Roundup Record Tribune & Winnett Times -

Minutes Musselshell Watershed Coalition Meeting October 13, 2020


November 25, 2020

Via GoToMeeting

Present: Bill Milton, Facilitator; Laura Nowlin, Musselshell Watershed Coalition Coordinator; Wendy Jones, Lower Musselshell Conservation District Administrator; Shirley Parrott, Lower Musselshell Conservation District Supervisor and MWC Board Member; Carie Hess, Petroleum County Conservation District Administrator; Brian Hauschild, Big Sky Watershed Corps; Andrew Sanders, Big Sky Watershed Corps; Gary Olsen, Wheatland County Weed Coordinator; Kelsey Miller, Wheatland County Assistant Weed Coordinator; Reba Ahlgren, NRCS Winnett Field Office; Ethan McJames, NRCS Harlowton Field Office; Mike Lucas, NRCS Winnett Field Office; Brandon Bigelbach, NOAA National Weather Service; Tory Kolkhorst, Senator Dianes’ Office; Susan Lenard, Montana Department of Transportation; Diane Ahlgren, Petroleum Conservation District and MWC Board Member, Ashlie Gilbert, MSU Masters Student; Liddi Meredith, Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology; Tiffany Lyden, DNRC Floodplain Bureau; Molly Bell and Maddie Alpert, Senator Tester’s Office; Karen Walsh, Upper End Landowner; Scott Graham, MT DEQ Abandoned Mine Lands; Wendy Beye, MWC Scribe; Sarah Church, MSU Professor; Cheryl Miller, Upper Musselshell Conservation District.

Facilitator Bill Milton called the meeting to order at 12:03 p.m. Introductions followed, with the question “What does MWC do well and what could MWC do better?”

Musselshell Watershed Coalition Coordinator Report:

Coordinator Laura Nowlin reported that MWC has still been busy even though plans have been changed for outreach due to Covid. MWC has been active in the Central and Eastern Montana Invasive Species Team and has put together AIS monitoring kits for 4 conservation districts and the Big Horn River Alliance. Laura worked with the FWP AIS Bureau for an online monitoring training that was well attended. The MWC Board has begun strategic planning and was able to tour the lower end, from Shirley Parrott’s place down to Diane Ahlgren’s place the first week of October. The upper end tour will take place later this fall. BSWC members have almost completed their terms and will be presenting their projects today – salinity monitoring and weed monitoring. MWC will begin updating the Musselshell Watershed Plan with consultant Karin Boyd this fall. This is a two-year project. MWC is working with the Upper Musselshell Conservation District and FWP on a bank restoration project near Two Dot. Willows will be cut October 31st and installation will take place November 13th.

BSWC Member Andrew Sanders – Mapping Weeds in the Musselshell Watershed

Noxious weed infestations are a landscape scale issue, but managed by a patchwork of organizations across the landscape. Cooperation among these organizations requires a landscape scale view. The members of the Musselshell River Cooperative Weed Management Area (CWMA) thus commissioned a comprehensive map of weed infestations throughout the Musselshell Watershed. Focusing on weeds and areas of the watershed that the CWMA decided were high priority, Andrew surveyed the watershed by foot, motorized vehicle, and unmanned aircraft (drone), and subsequently produced maps. Canada thistle and knapweed infestations were found to be widespread throughout the watershed, while leafy spurge and salt cedar were found to be predominantly restricted to smaller streams and the main stem,

respectively. Differences in weed abundance across management boundaries and after treatment efforts suggest opportunities for improved management through learning from each other. Some recommendations are made for ensuring the continued success of mapping projects in the watershed.

1. Shared Data Standards

2. Monitor weed cover at treatment sites

3. Shared protocol for noxious weed surveys

BSWC Member Brian Hauschild – Salinity Monitoring in the Musselshell Watershed

Over the summer, Brian Hauschild carried out a project to monitor salinity in some of Petroleum County’s livestock ponds. Brian’s goal was to provide a service to landowners who are concerned about increasingly saline ponds. After the 2011 floods, this problem has become widespread throughout central Montana. Salts in the bedrock were flushed out of the groundwater and have persisted on the surface for nearly a decade. Although salts in the region are naturally occurring, certain land management techniques can exacerbate the issue. Livestock ponds with minimal outflows are particularly susceptible to the buildup of salts, which can be harmful for cattle consumption. When animals drink highly saline water, they can experience symptoms such as diarrhea, dehydration, and weight loss.

