Invasion by non-native plants is changing the face of the Smith River — affecting the environment and the people who live, work and play in the Smith River corridor.
AN IMPRESSION NOT SOON FORGOTTEN
The Smith River provides one of the most unique river floating experiences available in Montana. Spectacular limestone cliffs provide a dramatic backdrop for a river corridor rich with resources we all find valuable; wildlife habitat, riparian plant communities, primitive cultural sites, breathtaking scenery, and significant recreational and agricultural resources in a vital ecosystem. One trip down the Smith leaves an impression not soon forgotten.
"WILDFLOWERS" AS FAR AS YOU CAN SEE
Depending on the time of year you visit the Smith, you may notice that the landscape is blanketed with a pale yellow-green plant - LEAFY SPURGE. This invasive plant poses a dangerous threat to riparian ecosystems and the natural, cultural, agricultural and recreational resources we cherish on the Smith River.
By displacing native and desirable plant species, leafy spurge can cause significant environmental and economic impacts due to forage loss; reduced wildlife associated with recreation, rare plant loss, and reduced soil and water conservation due to erosion. When bank stabilizing vegetation is displaced by invasive plants along waterways, increases in silt and sediment in the water can occur. Leafy spurge infestations can reduce wildlife and livestock forage by up to 75%, posing serious economic threats to those who make their living off of the land.
WHAT IS THE PROBLEM WITH INVASIVE PLANTS ON THE SMITH?
Most problematic invasive plants — or weeds — found in North America were transported here from other continents. When invasive plants like Canada thistle (which is native to Europe) become established, they often spread to dominate the native vegetation.
By altering plant communities, invasive plants can lead to changes in:
- habitat and food opportunities for wildlife
- abundance and quality of agricultural lands and livestock forage
- soil and water quality
- ecosystem processes and species biodiversity
- visual quality and aesthetic value of the landscape
Since its introduction to the Smith River in the 1920s, leafy spurge has spread to infest over 1,600 acres along the river corridor. Weed management has been sporadic during the past 30 years as environmental constraints, reduced budgets, and difficult access along much of the river has made management with herbicides extremely difficult. Since 1991, the availability of biological control agents (weed feeding insects or pathogens) has enhanced management options for leafy spurge. But, despite efforts to contain and control leafy spurge, the weed continues to spread throughout the Smith River canyon and has escaped to adjacent rangelands.
Leafy spurge infestations cross many landscapes and property lines along the Smith River corridor. Although infestations are severe in some areas, many smaller or isolated infestations within the river corridor can be contained or eradicated with a consistent cooperative management program. Awareness, prevention, inventory and monitoring, management, and research are all important components of an effective integrated weed management program.
WHAT IS SRHP DOING TO ADDRESS THE PROBLEM?
1. Education and Awareness
Providing educational opportunities and raising awareness among river recreationists, landowners, outfitters, policy makers, and the general public about invasive plant issues so that they may become active contributors to the solutions.
2. Research & Assessment
Facilitating research opportunities that will contribute to the knowledge base of “best management practices” for invasive plant management and sustainable plant communities; and to assess and quantify invasive plant populations and impacts, and evaluate management efforts.
3. Cooperative Weed Management
Facilitate the development and maintenance of the Smith River Corridor Cooperative Weed Management Area, and provide support for implementing on-the-ground management efforts outlined in a management plan.