Data Monitoring & Assessment
MONTHLY MEETING MINUTES
1. In preparation for the coming growing season, there are multiple upcoming research lectures at MSU's Institute on Ecosystems that the local producers and recreation businesses may be interested in:
Feb 26 - The Dan Scott Ranch Management Program at Montana State University: Turning Passion into a Profitable Profession http://montanaioe.org/events/dan-scott-ranch-management-program-montana-state-university-turning-passion-profitable
March 25 - Invasive Lake Trout Induce Cascading Changes in the Yellowstone Lake Ecosystems http://montanaioe.org/events/invasive-lake-trout-induce-cascading-changes-yellowstone-lake-ecosystems
April 29 - Irrigation Efficiency and Water Conservation in Montana http://montanaioe.org/events/irrigation-efficiency-and-water-conservation-montana
2. USDA and NSF are two of the sponsors of one of the better "general public" explanations of climate variations over earth's called Polar Extremes: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/video/polar-extremes/. In two hours, you can gain a deep understanding of the carbon cycle and what currently monitored trends could mean for your private property rights and food production businesses or consumption. To get more localized on the topic of future water availability, Montanan's can see the content of the 2019 Water for Agriculture symposium here: https://www.umt.edu/hydro-econ-ag/posts/water_for_agriculture_workshop.php. However, there is no information that has been localized to Paradise Valley as to predictions for fire, drought, etc in our area as of yet.
3. Current streamflow and snow conditions vs historical averages, all in one view, here - now on our home page: https://www.umt.edu/hydro-econ-ag/hydrology.php
This is our first time presenting, so I want to start with this committee's mission: provide easy-to-understand, reliable and timely data on our watershed that is shareable and viral and, most importantly, tells a story about the issues faced by private landowners, local citizens, working lands and businesses and how clever people are working to address them.
Our Motto: In God we trust…all else bring data.
To that end, the upperyellowstone.org website has been radically updated to reflect the action plan and priorities you all approved: working lands, water planning, education and outreach, and data monitoring and assessment. I'll be working with the other committee members to get their content on the website over the winter. Note: our monthly updates will be posted on the website...in fact I'm reading it to you from there now.
The problem with data is the amount. There is a vast ocean of research and monitoring that can inform watershed planning and management. To make it easier, we provide it in different formats.
Data Nerds: We curate websites and articles (without assessing or interpreting it) from a host of private and public resources on to a single web page here.
Research Nerds: We also curate research that is "on the ground" and focused on our actual geography. To that end, we hold bi-annual 2 day workshops (next year at West Creek Ranch), and bring together the top scientists, producers and expert local citizens to lay out what we know, don't know, and possible action plans. All of the information is narrowed down in to a single Power Point document here, which includes information on local history.
"Get to the Point" Folks: For those of you who don't have countless hours to sit on the internet or stare at graphs and plots, we are working on infographics to explain complex topics (water budgets, migratory patterns, drought action plans). We hope to complete our first one by 2021. It is not an easy lift. We need everyone's help to get there. For now, see our water budget and our vital signs index.
"Where's the Beef" People: Some folks want to get their hands dirty working on actual "in the field projects" that benefit our rural character, open spaces, clean water, sustainable wild places and economies. This might include simply sharing your local expertise (e.g. there are 12 bull elk over that hill...make sure you count them). We currently have three community-science projects.
Last month we presented results of our eDNA and water flow monitoring for PKD, which has created a working hypothesis that high flows scrub out the bryozoan population (and therefore the T. bryo population). 2015 and 2016 were low runoff seasons...we will face this again, and hopefully be more prepared to handle it. As you all know, the majority of irrigators don't irrigate in early June...so there is little they can do. All of this information is posted at upperyellowstone.org/rivernet.
We are starting a "recreational use" monitoring methodology so that we can gather data on recreational traffic of the Yellowstone River itself (and Highway 89 traffic) and work together as various stakeholders (private land owner, public land users, tourism and recreation business) to determine if there are problems that need to be addressed, and, if so, creating strategies to address them with state agencies. FWP is already going down the path of creating a recreation plan for the Madison, which has seen user groups divide in to silos. Our goal is come to the FWP as a collective (businesses, private landowners, producers) with data and local insight that drives a plan that is right for our situation.
