey, TNC

Yeah, Yeah. So throughout these drainages, where we're seeing channelization we're building simple rock structures to slow and spread flow throughout the whole drainage.

00:07:21:09 - 00:07:28:18 - Sean Claffey, TNC

Okay, let's see. So we build these simple. We build these simple rock structures to slow the spread and spread the flow.

00:07:31:06 - 00:07:32:03 - Sean Claffey, TNC

So we build these rock structures in the channel or the gully. You could call it a gully if it's an erosive… well.

00:07:36:17 - 00:07:50:16 - Sean Claffey, TNC

We build the. So we're building these simple rock structures in the channel, in between the banks to slow flow down in the channel. Hold it a little longer there but also increase the water surface elevation.

00:07:52:06 - 00:08:02:13 - Sean Claffey, TNC

We're increasing the bottom of the drain, you could say, and lifting that water table back up and in some cases able to kick that flow out of the channel, spread it back over that meadow surface, allowing it to soak into the soils.

00:08:07:20 - 00:08:13:19 - Sean Claffey, TNC

Yeah, by slowing and backing up by slow, by slowing and spreading out flow and saturating more soils, we're making that water more available to the plants in in that meadow or in that riparian area and therefore increasing production diversity of plant species and and what's available for wildlife.

00:08:28:07 - 00:08:29:07 - Sean Claffey, TNC

So as we slow and lift that water surface over time, that groundwater is going to follow that.

00:08:33:11 - 00:08:34:21 - Sean Claffey, TNC

We're going to lift the groundwater elevation as well. And you can think about throughout a whole drainage or a whole basin, if we could do that throughout the whole watershed, what does that mean for water storage and late season returns at a basin scale? 

00:08:50:19 - 00:08:52:07 - Sean Claffey, TNC

Ultimately, more water in our soils is more water available later in the season. 

00:09:00:05 - 00:09:01:00 - Sean Claffey, TNC

Yeah. So these these structures and what you're looking at here, the one rock dams. As water hits that structure, it's slowing down and as it slows down, it pushes up and pushes back up and pushes out of the bank in places and spills out onto the floodplain. 

00:09:17:16 - 00:09:18:12 - Sean Claffey, TNC

Yeah. Now, you know, seeing this with water is self-fulfilling. We built these in the dry in July last year, July and August. And coming out here and seeing sea inflow, seeing these structures work is just amazing. 

00:09:30:17 - 00:09:35:18 - Sean Claffey, TNC

And this we just built these last year. This is the first season we've seen water running through them and they're working just as we had expected.

00:09:37:06 - 00:09:39:15 - Sean Claffey, TNC

They're pushing flow out in the right places and it's spreading out over the meadow.

00:09:40:15 - 00:09:42:16 - Sean Claffey, TNC

And these structures are working just like we thought they would.

00:09:42:21 - 00:09:59:09 - Sean Claffey, TNC

We you know, it's in just one year, we can tell these structures are working, they're slowing flow down, spreading it out. Over time. They're going to be more effective. Grass will grow through these structures and you won't even know they're there as soil as is as they captures soil and deposition.

00:09:58:02 - 00:10:00:12 - Sean Claffey, TNC

Upstream of these structures, they're going to completely fill in and blend into the meadow surface like we were never here.

00:10:05:17 - 00:10:06:19 - Sean Claffey, TNC

Not only is it exciting to see water in the channel and these structure structures working, it's also very informative.

00:10:10:14 - 00:10:11:04 - Sean Claffey, TNC

It also it'll show us where we can maybe do a little bit more small tweaks here and there. Maybe we can build a structure a little bit higher here and get even bigger. Uh…

00:10:21:08 - 00:10:27:02 - Sean Claffey, TNC

Yeah, these structures are simple. You can learn how to build them in a day or less. These structures are all built by hand and it takes many hands. 

00:10:29:02 - 00:10:38:17 - Sean Claffey, TNC

So whether to be volunteers or use conservation corps, that's who's out here. That's our labor force building these structures. This particular project here in Horse Prairie was built by the Youth Employment Program last summer.

00:10:42:01 - 00:10:45:23 - Sean Claffey, TNC

In just two and a half days, they installed over 75 structures all by hand.

00:10:46:06 - 00:10:58:10 - Sean Claffey, TNC

These low tech techniques, building these structures by hand is not only scalable, it takes many hands. It takes more people being involved in these projects, whether they be volunteers or our local youth employment program based right here in Southwest Montana.

00:11:04:17 - 00:11:17:14 - Sean Claffey, TNC

When the partnership here in Southwest Montana decided this was a strategy, we wanted to scale up we needed a labor force. We were able to partner with the youth employment program based over the hill in Salmon, Idaho, to grow their program in the southwest Montana.

00:11:16:21 - 00:11:21:01 - Sean Claffey, TNC

They’re a locally sourced Conservation Corps. These kids are from our community. High school kids, already young adults, college, maybe a little bit out of college.

