BDA, BHA, FWP, TU, FVLT. These are the acronyms representing the organizations and volunteers who give up their weekends to accomplish a mutual goal: better habitat. This alphabet soup is symbolic of collaborative conservation.
During the blistering hot weekend of July 16, the Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, the Westslope Chapter of Trout Unlimited and Five Valleys Land Trust combined their efforts to build 12 Beaver Dam Analogs (BDA) on a small tributary to a troubled section of the Clark Fork River near Drummond. The legacy of mining, low flows and higher summer temps have all decreased trout recruitment on this section of the Clark Fork. By building BDAs on tributaries, we can increase water storage during dry times and help keep the water cool and trout happy.
What exactly is a BDA? In short, it's a man-made beaver dam. Using a combination of posts, rocks, mud, and brush, waterways are partially blocked up to create a ponding effect. This, in turn, encourages water into the groundwater system where it is “stored” and kept cool. Additionally, the ponding creates riparian habitat for all kinds of wildlife including fish, amphibians, birds, big game, and in this particular case, sharp-tailed grouse. BDAs can also help repair incised or deeply cut banks by slowing water flow and increasing sediment deposition.
About 15 volunteers braved the heat to slog through this small spring creek and to build habitat. Wooden posts were pounded into the stream channel, then conifer branches were braided through to slow water.
Rocks and dirt filled the gaps and finally thin willow stems were woven through the posts and branches to create a solid dam and pool water. Our volunteers worked so hard and with such enthusiasm, building these BDAs took half as much time as we anticipated!
The Peterson Ranch, where this project took place, is owned by a conservation-minded family. According to the FWP non-game biologist in attendance, it's one of the most pristine pieces of grassland prairie left in Western Montana. The Peterson's run a small herd of about 150 cattle on 3800 acres, their land is under a conservation easement with a public access clause, they allow some hunting by the public, and wildlife is a top priority.
The property is so well-managed as a natural landscape that it was one of a few select properties chosen in western Montana for the reintroduction of sharp-tailed grouse. Apparently the effort is working because volunteers saw some of these special birds on two different occasions. Additionally, trophy mule deer bucks, elk, pronghorn, spotted leopard frogs and countless birds were all observed by the group while at the project site. All of this adds up to the perfect place and perfect partners for increasing the quality of habitat to an even higher level.
We thank the organizations involved, our hardworking and tireless volunteers, and the Peterson's for their cooperation and conservation-minded stewardship of the land. If you are interested in getting your hands dirty and boots muddy you can find our stewardship efforts here. If you have a project to help wildlife and habitat you can suggest a project here.