Cottonwoods are a keystone species in the Breaks; however, in the past 50 years the rate of cottonwood regeneration has slowed, largely due to a lack of natural flooding events in the Breaks. The cottonwood regeneration project is one of our most well-known conservation efforts. It has been incredibly successful, largely due to state-wide and further reaching support. Our cooperated project was started to combat the loss of cottonwood trees within the monument’s ecosystem. In the past five years, the partnership between FMB and the BLM has successfully re-established nearly 430 trees at seven sites.
In the summer months, it is the responsibility of our treekepers to maintain a watchful eye and help foster cottonwood growth. In 2016, FMB hired two seasonal staff members for watering duties and in 2017, the need for a larger crew saw to the contracting of seven Montana Conservation Corps (MCC) members. For the 2018 season, FMB has hired five MCC interns to water and maintain the cottonwoods from past and present plantings.
We have asked our treekeepers to keep a journal of their days while on the river, below are some of these excerpts.
2017 Journal Entries: Lantana Clark
Monday, June 19, 2017
Tired and full! Long, hard day of putting in posts. Learned how to operate an ogar. We went for a swim after work – super delightful and refreshing. Also, sleeping with bugs. Life is good and blessings are abundant.
Thursday, June 22, 2017
On the fencing project, coyotes howled two nights in a row – the was amazing! The lead howls and the pack follows. The lead counts how many respond and can tell where they are from where the howl came from – that’s how they keep track of the pack. We found some mountain lion tracks on the hike in.
I learned this trip to hold onto the breast strap of your backpacking pack instead of letting your hands hang down because the backpack weighs down on your shoulder tissue, and your hands swell up from all the water gathering on your hands if they are hanging down. Yep, that happened to me and I thought I was having an allergic reaction. Also, found some cool micah shoots on the hike out.
Monday, June 26, 2017
Third watering trip – feels so great to be on the river – 2 weeks away is long enough. So happy to be out here. Great start to our float trip! Trees at Little Sandy got a good drink today. J They are really green with a lot of little leaves. The majority have new growth. All by the river look good. The ones on the trail look good too but have less leaves than the ones by the shore. Patch by bathroom – rough shape.
Can hear a woodpecker but can’t see it.
Tuesday June 27, 2017
Trees at Terry Ranch – Stop 1: Look great, small leaves on majority. No ants. Middle right tree, PVC accepts nearly no water. Stop 2: Quite a bit of debris left when fire-ring was taken out. New growth. Yellow/dead branches on some alive trees. All on level of sign, dead. Stop 3: All good. Not many trees, 2 or 3 dead. Stop 3 & 4: All competing with tall vegetation, hard to outgrow. Many same height as grass. Cracked up skull in fence at 4th stop. Some leaf damage.
Trees at Eagle Creek: Leafy and happy. Aphid and ants (not a concern).
Thursday, June 30, 2017
Trees at Slaughter River: Yellow leaves and aphid damage, otherwise all heathy and making it!
This is the real deal. God really did give me the real deal. I already know I’m going to miss it out here. I will miss it so much. It is so divine out here. The muddy, slow pace & full lake… (It is a pretty wide river haha). The cricket that just started cricketing. The sunset about to start – I love the sunsets here, the whole river and land is glorified for all it’s worth. The sweet ol’ smell of cow manure, like 4-H and the often whiffs of Copenhagen, it’s kinda weird but I guess it’s a true, natural smell. I love the rocks, they are always changing, and they don’t care the way they look. They just be. The cottonwood trees and the quietness out here. The cottonwoods bring quiet. Watering the young ones makes me silent and reflect on LIFE itself… what it is, how it’s going, the people in my life, what it look like in 2 months, 2 years, 20 years… (2 months - back in school, 2 years – graduate college, 20 years - of course I want to float the Missouri again). And as for the older cottonwoods, you must listen and be quiet to hear what they have to say. They hold a story. A story about the land, the years, about life – they are teaming with life, abundantly. So many species of happy birds, cows, deer, little critters come together and share life under and within the cottonwood, almost the only source of shade on the river. The Breaks are mysterious, wonderous and reviving in every way dreamt of. Magic and beauty surround you in the Breaks. It is a hidden treasure where the earth cracked open and life thrives. It’ll make you know you’re going to miss it.
This trip has been amazing and successful! 280 trees watered double time. A snake while watering Little Sandy, camped at Lone Tree Coulee and saw the rabbit again. It let me get surprisingly close! Then watered Terry Ranch with no problem and headed to Eagle Creek. Btw, group of 16 passed us at Terry Ranch. Oh my, that was a lot of people! 2 big groups at Eagle Creek. Saw 2 baby racoons while moving the pump downstream. They were so cute and little. They were looking through the mud for larva and worms. Two weeks ago, someone was reported for shooting racoons at Eagle. Hannah said they shot a mom coon. Those might have been her babies. We lost them in the grass short after. Once we were finished watering, we saw an owl in a tree, the same owls I see on my runs in Fort Benton.