Through observation and data collection, action can be taken to improve the health and productivity of livestock and watersheds. Brian sampled 72 stock ponds for salinity, 24% of which were found to be unfit for livestock drinking water under any conditions. Ponds sampled later in the summer were 27% saltier than earlier in the summer. By continuing to monitor salinity, landowners can be informed about the quality of their livestock water and make better decisions about their operations. Recently, there have been encouraging projects in the Musselshell Watershed that show signs of mitigating visible saline seeps. Annual grain/crop-fallow systems have been converted to perennial forage, and the salts are leaching back into the soil profile. Petroleum County Conservation District hopes to continue supporting producers in their efforts to improve the quality of their water and health of their livestock.

Partner Updates:

Wendy Jones, Lower Musselshell Conservation District – LMCD held a weed workshop at the fairgrounds in August and a fuels mitigation and fire meeting. Both had good turnouts. Wendy has also been coordinating the CEMIST group and they have just completed a strategic plan.

Carie Hess, Petroleum County Conservation District – PCCD has been working with Delphia-Melstone Canal Water Users on changing the Horse Creek Coulee project to a much smaller reservoir to help with distribution along the canal. Carie and Lynn are working with DNRC Water Rights. The PCCD is running a CEMIST grant to help with Wendy’s time. The PCCD is also doing its own long-range planning.

Kelsey Miller and Gary Olsen – Wheatland County Weed District – CONGRATULATIONS to Gary Olsen on his retirement! The Weed District is working on four new CWMA’s one on the Musselshell and one on Fish Creek. These involve 90+ landowners, including the Upper Musselshell Water Users Association. The Weed District will use the newly formed Ag Committee in Wheatland County to reach landowners.

DNRC Floodplain Bureau – Tiffany Lyden – The Musselshell River floodplain maps are midway through the process. Petroleum, Rosebud, and Musselshell Counties are updated and adopted. Only the mainstem Musselshell River have been updated, tributaries are still the old maps. Golden Valley County maps are going through public review now and Wheatland County maps are also including Antelope Creek through Harlowton and have not yet gone to public review. Just a reminder that projects in a mapped floodplain need a permit and need to describe what the impact will be. If there is a change to the floodplain, then the maps need to be updated.

Musselshell River info is found at:

NRCS – Working on TIPS. Petroleum County has just gotten a fuels reduction TIP on Tin Can Hill Road investment ready and Wheatland County has been implementing a weeds TIP. Ethan is working on putting together an Ag Committee to get more landowner input in Wheatland County.

Fish Wildlife and Parks - The McCleary Channel Reconnection project should be under way soon. Comments coming in have been supportive. Willow cutting to take place October 31 for the Two Dot Project with Cheryl Miller and the Upper Musselshell CD with a November 13th planned date of installation. Shannon and crew completed the fall Deadman's netting survey with a strong showing of kokanee salmon. It was great to have BSWC member, Andrew's help. The dock at Deadmans will be in this week but will be coming out either next week or likely by the end of the month. Shannon and crew are planning a Melstone area sampling day or two yet as well provide conditions and timing with crews allows it. Riverside Fishing Access Site at Roundup is coming together. The EA is being pulled together with the County/FWP agreement drafted and gone through by each group once with another review planned before going potentially to the FWP commission in December.

Department of Transportation – Instead of lengthy bank stabilization projects, MDT has redesigned projects #5, 7 & 9 to be more considerate of the river and will stay within the existing right-of-way.

DEQ/AML – Work at the Bair-Collins Mine/Meathouse Road area is underway with hauling of material to the sediment storage area east of Roundup complete. They’ve begun spreading topsoil and will plant trees/shrubs before they’re done this fall.

National Weather Service – Staff has been unable to do much outreach with partners because of Covid. We’re looking at a La Nina winter with predictions saying definitely more snow and also potentially colder than average.

Healthy Watershed Consortium Initiative – (attached to email) – Ranching for Rivers is taking applications. These projects are not required to be on a stream with a Watershed Restoration Plan, just on an impaired stream.

Next meeting will be December 8th at Noon and will also be held virtually.


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