Working With Water: Restoring Wet Meadows in the Sage
November 9, 2017
Pictured holding his iconic walking stick, Zeedyk is a riparian restoration expert who recently taught Montana managers how to cost-effectively repair wet meadows like this one in sagebrush country.
Story and photos by Sarah Keller for the Intermountain West Joint Venture
On an overcast fall afternoon in southwest Montana, nearly two dozen land managers and conservationists are gathered in the sagebrush around a vertical face of eroding soil. During spring runoff, wet meadows like these green up and become a vital food source for wildlife. But as livestock and people create trails through these broad catchments, among other factors, the trails erode into deep gullies and headcuts like the one the group is observing. It’s a problem here in Montana, as well as around the West.
“With a headcut such as this one, if you don’t treat it, it’s going to keep going,” said Bill Zeedyk, as he gestures at the exposed earth with a walking stick. “There’s no natural process to stop it. You have to be proactive.” Soon the crew surrounding him moves into action to start clearing soil away and stacking rocks.
Zeedyk is a riparian restoration expert here to teach Montana managers his unique methods for repairing meadows like this one in sagebrush country. In the case of this headcut, it is part of a wet meadow that begins on Bureau of Land Management public land and continues onto the private Hansen ranch. The restoration of this site means building a series of three rock steps against it to slow the flow of runoff. Like all of Zeedyk’s techniques, it’s a simple, elegant structure designed to work with water to catch sediment, and level out the meadow so runoff can spread over it again.
Everyone here pitching in to stack rocks is part of a multi-day workshop learning about these habitat restoration techniques. The pervasiveness of degraded wet meadows seems like a daunting problem. But many land managers see restoring them as a conservation opportunity, particularly when the methods are simple and cost-effective, like Zeedyk structures. Read more >>
The Sage Grouse Initiative is a partnership-based, science-driven effort that uses voluntary incentives to proactively conserve America’s western rangelands, wildlife, and rural way of life. This initiative is part of Working Lands For Wildlife, which is led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.