00:11:25:04 - 00:11:25:22 - Sean Claffey, TNC

They're out here, you know, moving these rocks by hand and building these structures for us. 

00:11:32:04 - 00:11:43:22 - Sean Claffey, TNC

So the youth and young adults with our Conservation Corps, our youth employment program, they're not just working all with meadow restoration. They’re our labor force for all kinds of conservation work here in southwest Montana, whether that be rebuilding fence, you know, making fence wildlife friendly.

00:11:44:10 - 00:11:49:05 - Sean Claffey, TNC

Whether it be fighting conifer expansion, mapping cheatgrass. Identifying invasive plants, invasive weeds, they're also key to oh, see, they're also… shoot. 

00:11:59:10 - 00:12:04:05 - Sean Claffey, TNC

So not only are these kids a labor force for conservation work across Southwest Montana,...

00:12:04:08 - 00:12:21:18 - Sean Claffey, TNC

They're they're learning life skills. They're learning how to run a…from running a chainsaw to being exposed to all these resource specialists from agencies or nonprofits. Meet landowners, learn about land management. They're being exposed to natural resource Management as a Possible career option.

00:12:21:21 - 00:12:34:09 - Sean Claffey, TNC

And that's a really one of the greater benefits of the program of our work is we want to do our work in a way that maximizes impact on our communities, and that means getting more people involved.

00:12:33:06 - 00:12:34:06 - Sean Claffey, TNC

Letting more people know what's happening in their own backyards and getting and getting them to be part of it. Part of the solution.

00:12:40:19 - 00:12:43:18 - Sean Claffey, TNC

Yeah. The issues we face in the sagebrush steppe and across the west, especially in water and you name it, they're complex and it's it's they cross boundaries, whether it be public land, private land. The nonprofit world. Federal agency, state agency, you name it. The problems are complex…

00:12:58:20 - 00:13:14:21 - Sean Claffey, TNC

…They cross cut all of us and it takes all of us to effectively uhm implement strategies to uh these issues don't stop at the fence line. They're not on just public land or just private land. They cross the fence line their land. They're crossing the landscape.

00:13:18:18 - 00:13:24:10 - Sean Claffey, TNC

And it requires everyone across the landscape to work together to address these issues 

00:13:24:18 - 00:13:30:10 - Sean Claffey, TNC

and because these problems are across the entire landscape, it takes partnership.

00:13:30:20 - 00:13:33:11 - Sean Claffey, TNC

It takes relationship building to to address these issues. It takes partnerships not only on the ground, but figuring out what entity or what partner has the right skill set or can play the right role to do that work or to make that action possible on the ground. 

00:13:51:07 - 00:13:53:19 - Sean Claffey, TNC

So we're trying to address issues at a landscape scale. It takes all the partners, from your public land management agencies like the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service, to workin’ with private landowners.

00:14:00:06 - 00:14:15:10 - Sean Claffey, TNC

And entities or agencies that work with those private landowners like the NRCS or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, uh Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, a state wildlife management agency, and the and also the state of Montana. Our partners getting this work done…

00:14:15:04 - 00:14:19:17 - Sean Claffey, TNC

You know, one of the values of partnerships is not just getting work done, but you get the perspective, you get the outlook from every angle.

00:14:26:21 - 00:14:33:07 - Sean Claffey, TNC

We may not all come to the table with… We might not think we have the same goals or objectives on the ground. But when we start realizing how much common ground we have, uhm that's when we really have wins on the landscape. … 

00:14:43:21 - 00:14:53:07 - Sean Claffey, TNC

Or let's see… when we realize and we focus on it… we give ourselves the opportunity to listen and hear what we have in common.

00:14:53:09 - 00:14:54:05 - Sean Claffey, TNC

That's when we start having successes on the ground.

00:14:59:04 - 00:15:09:06 - Sean Claffey, TNC

Or … when we drop the assumptions. Or where one partner might be coming from or what they're in goal is and we take the time to listen and realize where folks are coming from and what their objectives are.

00:15:09:11 - 00:15:15:11 - Sean Claffey, TNC

We we realize how much we have in common and that we can we can get to that end goal together by working together.

00:15:17:22 - 00:15:25:23 - Sean Claffey, TNC

And doing what it takes to get it done, whatever, whatever that may be,...

00:15:25:23 - Sean Claffey, TNC

What I think what's exciting about the Southwest Montana Sagebrush Partnership and what we have going here, it's not just we're working on solutions at scale. We're not we're not just working on projects at scales.

00:15:33:11 - 00:15:35:17 - Sean Claffey, TNC

Those projects are wins for everybody. Our goal is to keep I mean, what makes this place special here in the high divide in southwest Montana is the vast open spaces and these this is a working landscape. It really is a working wilderness.

00:15:46:10 - 00:15:54:14 - Sean Claffey, TNC

And to keep it that way, we need it. We need to keep it viable. We need to retain our resources. We need we need all hands to come together to manage across all boundaries to maintain productivity. And what makes me what gets me really excited about this is we're finding ways to engage our community. It's across the whole community… private landowners and ranchers…