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Ecologically Significant Wetlands in the Upper Yellowstone River Watershed

Ecologically Significant Wetlands in the Upper Yellowstone River Watershed

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Ecologically Significant Wetlands in the Upper Yellowstone River Watershed
Ecologically Significant Wetlands in the Upper Yellowstone River Watershed

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01/04/2013

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Ecologically Significant Wetlandsin theUpper Yellowstone River Watershed
including theBoulder, Clarks Fork Yellowstone,Shields, and Stillwater River Drainages
Prepared for theMontana Department of Environmental QualityByW. Marc Jones
August 2001
 
Ecologically Significant Wetlandsin theUpper Yellowstone River Watershed
including theBoulder, Clarks Fork Yellowstone,Shields, and Stillwater River Drainages
Prepared for theMontana Department of Environmental QualityAgreement # 200102ByW. Marc JonesMontana Natural Heritage ProgramMontana State LibraryP.O. Box 201800Helena, Montana 59620-1800
 
©
2001 Montana Natural Heritage ProgramThis document should be cited as:Jones, W. M. 2001. Ecologically significant wetlands in the upper Yellowstone River watershed, including theBoulder, Clarks Fork Yellowstone, Shields, and Stillwater River drainages. Report to the Montana Depart-ment of Environmental Quality. Montana Natural Heritage Program, Helena, MT. 37pp. plus appendices.
 
i
Summary
The Montana Natural Heritage Program, inpartnership with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, has completed an inventoryof ecologically significant wetlands in thewatersheds of the upper Yellowstone River insouth central Montana. This project identified highquality wetlands in the study area and evaluatedtheir diversity and integrity. Building on previouswatershed inventories, this work creates aconsistent and comprehensive source of wetlandinformation that can form the basis for effectiveprioritization of wetland protection and restorationefforts.This inventory targeted wetlands with intacthydrological functions, representative native plantcommunities, outstanding wildlife values, and/orrare plant and animal species. Inventory prioritieswere also influenced by degree of threat.Therefore highly protected alpine wetlands in theAbsaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area and theproposed Line Creek Plateau Research NaturalArea were not inventoried, despite the ecologicalimportance of these wetlands. Instead, greaterpriority was placed on inventorying wetlands onprivate land because of the greater developmentpotential at these sites. Important sources forlocating significant wetlands were local expertopinion and aerial photographs.We used standard Heritage Programmethodologies to inventory wetlands and to assesssite condition, catalog community types, anddocument rare plant and animal occurrences. Fivecriteria were used to evaluate each site’secological significance: (1) condition, whichincludes degree of hydrologic or geomorphicalteration, quality of native plant communities, andpresence of exotic species, (2) landscape context,which includes condition of uplands andhydrologic connectivity between wetland anduplands, (3) diversity, which includes the numberof plant communities, structural vegetation types,and hydrologic classes, (4) rarity, which includesthe number and condition of rare plants, animals,or communities, and (5) size of wetland. We thenplaced sites into one of four categories, rangingfrom highest quality (A-ranked) to poorest quality(D-ranked).Forty-six ecologically significant wetlands wereinventoried for this study. Of these sites, eightrated as A-ranked wetlands, 16 as B-rankedwetlands, 20 as C-ranked wetlands, and two siteswere not ranked. A-ranked sites were relativelyundisturbed to pristine. In general, their naturalhydrologic regimes were intact, they supportedhigh quality examples of native plant communities,and they had no or only minor weed populations.The uplands surrounding these sites were largelyundisturbed, with minimal human alterations.These wetlands included diverse beaver-influ-enced wetlands and several poor fens, which are aregionally rare wetland type. In contrast, B-ranked sites had been impacted by both on- andoff-site human disturbances, although many sitesstill maintained high functional capacity and sup-ported high quality plant communities. Thiscategory included riverine and depressionalmontane wetlands along the Beartooth Front andlow-elevation riverine and slope wetlands. GroveCreek Aspens, a unique spring-fed aspen stand inthe arid Bighorn Basin, was included in thiscategory. The remaining sites were rated as C-ranked wetlands. These wetlands have beenfunctionally impaired through hydrologic or geo-morphic alterations or through land use distur-bances in the wetlands or adjacent uplands.Exotic species were widespread and abundant atmany of these sites. In contrast, some of thesewetlands were in good condition, but were com-prised of a few common, structurally simplecommunities, and therefore had low diversity andrarity scores. C-ranked sites included low-elevation riverine wetlands as well as three largealkaline lake systems.

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