Water Quality/Quantity Monitoring Update: YERC will be presenting the 2019 results later in the meeting.
Soil Health Monitoring: Vern Smith, Jessica Mayo and Ford Smith secured an HB 223 grant to help fund soil biology testing in Park County targeted at producers (but relevant to any type of grower). It created funding for 12 landowners to join a three year soil biology testing and improvement (via innoculants) program. Six producers have signed up. This leaves six plus spots open for a two year program starting in early spring 2020! Please let us know if you or anyone you know is interested. They can reach out to Ford at Ford@regenerativelandsolutions.com to get the information. The initial results we had from 2018 pilot projects showed that versus the test and control "innoculated" sites we get twice the active fungi in the treated area. Our area, and agriculture in general, has low active fungi. Fungi drives all sorts of beneficial soil health functions (better aggregation, water infiltration, natural nutrient cycling, soil structure, etc). The six producers tested their soil in 2019 ; we will be doing 2020 spring soil testing for the producers. If it is ok with the landowner, we can share that data then. "My soil is better than your soil ;)" It is also important to have chemistry testing, plant species/density monitoring, insect monitoring, etc combined with a well thought out and adaptive management plan that looks at the whole system - e.g. soil biology and chemistry (nitrogen sources) acting together at maximum production. That said, the results we are most looking forward to seeing are the ones the producers keep track of, like yield, plant observations, pest/weed pressure, water infiltration, etc. If there is engagement from the working lands producers, we can go get more grant and NGO money to cover the yield monitoring and ongoing inoculation and application costs (e.g. Reedfly and others are putting in low cost injector systems for spraying e.g. fish fertilizers via our pivots). Some local success stories in California and the midwest may be found here, here and here.
Weed Monitoring (and Education): I'm looking for volunteers to help start a weed monitoring effort and map that can be used to inform the public about the actual locations of invasive weeds in the valley.
The current focus of our WildNET monitoring program is around three areas:
Predator-Prey (including Livestock but also elk migration impacts) Interactions
Ungulate Migrations (especially mule deer, elk, antelope)
Yesterday, Casey Stemler from the DoI joined a group of working lands owners at Chico (who represent 90% of the open space private lands in Paradise Valley) to discuss the SO regarding "wildlife migration". Druska will be providing updates on those discussions with FWP and DOT, but suffice it to say that a bill that looks like it may pass congress (sponsored by Wyoming's Barrasso) would fund wildlife crossings and mandate MTDOT to execute locally. Whether or not a wildlife crossing would work in PV, and what it would actually mean to producers who fund the winter range for e.g. elk, is something we want to make sure we have a say in. As Arthur Middleton and FWP showed yesterday, there are resident and migratory elk herds…and anecdotally it seems that we are growing a larger resident population. With that comes more forage use and more opportunities for disease spread. The impact of predators on the migratory equation (i.e. are they keeping them in the valley floor during brucellosis spreading period) is also a consideration for any "plan". Personally, I have yet to see data that tells us about the resident vs migratory population…nor seasonal trends. But, they produced such data in the Cody area…and FWP is working on it here. With that data, we would like to do an educational campaign to local non-producer landowners, hunting businesses and customers, and tourism related businesses to show the role irrigated working lands plays on migratory patterns and overall elk populations that the tourists come to visit, hunters hunt, and the "coasters" build their second and retirement homes to watch.
In addition to Druska sitting on the working committee, Daniel Anderson, is coordinating a small group meeting this month to outline a community outreach strategy aimed at informing and engaging Paradise Valley residents and business owners on the topic of vehicle/wildlife conflict along highway 89. The goal is to bring awareness to this issue at the local level. A handful of the critical puzzle pieces have already been laid out (in regard to actually following through on road improvements like wildlife overpasses, underpasses, fencing improvements that benefit the producer and wildlife, etc) but there has yet to be a fully engaged public or collective voice in the valley that would either approve or disapprove of these changes. Leveraging the funding mechanisms from agencies such as MDT is one thing. Community buy-in and a shared vision from the locals here in Paradise Valley is another. We'd like to help unveil and build upon that community voice. If anyone affiliated with UYWG is interested in learning more or helping design this outreach campaign, we are greatly appreciative and welcoming of input. Please feel welcome to reach out to email@example.com at any point.