Beaverhead Conservation District Engaged in National Drought Resilience Partnership Effort

From Chris Carpnarelli - AmeriCorps - Big Sky Watershed Corps member, Beaverhead Conservation District, Dillon, Montana

In 2015 the Beaverhead Conservation District joined the National Drought Resilience Partnership – a multi-stakeholder effort to improve local economic and environmental resilience to drought. Beaverhead County is the top beef producing county in Montana and also a world-class trout fishing destination. Therefore, agriculture and angling tourism are the two economic sectors that have been the focus of drought vulnerability assessments and stakeholder engagement. 


In agriculture, healthy soil is the most powerful tool for drought resilience.  The NRCS has been making a nationwide effort to educate farmers and ranchers about how practices like no-till, cover cropping, and management intensive rotational grazing can improve soil infiltration rates and water holding capacity, reducing moisture loss to runoff and evaporation. In the summer of 2015, the District organized grazing workshops on both public and private land, and is currently looking into the idea of establishing a local soil health demonstration plot similar to the Ruby Habitat Foundation’s plots on the Woodson Ranch between Sheridan and Alder. 


To protect fisheries, the District has worked with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Army Corps of Engineers to assess the possibility of storing additional flows during wet years in the flood pool of Clark Canyon Reservoir. This would allow reservoir managers to increase the amount of water available for overwinter releases out of the dam during dry years. Consistently insufficient overwinter releases have been shown to have disproportionate negative effects on the large/mature demographics of trout populations. Fewer large/mature fish translates to fewer angler days and diminished income for the Beaverhead County economy.  


The District also been involved in stream restoration and drought monitoring. In the summer of 2015 the District issued 310 permits to The Nature Conservancy to experiment with beaver mimicry floodplain restoration. These efforts are aimed at slowing spring runoff, restoring riparian vegetation and wetland habitat, and cooling stream temperatures through groundwater exchange and vegetative shading. The District has distributed over a dozen rain gauges this summer to monitoring volunteers as part of the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS), and assisted with snowpack and streamflow monitoring throughout Beaverhead County.  

 Tour of LaCense Montana Ranch south of Dillon to illustrate the benefits of management intensive rotational grazing.

Tour of LaCense Montana Ranch south of Dillon to illustrate the benefits of management intensive rotational grazing.

 The Nature Conservancy and its partners survey an incised stream before installing beaver mimicry structures. 

The Nature Conservancy and its partners survey an incised stream before installing beaver mimicry structures.