Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Stream Team in Late October

Late fall turns out not to be the most comfortable season to begin one's experience with stream monitoring, but I was determined to finally get my hands wet (and keep my feet dry).

The drive up to the selected stream passed with discussions about ladybugs eating aphids and grizzly bears swarming to eat ladybugs in the mountains. On one side of the car stood thousands of larch trees, green and yellow stripes blanketing the mountainside. Larches, I learned are one of the only deciduous conifers. On the other side, sprinkled in with the evergreens were what appeared to be birch, with dark branches bearing suspended sprays of yellow leaves.
The sky alternated dropping pellets of water and  letting the occasional sunbeam peek through the clouds as we drove.

After a few moments of uncertainty we came upon our section of stream.

       The team unloaded the equipment from the trunk and we tugged on our waders. My waders required a bit more tugging than everyone else's, as I, with my smallish feet, had to use the kid size waders, which happen to come with attached waterproof overalls. My feet fit very comfortably but my legs were slightly too long and my thighs squeezed (very) snugly inside. The difficulty of bending my knees made for some interesting walking strides. Conveniently, however, a pocket was situated on the front where I stowed my camera.

       The bank closest to the roadside was steep, composed of  large black boulders. The strongest current ran along this same bank, forcing us to step into the deepest part of the river, the water trying to pull us along downstream. Resisting the current and carefully treading over the slippery rocks, all three trans-sections were successfully strung across and staked down.

       Perhaps the easiest measurements to take consisted of measuring the current water and bank-full depths of the stream, as this did not require us to get our hands wet, and slush was not yet falling from the sky. Some hail had formed high in the atmosphere and partially melted before gracing us with its presence. Fortunately the precipitation ceased (for the most part) before the tossing of the grid and counting of "pebbles".

     The grid toss measurement counts the number of patches of fine sediment. We came up with low numbers, as the stream bed was mostly covered in rocks. Plunging our hands into the water to retrieve the grid was our first encounter with the frigidity of the stream, as our waders (and wader-overalls) protected our bodies nicely. In my pairing, grid toss was followed by pebble count, which required hands to be dipped into the water 100 times total to pick up and measure rocks. My partner and I, in sympathy, took turns with this. Our hands quickly flushed red and numbed. We could barely hold the pencil and clipboard, let alone write numbers into a tiny set of boxes. Our results for this measurement came out looking like the scratchings of a child just learning that numbers each have their own shapes. (The warm pocket of my wader-overalls came quite in handy at this point for my hands.) However, this produced some interesting finds.

       Several rocks we picked up had small, squishy, translucent green globules attached to their undersides. Upon investigation (asking Rebecca) my partner and I learned that these were actually a type of algae. While dreading reaching my whole forearm into the deepest section of the stream I saw, sitting in the shallow water over one of the boulders on the bank, what I assumed was a red crayfish. Through the water distortion it appeared to be about three inches. It swam away moments after realizing I had noticed it, just as I was fumbling to get to my camera. (Not being familiar with the area, I looked up what types of crustaceans lived in Montana and found several pictures of crayfish which appeared much like the one I saw, but not anywhere near as red.)

        As we were finishing up our tests and unstaking the trans-sections the sun came out, brightening the larches in the distance. Rebecca pointed out two tall thermoses of hot water, which we poured into mugs and used to warm our hands. The hot water doubled to provide well-deserved hot chocolate for the ride back, which we paired with homemade chocolate chip pumpkin cookies. Talk was lighthearted, about plans for Halloween, and I contemplated that freezing in a stream together with other people creates a sort of camaraderie despite the fact they were strangers just hours before.

-Cassie Sevigny, new WEN volunteer

View on the way back to WEN office.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Crew Number Two! WEN Leads 21st Century CSC

After a successful 6 week crew, WEN got together with a new group of 8 local high school students, this time working with the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps. The crew spent 2 weeks hard at work deep in the Montana forests.

