Big Sky Watershed Corps Recognized by NRCS for Service in Montana

Big Sky Watershed Corps, Earth Team volunteers.

Big Sky Watershed Corps Recognized by NRCS for Service in Montana

Source: USDA
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Big Sky Watershed Corps, Earth Team volunteers.
Big Sky Watershed Corps 2016 Earth Team Volunteers. Left to right: Kaeli Wells, Missoula, Karli Becher, Ronan, Chelsea Roston, Fort Benton, Brendan Hallmark, Missoula, Julia Wochos, Hamilton, Ian Cavigli, Helena, Tiffany Martin, Kalispell, Katie Mumford, Townsend, Megan Guy, Dillon.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Montana has selected the Big Sky Watershed Corps for the NRCS Earth Team Volunteer Partnership Award.

The Big Sky Watershed Corps is an AmeriCorps program that is partnered with the Soil and Water Conservation Districts of Montana and the NRCS in an effort to provide young professionals the opportunity to be placed in a Montana watershed community to work on local conservation efforts. Several Big Sky Watershed Corps members worked alongside NRCS field staff in Montana assisting with project implementation, field monitoring, community outreach, and education.

“The volunteer workforce of Big Sky Watershed Corps members distinguished themselves by their strong work ethic, dedication, and professional excellence,” said Travis Lemke, Montana Earth Team Coordinator. “This partnership not only contributed to the professional development of college graduates, but has proved to be an invaluable asset to NRCS employees in Montana as well.”

In all, Big Sky Watershed Corps members graciously contributed more than 2,600 hours of volunteer service to NRCS offices throughout Montana in 2016. A few examples of the collaborative contributions made by members of Big Sky Watershed Corps in Montana follow.

Ronan NRCS Field Office

Big Sky Watershed Corps member and Earth Team Volunteer Kristi D’Agati focused on implementing five unique field trials on 12 different ranches throughout Lake County. The field trials were designed to provide local producers with low cost, commonsense, workable solutions for pastureland renovation. Ongoing monitoring and documentation of these plants will continue for multiple years. The value of these studies will be long-lived and will lay the groundwork for future conservation efforts. In addition, Kristi was involved with assisting with pollinator outreach, education, and habitat establishment. She presented the importance of pollinator species and educated landowners on ways to improve pollinator habitat on private lands. She also assisted with the development of 50 pollinator mixes that were provided to community members at no charge in order to encourage the establishment of pollinator habitat in Lake County.

In her time working as an Earth Team volunteer with NRCS, Kristi worked as a conservation planner, assisting local agricultural producers with soil analysis, range monitoring, pasture improvements, forestry inventory, and wetland analysis. In addition, Kristi has coordinated with multiple NRCS partners including Lake County Conservation District, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and the Flathead Lakers to complete conservation project work and increase local partnering opportunities.

Townsend and Bozeman NRCS Field Offices

Big Sky Watershed Corps member and Earth Team Volunteer Katie Mumford assisted community members by monitoring stream flows in Deep Creek and compiling data for the Broadwater County Drought Resiliency Reports. From May through September of 2016, Katie sent out weekly reports to water users and irrigators in the area that included: Deep Creek streamflow, county-wide precipitation, temperature, and Canyon Ferry Reservoir information. In addition to her streamflow monitoring project, Katie has worked alongside NRCS staff assisting landowners with the implementation of Environmental Quality Incentives Program projects such as riparian fences and stockwater pipeline and tank systems. These projects were part of the overall Deep Creek Watershed Restoration Plan.

Montana NRCS State Office – Snow Survey Team

During the winter of 2016, Earth Team volunteers from the Big Sky Watershed Corps donated more than 200 hours of their time to support the Montana NRCS Sow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting program. During the last week of each winter month, these volunteers collected valuable snow water data for the monthly Water Supply Outlook Report produced by NRCS

This season, 10 volunteers surveyed five snow courses across the state. Surveying these snow courses requires skiing or snowshoeing up to 10 miles in the mountains and sampling the snow for depth and water equivalent. Often, these surveys are completed in adverse weather conditions. As with any historic record, data quality and punctuality are very important. The Big Sky Watershed Corps volunteers have done an outstanding job completing snow surveys while meeting NRCS standards.

Montana has some of the oldest snow courses in the West, a few of which have been surveyed for more than 80 years. Some of these snow courses were at risk of being discontinued in 2012. The snow survey partnership with the Big Sky Watershed Corps was created in 2015. Thanks to the hard work by these volunteers, the historic record of five of Montana’s snow courses continues.

“This collaboration provided the opportunity for Big Sky Watershed Corps members to learn more about NRCS, conservation partners, and natural resource conservation in general,” said Lemke. “The recognition of Big Sky Watershed Corps has helped staff members, partners, and communities throughout Montana remember why the spirit and value of volunteerism is contagious and impactful.”