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Improving Native Plants on the Butte Hill


The quantity and diversity of native plants on the Butte Hill is destined to improve substantially over the next decade, thanks to continued project funding awarded to Montana Tech Plant Propagation Center by the Montana State Natural Resource Damage Program. In January of 2013, Governor Schweitzer approved the restoration plan for Butte Area One that was developed by a local citizen council, the Butte Natural Resource Damage Restoration Council. The restoration plan allocated $1,000,000 in natural resource damage settlement funds to Montana Tech over the next eight years to develop sustainable plant communities on the caps of the Butte Hill over the next eight years. Inspiration for the project came out of federal and state regulations to restore disturbed landscapes with native plants.

This is the third grant in seven years this group has received. In 2007 a grant from the Rural Indemnity Trust Fund rebuilt and modernized Tech's Gless/Sawyer Greenhouse. In 2009, the Montana State Natural Resource Damage Program funded Montana Tech's demonstration of novel techniques to establish native plant dispersal islands. The goal of this project is to increase native plant diversity to include 75% forbs, which are wildflowers, to sustainable "native plant dispersal islands" on the Butte Hill.

"The final vision for the project is to have small patches of native plant communities around the Butte Hill flowering and producing seeds to disperse into the surrounding land, making new plants, building soil and providing habitat for bugs, butterflies and birds. This healing process will continue into the future," said Kriss Douglass, principal investigator on the project.

The new award comes on the heels of work spanning the past 5 years which developed an active program of vegetation restoration based on the sustainable principles of basic plant ecology.

Montana Tech took advantage of this continued funding of its Plant Propagation Center to create a new position on campus. Dr. Matt Bahm has been hired as a part-time project manager for the native plant diversity project funded by the Montana State Natural Resource Damage Program and as a part-time ecology professor funded by Montana Tech. Dr. Bahm will co-direct the native plant diversity project with Kriss Douglass. They will continue and accelerate seed collection and processing and turning those seeds into dispersal islands--small patches of local native wildflowers. As Project Manager for the native plant diversity project, Dr. Bahm will have the responsibility of coordinating with Butte-Silver Bow, the Department of Environmental Quality, Montana State Natural Resource Damage Program, and other entities to get the plants and seeds on the ground at designated sites. As a Restoration Ecologist with Tech, he will develop a Restoration Certification Program to teach students the concepts of ecological based restoration and will be available to working engineers to hone their restoration techniques.

"From the beginning, the members of the Butte Natural Resource Damage Restoration Council looked hard to leverage the funds allocated to our efforts to their maximum advantage," said John McKee, Butte Natural Resource Damage Restoration Council member. "This collaboration with Montana Tech is a prime example of getting the most bang for our buck. I toured sites planted just last year and they are already encouraging volunteer forbs and shrubs outside of the boundaries of the original plantings. We are proud to assist with expanding that effort. Remember the Butte Hill of 10 years ago and now imagine the Butte Hill covered in flax, lupine, and other native plants. Nice thing to leave behind for our kids."

A press conference and event to celebrate the grant will take place on Tuesday, July 2 at 1:00 pm at the 13th Street Triangle in Butte. Directions to the location are: Go up Excelsior to 13th St (which has no sign). Turn right, drive until you come to Missoula Gulch (about 5 little blocks). At the end of 13th Street is the 13th Street Triangle Dispersal Island. All are invited to attend.