skip to Main Content

Stream Restoration is a set of techniques or methods used to protect adjacent properties and public infrastructure by reducing stream bank erosion, minimizing the down-cutting of stream bed, and restoring aquatic ecosystems (natural stream system).

Today, the Bull River is lacking in native shrubs and trees along its riverbanks.  Loss of riparian forest, modified hydrology and highly competitive reed canary grass limit the natural regeneration of other species. A healthy river is lined with diverse vegetation which has varied root systems that hold streambanks intact (in addition to providing important shade, cover, forage, and habitat for many fish and wildlife species). Much of the Bull River today is bordered almost exclusively by dense mats of reed canary grass. Once introduced in hay fields, reed canary grass has spread extensively along the banks of the Bull River. Reed canary grass forms a dense rhizomatous mat in the uppermost layer of soil but does little to protect or stabilize the soil underneath. This leaves much of the exposed streambank underneath exposed and prone to erosion. Once underlying soil has been washed away with the river, large clumps of reed canary grass often fall into the river as well. This film documents a large-scale, multi-partner re-vegetation effort along the banks of the Bull River, which are currently largely dominated by the non-native and highly competitive reed canary grass. In order for plantings to be effective, the reed canary grass must first be killed. This is accomplished by laying down a heavy fabric barrier over mats of reed canary grass. This fabric, left in place for 1-2 years, will kill the grass and leave a space for other plants to establish. After the weed barrier has been installed, the areas are also fenced in order to protect the young plants to be planted from wildlife browse until they are established enough to withstand this pressure.

Eustache Creek is located in the Ninemile Creek watershed, approximately 20 miles west of Missoula. It’s a critical spawning tributary for westslope cutthroat trout, as well as historic habitat for the native threatened bull trout. The watershed has faced its share of challenges over the past century. A long history of mining has impaired water quality, caused severe streambank erosion, denuded fish habitat, and ultimately left the Ninemile poorly equipped to filter out toxic sediments and other pollutants. This video describes how local landowners have partnered with state and federal agencies, local governments, and non-profit organizations to successfully restore Eustache Creek.

In 1864, the first gold strike in the Big Hole River watershed occurred in French Gulch. The mining boom created an ecological bust for the French Gulch and Moose Creek tributaries. The Big Hole Watershed Committee recently restored over 3 miles of these channels, re-setting ecological trends and dramatically improving habitat, water quality, and recreational amenities of the streams and the public land on which they flow.

The Vermilion River represents the single largest Bull Trout spawning stream in more than 100 miles of the mainstem Lower Clark Fork River drainage and is also a stronghold for westslope cutthroat trout. Historically, the river has been impaired by upstream clear-cutting and significant mining activity, which has decreased the stability of this drainage. In 2007, the Kootenai National Forest – Cabinet Ranger District completed a watershed assessment and preliminary restoration plan for the Vermilion River. This document outlines a series of top-down, watershed-wide restoration project.

The Gallatin River Task Force and Custer Gallatin National Forest restored streamside vegetation, rebuilt streambanks, and improved access at Moose Creek to address severe erosion due to heavy use at Moose Creek Flat. On May 1, 2018, volunteers planted 288 native plants (conifers, willows, snowberries, aspens, and roses) at Moose Creek Flat. This project is the first of many to improve conditions along the Gallatin River.

There aren’t many places in the West — rivers especially — untouched by the tides of change be they exploration, mining, subdivision or climate change. In Ninemile Creek, Montana, extensive mining left a mess of dredge piles, ponds and severely impacted fish and wildlife habitat. Over the years, Trout Unlimited has worked to re-wind that wrong, bringing in heavy equipment, big plans and local experts to re-create what used to be: A haven of clean water, trout and wildlife.

If you’ve ever driven through East Helena, you may have seen the large Slag Piles on the south side of the highway.  More than a century of lead smelting left a 16-million-ton pile of slag—a black, volcanic-like rock that contains impurities extracted from smelting ores to make lead bullion. The zinc plant was shut down in 1982 and approximately 2 million tons of “unfumed” slag was placed on the top of the East Helena slag pile. The upper lift of unfumed slag is a significant source of contamination loading to groundwater due to precipitation percolating through the cracks and crevices in the slag pile mobilizing metals to the groundwater and contributing to the arsenic and selenium plumes migrating off-site.

An intense restoration was done on Prickly Pear Creek to help alleviate the ground water contamination.

Between 2015 and 2019, Montana Environmental Trust Group implemented three interim corrective measures to address contamination in soil, surface water and groundwater at the East Helena Site: (1) the South Plant Hydraulic Control (including Prickly Pear Creek Realignment) Project, (2) the evapotranspirative (ET) cover system, and (3) removal of the most highly contaminated soils that were an ongoing source of contaminant loading to groundwater. In 2020, the EPA approved the interim measures as part of the final East Helena corrective measure, along with an additional measure—grading and capping (with a vegetated cover) the slag pile—to reduce leaching of contaminants (primarily arsenic and selenium) to
groundwater when it rains or snow melts.

For more information, visit the Montana Environmental Trust Group

In collaboration with three landowners, the Lewis and Clark County’s Water Quality Protection District was able to provide management and funding for the Tryan Project, officially completed in the spring of 2019. The project encompasses over a mile of stream along Prickly Pear Creek, where many banks were actively eroding and highly incised; lacking vegetation to hold the banks in place, as well as connectivity to its floodplain to dissipate high flow events.

Many local partners and volunteers have contributed to the success of this project, including: Lewis and Clark Conservation District, Lake Helena Watershed Group, MT FWP, MT DEQ, and others.

Lake Helena Watershed Group / Tryan Project

Trout Unlimited is working with ranchers like Randy Mannix to restore key fish habitat such as Wasson Creek in Montana, a tiny tributary to the Blackfoot River that provides critical spawning areas for native cutthroat trout. By improving stream flows and riparian habitat, TU is helping Western rivers and streams survive the challenges of drought, fire and climate uncertainty. Moreover, Mannix talks about how working with TU is helping his family achieve their conservation goals for the ranch.

Back To Top