Tree farming aims to help restore riparian area

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The cottonwood seedlings are protected by metal cages. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is trying its hand at cottonwood tree farming at the Foy’s Bend Fisheries Conservation Area.

“What we’re doing down there is a cottonwood experiment ... to see if we can get the best survival that we can,” said Kris Tempel, a fisheries conservation technician.

Foy’s Bend, a 245-acre tract on the lower Flathead River, was acquired in 2009 with Bonneville Power Administration funding to be managed as a fish and wildlife resource.

The cottonwood experiment involves three exclosures — one-acre areas with 8-foot fences to protect about 450 cottonwood seedlings that are 1 to 2  feet high. The trees were raised from seeds from the same property over the last three years.

Tempel is trying mowing and weed matting in one area to keep down other vegetation that would compete with the trees. In other areas, an augur was used to “scalp” the ground around the trees. 

To prevent damage from voles (small rodents that debark the bases of trees) and pocket gophers that attack roots, Tempel is using a metal cloth material set above and below the surface around the seedlings.

She’s also experimenting with hot pepper tablets that make the trees hot from the root up. 

“The whole tree is hot so animals should not want to eat that,” Tempel said.

The Montana Department of Transportation is doing similar tree planting work on the north and south ends of the conservation area to mitigate for riparian habitat losses on Ashley Creek associated with construction of the Kalispell bypass road.

Tempel said the experimental plots will be monitored closely for the next few years. The goal is to restore an old farming field to riparian habitat.

Constanza von der Pahlen of Polson and others were out May 9 planting cottonwood trees along Steel Bridge Road in Kalispell. Pahlen is the Critical Lands program director for the Flathead Lakers. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

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