2017 has been a challenging year, especially for nature. But even in these uncertain times, there's a lot to celebrate. We've been busy all year long conserving the lands and waters in Montana that we all know and love. And though conservation is often a very slow process, we are proud of the progress that's been made.
In just the last year, your donations enabled us to protect more than 25,000 acres across the state, advance restoration in our priority areas—forests, freshwater and grasslands—and continue collaboration with communities, universities, agency partners and others. It's amazing what we are able to accomplish when we all work together, both with our partners and our wonderful donors and volunteers.
To celebrate this progress, we want to share with you our top five conservation stories in 2017.
Forests in the Blackfoot Valley before and after thinning. © Bebe Crouse
This year, we’ve been working in Western Montana to restore forests to a more natural condition; one that reduces the risk of catastrophic wildfire damage to forests and homes, and which encourages the long-term absorption and storage of carbon.
Volunteers and beaver mimicry structure in Long Creek, Montana. © Nathan Korb
In our efforts to conserve more water, The Nature Conservancy is taking a lesson from one of nature’s busiest architects: beavers. By mimicking their work, we’re also creating a buffer against the impacts of climate change on Montana’s rivers and streams.
Pronghorn crawls under fence modified with smooth bottom wire. © The Nature Conservancy
Because pronghorn evolved in grasslands, where they didn't see anything taller than a sagebrush, they aren't big jumpers. When confronted with fences, they crawl under rather than jump over. But, when the bottom strand of gnarly barbed wire is too low, it can scrape the hide right off the animals exposing them to frostbite and infection.
To make it easier for pronghorn to migrate through barriers, research found that simply raising bottom fence wires with a clip can be a great first step, given how quickly it can be accomplished for a minimal cost.
Section of Yellowstone River with channel migration easement. © Ocean Media Institute
As with so many rivers, the Yellowstone faces increasing demands – so much so that it is considered one of the most threatened rivers in the country. But innovative easements are helping keep the Yellowstone moving like a natural river.
As The Nature Conservancy and MARS move forward with this approach to freshwater conservation, we hope to see river systems bounce back from the brink, bringing with them a resurgence of plant and animal diversity that will benefit both nature and people.
Conifers encroaching on the sagebrush steppe © Jim Berkey
We talk a lot about invasive plants that crowd out native species. But, sometimes, the invader is a native. That’s the case with a phenomenon called “conifer encroachment,” which can occur in streamside areas and along the edge of grasslands or sagebrush steppe where conifers gradually move in and muscle out the plants that would dominate under natural conditions.
In Montana’s High Divide Headwaters, the Conservancy is thinning trees and restoring the sagebrush habitat essential to wildlife such as greater sage-grouse. In places, we’re putting fire back on the land with prescribed burns, which greatly extend the lifespan of the restoration and minimizes the risks when natural fires do occur. And we aren’t working alone, we’re teaming up with public and private partners to do the job.