We slept good, wind picked up during the night. Packed up camp and on the river by 7:15am. Had to beat the crowds! Got to Slaughter River at 11:30am, had lunch then watered our last batch. On the way to Slaughter, after the Island of Terror, we saw a family of 5 eagles, 2 perched in the near by tree, 3 in the tree with the nest (2 in the nest). Amazing and beautiful animals. Then on the way from Slaughter River to The Wall (our campsite for the night to avoid the crowds), we saw an eagle perched up on a white cliff and 2 hawks or ospreys perched up on the same white cliffs not too far down. Something was going down haha! Also, saw a turtle for the first time out here! The sun is still really high. It’s 7:00pm, Hannah is in her tent… I want to go to bed later and take a walk right now. But I can go to bed and walk in the morning. All I actually wanna do it bottle this summer job up & keep it so it doesn’t ever expire.
2 hours later…. In awe. This place is teaming with life. So many species. My walk was great. I walked up and over two ridges – the land is so bumpy and perfect. A bird with white bands on it’s wings kept flying by – I looked it up – it is a Common Nighthawk. (I later became an exceptional birder). Rural, urban, forests/open land. Makes a booming sound when it swoops down. That’s the males territorial dance in the air. It sounds like a slurry bomber. The robins (2) played on a log while I looked that up. Found a snake skin. Despite losing my nose ring, it’s been a dang good week. Oh! The coyotes! They started barking and howling! Haha They sure were going at it this time! Having a good ol’ time! Goodnight beautiful world.
Thursday, July 6, 2017
4th time watering. I love hearing coyotes and owls. They howl from ridge to ridge, regardless if there is a huge river between them. They picker and pater and enjoy themselves. Haha!
It’s been a great week of watering and adventures with Chad. I am legit trying out my Write in the Rain journal – got sprinkled on at Slaughter River. I think it’s funny, seems like when we roll out the hoses at Slaughter River that it rains. Btw, this journal works great. Wonder what it’d do in a bucket of water.
So first day, we watered Little Sandy and then Terry Ranch – long day! Little Sandy took about two hours and Terry Ranch took four. We killed it! We camped at Eagle Creek for two nights, it was really wonderful! I placed the little bird that was dead in the hole around the cottonwood sapling. Thanks for your presence and beauty on earth little guy.
Monday, July 10, 2017
It’s been so much fun so far and camping with Chad and Hannah as they water has been a treat! We did a bird survey at Coal Banks Landing then paddled upstream ½ mi to ABN Ranch. We GPSed the dead trees and removed the chicken wire and t-posts. It was quick! Then headed to Little Sandy to do another bird survey. Got to camp at Lone Tree, another bird survey. Oh my gosh! They were so much fun and we see at least 10 different species each time!
I washed my dirty clothes in the river and then we all played in the river with a frisbee. Love it and love these guys. Good hearty dinner, then a walk with Tynan. It was great. We followed a road that then stopped, well a gate was there – end of the scenic route. When we were walking by the river in the snowberries, all of a sudden, there was a huge commotion 4 feet in front of Tynan. A freaking momma turkey takes off, full flight!! Haha! It scared us pretty bad!! It had a nest of 7 eggs!!! They were white and speckled. Beautiful. Larger than the average egg. We also came across a trap, it was like a dog kennel – it had some bones in it – maybe a fox. Saw many deer, red-tailed hawks and night hawks. Hiked on top of the hill and watched the thunder/lightning storm roll in. It was beautifully relaxing and quiet.
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Good day filled with love and fresh water muscles! That was a good find. I am beat already though. We watered Little Sandy then set up camp at Lone Tree Coulee. Chad took a four hour nap and I cleaned up in the mighty mo. I went for a walk along the road. Beenie weenies for dinner. Then watched carp by the shore. The sunset lit up the river in a majestic glow/flow of beautiful colors.
Thursday, July 20, 2017
Darn beavers. Extensive damage at Slaughter River. Working hard last week and this week to wrap and save all the trees possible! Because trees are the future! Mature cottonwood at far gate – fell this week due to beavers.
Monday, July 24, 2017
It is my last week on the river. L It’s just been absolutely amazing and memorable so far. The wildlife is astonishing and without a doubt, will be cherished. To add to all I’ve seen, I found 2 alive fresh water muscles! Saw a turtle so big and flat, we passed it by as something else. It’s great to see the night hawks resting along with the branch. We saw some on a panel too! A male and a female resting on a fence panel at Hole-in-the-Wall. I’ve explored a high majority of the areas. Munro Campsite, the white cliffs, Dark & Burnt Butte, Pablo Rapids, homesteads, Eagle Creek, the coulee across the river at Eagle Creek and so much more. Kaylee and I are camping right now. Since she’s vegan, I decided to go vegan with her too for this week. Fun stuff. So much fun watering with her! The moon right now is just a tiny sliver.
Friday, July 28, 2017
Hey! I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 22 ooooo!!
I witnessed the actual most beautiful thing during my last hours of being 21! I didn’t want to leave, and I couldn’t stop looking back. It was absolutely breathtaking. The homestead at Slaughter River. It began to light up with the glow of the sunset. Scattered clouds with beams of light and a light shade of pink all around the beams. All ospreys were in their nest, 4 of them, talking…. The hoodoos were majestic and powerful, especially with the light flooding over their peaks. There are two very old cars, broken down and rusting down. So much character and loveliness in one place. It was so, so special. Happy Birthday Lantana!