High school students got to give their ideas Thursday on better forest management to the U.S. Forest Service.
In a two-hour presentation, 16 teenagers from Lincoln, Helena, Townsend, Deer Lodge and the surrounding areas explained how they were trained to monitor a wide range of sites for the past seven weeks, and made recommendations to officials with the Helena and Beaverhead/ Deerlodge national forests. Their effort was part of the Youth Forest Monitoring Program, sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service.
“They worked really hard during the last seven weeks, collecting much needed data for the Helena National Forest and Beaverhead/Deerlodge National Forest,” said Liz Burke, the program manager. “The information will be put into both forests’ annual monitoring report.”
It’s the 14th year the program has been in place. They focused on three areas, including streams, weeds and soils.
Mary Decker was on the Helena stream monitoring team, which took samples and studied the water and creek beds at 11 sites. Typically, they counted what kind of macroinvertebrates were present — like mayflies, stone flies and caddis flies — and measured the size of the rocks, the temperature of the water and the streams’ twists, turns and depth. That information was then compared to previous years.
But when they arrived at the White Gulch site, they were surprised to see that this year’s flooding pushed the creek from one side of the gulch to the other — effectively washing away a large part of a $300,000, 10-year project that enhanced west slope cutthroat habitat.
“It channelized into two channels,” Decker said. “This year, the stream is almost entirely straight and there’s erosion because it’s a steeper stream, going from 1 degree to 3 degrees. We’re concerned that the big blowout in White Gulch washed the riparian habitat away.
“… We think the Forest Service needs to examine the site and determine if it needs extensive rehabilitation.”
Another group of teens hit nine sites to check for weeds, including the top of the Mount Helena Ridge Trail. They noted that the site only has been monitored for two years, but the amount of Dalmatian toadflax has increased dramatically, as has the spotted knapweed.
“We think the weeds are taking over,” said Matthew Bertellotti. “We recommend continued monitoring and backpack sprayers (for herbicides), especially on the south-facing slopes where our monitoring took place.”
A team of three students in Lincoln checked out camp sites, including a couple in Alice Creek. They noted changes since monitoring started in 2008, including tire tracks that had compacted soils, limiting the growth of vegetation. They recommended not just continued monitoring but increasing the number of camp sites being checked to get a better idea of human-caused impacts.
All of the students also took a three-day backpacking trip into the Scapegoat Wilderness Area to check on the effects of the weed-seed free hay program. Since they only found one weed during their trip — and picked it — they concluded the program was a success.
At the end of their presentation, the students were handed checks covering their $35 per day stipend, which is funded by a variety of foundations, grants and county programs. Burke was quick to add that they’ve already received partial funding for next year, and they’ll start recruiting students entering grades 9 through 12 next March for the 2012 program.
Reporter Eve Byron: 447-4076 or firstname.lastname@example.org