Lewis and Clark Conservation District harvests willow trees for shoreline project

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Posted at 1:40 PM, Mar 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-05 15:40:20-05

HELENA — Despite the snow and cold weather, volunteers in Helena took to harvesting willow trees on Saturday for a project that aims to stop erosion along Lake Helena shores with guidance from the Lewis and Clark Conservation District.

"It's a cool day in the 20s snowing, but we hope to cut up to 14,000 willow and cart them back to Lake Helena," said Jeff Ryan, the district supervisor for the Lewis and Clark Conservation District.

Ryan is heading the willow soil lift project, stopping the erosion of 700 feet of the north shore of Lake Helena.

The Lewis and Clark Conservation District says that the north shore has experienced severe erosion from ice and waves, but the willow soil lifts will stop that.

The willow trees harvested on Saturday will be placed horizontally underneath the soil to form massive root systems to keep the soil in place. It is cheaper and more environmentally friendly than concrete and rock barriers.

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While 14,000 trees seems like a lot, the project is covering a large area and the small trees are laid in the soil at 10 stems per foot in 700 feet shoreline. Ryan says the trees they harvest grow back within a few years.

"This willow that we cut today is going to be placed on that bank, and it will grow, and it will stabilize the bank. When we get those 700 feet done, we will have concluded or finished up to 1,500 feet," said Ryan.

The willow trees are harvested on land that landowners allow LCCD to come and harvest on.

The project is no small feat.

"That's the equivalent of the four or five football fields. It's a lot of shoreline," said Ryan.

Ryan says that the erosion of shorelines along streams and lakes can make the shoreline and the water unfit for wildlife.

"Eroding shoreline, whether it be on a river or stream, sediment, turbidity, and all those things, it doesn't do any good for wildlife. It's no good for water quality in general, so again, if you can get some stability on those riparian shorelines, it's a good thing for everything, wildlife and water quality," said Ryan.

In April, the Lewis and Clark Conservation District will begin constructing willow soil lifts.