It was straight to business for this bunch, and Road Surveys were the name of the game. Miles of dirt roads were covered, boulders moved, and data collected. Here is a picture of some of the crew hard at work... although when you're in such a gorgeous place as that, how can it really be work?!

Wait... Are we doing all those roads?!

Moving from road surveys, the crew moved onto the water, measuring Flow, taking pebble counts, and documenting their work through photographs and recording more data. Look close, and you'll see Deb even got to go out for the fun!

It's water time

While still on the rivers and creeks, the 21st Century CSC crew spend some time with the bugs, as any good watershed steward would. This group loved checking out what was swimming around!

I spy - a Mayfly!

On a couple of occasions at Dunham Creek near Seeley Lake, the crew spent time identifying plants. This gave them the expertise to pull the noxious weeds and water the natives we want to see thrive.

Transporting water to those that need it - the plants.

It was a great two weeks with this crew, and for such a short amount of time, it is truly amazing what they were able to accomplish! Thanks so much Landon, Abby, Clara, Finn, Shane, Georgia, Ian, and Mark - lets do it again next summer!

CSC Crew Crushing weeds!

Also, a huge thanks to Becca and Peter - our YCC and 21st CSC crew leaders extraordinaire!

Don't worry - this was staged!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

WEN and YCC - A perfect combination!

This summer, WEN partnered with the Lolo National Forest to run a Youth Conservation Crew (YCC) program. The 6 week program brought together 8 Missoula area high school students to work on a variety of projects for the Forest Service.

The YCC Crew deep in the Montana woods.

Data collection was a big theme of the summer, and the crew drove and hiked many miles through old and decommissioned Forest Service Roads. Along the way, they were collecting measurements, tracking GPS data, and determining use. Not to mention, there were the occasional boulder that needed to be moved out of the way!

Hiking along old Forest Service roads to get to the next data collection spot.

Off the dry roads and into the wet streams, the crew spent time in the water completing Pebble Counts, measuring flow, and checking out bugs!


The crew learned the difference between Native Plants and Noxious Weeds, spending in the Ninemile getting rid of the invasive species to help the natives thrive. It might not be a pretty task, but they sure did make it look good!

Crew member getting after the weeding project

It wasn't all work and no play, as the teaching moments turned out to be a lot of fun. The group got to spend time Birding at the MPG Ranch, and also went on a hunt for Grizzly Bears, working with experts using radio collars to track them.

Birding at the MPG Ranch

At the end, the crew gave a presentation to members of the US Forest Service about what they accomplished and what they learned. A report of all the data collected was also submitted which will help the Forest Service determine their next steps in these areas.

It was great to work with this crew - one that bonded so well and so quickly, all while getting great data in needed areas. The summer seemed to go by far too quickly, but we gained so many great memories! Thanks  for all the hard work Andrei, Ava, Claire, Dylan, Jackie, Josh, and Noah!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Wow! We've been busy!

Welcoming Becca Paquette - New Program Coordinator

We know, we know - it's been quite some time since new words made their way onto the blog. This fine blog seemed to have been swept away in a strong current, and we've finally found it washed up on shore. In the hiatus, so many fantastic things have happened! From field trips for all ages to the numerous WEN Talks (formally Advanced Training sessions) to the Stream Team collecting great samples, there hasn't been a dull moment.

We've also had the great pleasure to welcome new members to our team, the latest being Program Coordinator Becca Paquette. Becca comes to us from over the river and through the woods, across the plains and over some hills - all the way from the East Coast! She studied Zoology at the University of New Hampshire, and has recently moved to Missoula for new experiences.

Becca brings a wealth of knowledge and high energy to the position, and in a few short weeks has already settled into place. Be sure to say Hi when you see her at our next event!

Speaking of our next event - keep your eyes peeled for our Facebook and email updates - Our next WEN Talks event is on Thursday, May 22 with Pat Saffel of Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks! Hope to see you there!

Photos by Mike Lessard