09 September 2008

Restoration Council Approves Plant Diversity Research

The citizen Advisory Council ("Upper Clark Fork River Basin Remediation and Restoration Advisory Council") of Montana's Natural Resource Damage Program (NRDP) voted today to fund Rick Douglass's (Dr. Richard Douglass, Montana Tech) research proposal for "Restoring Native Plant Diversity." The Advisory Council voted to approve $628,175 for the project. Though trimmed considerably from the original request for $848,244, it's still a chunk of change for a 3-year research project to develop weed resistant flowers for the Butte Hill Superfund site.

Greg Mullen and other NRDP staff did well working with Rick and Kriss Douglass to cut $220,000 from the original proposal. NRDP might also set annual targets to insure that measurable public benefits stem from this funding. This is, I believe, only the second research program to be funded by NRDP. Well, that is assuming that the Trustee Restoration Council (a body representing state agencies) and Governor Brian Schweitzer also approve the funding. Generally, the Advisory Council, Trustee Restoration Council, and Governor all rubber stamp whatever the NRDP staff recommends, so no worries.

Congratulations to the Douglasses. Kriss Douglass, a recently retired Wildlife Technician with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, has been appointed as a Research Professor at Montana Tech. The project includes tissue culture as a methodology for creating knapweed-resistant "super forbs" (i.e. flowering plants) that will allow revegetation of the Butte Hill Superfund site without using broad-spectrum herbicides. Kriss will reportedly play a major role in the tissue culture once a new lab for this experimental technique is established.

At today's meeting, University of Montana professor Ragan Morrison Callaway stated that it may take just one year to produce new "super forbs" and demonstrate enormous progress in revegetating the Butte Hill and other Superfund sites in the basin.

Despite concerns raised regarding the use of restoration funds for university-based research, such concerns were brushed aside by Chris Brick of the Clark Fork Coalition. As she said at today's meeting, "This project is exactly what NRD funds should be used for."

Previous concerns (yeah, that would be me and a handful of others) about funding research with restoration funds were misplaced: Given that there are tens of millions of dollars in Natural Resource Damage funds available for restoration projects, it is clear that there is plenty of money available for funding much more research like this. That's OK, I've been wrong before. Let me be the first to suggest: Montana NRDP should issue a national call for proposals. RFP: Restoring native plant diversity.

If $600,000 for research this year is exactly what we need, then more of it is better. The NRD fund could easily sustain 2 or 3 million dollars per year in research funding. Let's do it! No use letting that money all get wasted on buying critical habitat along the Clark Fork River, removing additional tailings from sites like Milltown Dam, and building efficient water distribution infrastructure in Butte.

In the 1990s, the Environmental Protection Agency funded research by Dr. Frank Munshower of the Reclamation Research Unit at Montana State University and Dr. William Schafer of Schafer & Associates to develop revegetation methods for Superfund remedy and restoration. Munshower and Schafer developed STARS -- Streamside Tailings and Revegetation Studies -- as a method for revegetating impacted areas in situ (i.e. without the cost of removing tailings). STARS was rejected as a viable option for revegetation of the upper Clark Fork River basin.

Clearly, the Douglasses are on the right track. Munshower and Schafer were wrong in emphasizing a low-cost approach for remedy. We need to think big, and focus on restoration research even if practical results are never achieved or achieved only after many years. It is imperative that we invest millions in this goal, if necessary. Hopefully, many other revegetation scientists will follow the lead and apply for research funding. In the near future, the Butte Hill and other areas along the Clark Fork will bloom with the many native forbs that greeted explorers during the Lewis & Clark era. With enough money, we can create whatever sort of nature we want!


Anonymous said...

Pat, thank you once again for your courage and taking a stand. Some of us who opposed the project just couldn't speak about it publically. There's some powerful people involved that don't take criticism. It's risky to be negative. The enemies you make come back and go after your funding or grants.

Anonymous said...

Douglas. What an ass.