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Willow Lifts address water quality by reducing erosion, increasing riparian area vegetation, and helps landowners prepare for and better manage high-water events. The technique is a way to provide an upper bank structure that supports the growth of woody vegetation. Building a willow soil lift involves burying dormant willows along an eroding stream or riverbank. As these willows grow and develop roots, they provide a natural solution to erosion.

These projects are less expensive than many other projects and work great to get vegetation along the bank to stabilize the bank.

The Lower Musselshell Conservation District completed a bank restoration project on the Musselshell River near Roundup. The work consisted of project planning in the spring of 2021, including an onsite in April, project permitting that was completed in July and August, and construction from September – December, 2021.  Preparation for installation of the willow lifts began with excavation of the bank by the landowners from September – December. A total of 12,000 yards of dirt were excavated for this project. FWP and Jeff Ryan and Connor Mertz with the Lewis and Clark Conservation District provided project management and oversight.  15,000 willows were cut in one day by a crew of landowners, FWP personnel and the MWC Coordinator.

These projects are volunteer intensive, requiring some strong backs to implement them.  The pay-off is that the cost-per-foot is much lower than rip-rap.  The Conservation District in Lewis and Clark County is fortunate to have an expert as their Chair, Jeff Ryan.  Jeff has participated on many of these projects over the years and has been instrumental in keeping them in the mix of alternatives when people want to save their banks without the expense of rip-rap.

The landowner harvested several thousand willows in the past few months.  This process is simple:  you take some loppers, find a willow source where you have permission to cut them, cut them while they are dormant, bundle them, and store them some place cold (in a snowbank, a cooler, etc.).

With Flood-Plain Permitting issues, a Willow-Lift was unable to be done at the Riverwood Villas area, south of Great Falls, MT.  Instead, a fascine of bundled together juniper/conifer branches was laid down and hundreds of sprigged/planted willows were done behind it. 

Jeff Ryan from Lewis and Clark CD, along with the Upper Musselshell Conservation District and FWP worked to help a landowner in Upper Musselshell County to do a Willow Lift to help with Bank Restoration.

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Are you looking for the costs associated with Willow Lifts?  Check out the Lewis and Clark Conservation District Website!

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