Sustainable Missoula: The Sustainability of Watersheds and Our Community

Rattlesnake Creek. (Courtesy photo)

As we move into a new year, we reflect on how our water sources can be protected amid foreseeable changes in our climate and increased development in the Missoula Valley. These conditions and circumstances prompt us to explore the question of what does the sustainability of watersheds look like?

The Watershed Education Network (WEN) of western Montana has encouraged people to discover and care for their rivers and streams since its founding in 1996. WEN’s dedicated staff and volunteers are actively engaged in their mission, ” foster knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the watershed health through citizen science, engaging youth and schools, and educating our communities to ensure the future stewardship of our rivers and streams.

The USGS classifies a watershed as “an area of ​​land that drains all streams and precipitation to a common outlet such as the outlet of a reservoir, the mouth of a bay or any point along a flux channel.” All the water we encounter is part of our local watershed, which is affected by all activities that take place there. The hills and mountains around us create the boundaries between the watersheds, as the mountains of the Rattlesnake Wilderness Area separate the drainage of Rattlesnake Creek from Stewart Peak and Marshall Mountain.

Rattlesnake Creek is a major tributary of the Clark Fork River and a critical stream for spawning trout. As the snowmelt that feeds Rattlesnake Creek empties into the Clark Fork River, it heads west to be part of a vast river system. The Clark Fork crosses Idaho and empties directly into Lake Pend Oreille.

From there it feeds the immense Columbia River, 1,243 miles long, and our mother watershed, the Columbia River watershed. It is truly remarkable that the water from our streams and the Clark Fork River flows into the Columbia River and empties into the Pacific Ocean. It’s our Montana creeks and rivers that provide clean, plentiful water for fishing and aquatic life along the way.

Missoula is home to a synergy of urban, agricultural and wilderness areas. This remarkable setting is accompanied by a vibrant community, development interests, local agriculture and nearby recreation on public lands. Growing development also poses potential pressure on our natural environment such as; abundant wildlife, water supply systems, open spaces and water access points.

Rattlesnake watershed boundaries are shown in yellow. (Map of Brook Bauer)

WEN staff and volunteers have created strong programs that established baseline data for monitoring the health of streams over years of water monitoring and data collection. There are many opportunities for watershed stewardship in Rattlesnake Creek and citizen science projects to better observe and understand what change over time looks like in this ecosystem.

The heart of WEN’s work is to invite everyone to learn more about their watersheds. Students and community members have ways to get involved in water monitoring and learn more about river ecology and groundwater concepts that inspire sustainable practices. The Rattlesnake Creek team, which has been at WEN’s citizen science center for the past four years, is one of our community watershed activities. Learn more about Stream Team and other projects on our website: WEN waterr monitor opportunities.

To learn more about the Rattlesnake Creek Dam Removal and Restoration Project in partnership with Trout Unlimited and City of Missoula Parks and Recreation see the City of Missoula websitee.

Some other WEN projects: Various WEN School Programs, Watershed Tours, our Winter 2022 Lecture Series, Big Sky RISE Challenge (in partnership with Brightways Learning) and Rattlesnake Creek Winter Watch.

By participating in WEN’s many watershed activities, our community members and students gain a new perspective on knowing more about our streams and rivers. One such opportunity was identified when members of our Stream team spotted a new beaver dam on Rattlesnake Creek in September 2021. This sparked the creation of a Citizen Watching Winter Beaver Photo Project to see what changes. can take place throughout the year and to maintain conversations and learning experiences throughout the winter.

Coming back to the question of what a sustainable watershed looks like, At WEN, we view watershed sustainability in multiple ways. First, a healthy watershed has clean, cold, clear, connected and complex water (5 C of a healthy body of water). It’s a system that plays a crucial role in the quality of life: ecological, societal, economic and human health. Our watershed offers so many remarkable gifts, and most of them go unrecognized.

As you walk by the creek, your watershed is working hard according to the EPA, “[…] nutrient cycling, carbon storage, erosion / sedimentation control, increased biodiversity, soil formation, wildlife movement corridors, water storage, water filtration, flood control , food, wood and recreation, as well as reduced vulnerability to invasive species, effects of climate change and other natural disasters (2).

During our years of work, WEN recognizes that river basins are essential systems that must be protected and maintained. It is possible to maintain healthy watersheds in the long term as long as we accept responsibility for stewardship of our rivers and streams and take care of our watersheds.

Unfortunately, we are already seeing changes in our watershed. One of the impacts observed throughout 2021 along Rattlesnake Creek comes from recreational activities. Forms of recreation include hiking, biking, dog walking, skiing, hiking, camping, hunting and running.

The challenge is to encourage everyone to be aware of the impact of their leisure time on the surrounding riparian zone (land near water) and on the entire ecosystem. This heightened awareness of the impact of recreation is particularly important with the recently restored Rattlesnake Creek. We can all avoid negative impacts on our stream, such as erosion causing excessive sediment deposition, pet waste that emits fecal bacteria, and the introduction of invasive species into our water systems by recreating ourselves responsibly.

This includes staying on the already established trail, leaving no traces, keeping a leash and picking up your dog, and cleaning your boat’s equipment after going from one body of water to another.

As a community, we can all ensure that our watersheds remain intact and healthy in the future. By working together, we can learn what our watersheds need and ensure that we all take care of the land we live and play on to keep our water resources healthy for years to come. As we begin a new year, let’s set the intention to be watershed stewards and encourage our family and friends to do what we can to minimize our impacts.

“We must strive to touch the earth gently and take care of it as true stewards, so that those who follow us and assess our record can see that our mark on earth was a mark of love and respect. … ”- Robert B. Oetting, 1974

To get involved with WEN and familiarize yourself with your watershed, please visit our website at You can also find the Watershed Education Network at Facebook and Instagram.

Sustainable development

Here, we offer ideas on sustainable ways to stay involved in our community. To find out more, consider subscribing to the Climate Smart electronic newsletter here. And sign up for Home ReSource eNews through their home page here.

Missoula WINTER Farmers Market continues at Southgate Mall on Saturdays 9am to 2pm. Until April 23. Also Wednesdays from 4.30 p.m. to 7 p.m. until December 22.

January 8. Fixit Clinic Missoula 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. – Don’t throw it away, fix it! Bring your broken appliances, torn clothes, or wobbly chairs to the Home ReSource Fixit Clinic and learn new repair techniques. register here

January 10. Planting native plants to attract native birds. Joint meeting of MT Native Plant Society and Montana Audubon. 7 p.m. in the interdisciplinary science building of the UM (room 110). Public reception. Masks compulsory in UM buildings. This speech will also be Zoom on this link.

January 11 7:00 p.m. Public Forum on Missoula’s Commitment to a Just, Equitable, Diverse and Inclusive Community “JEDI Resolutions: Not Star Wars You Might Think” hosted by the League of Women Voters of Missoula. Register in advance for this webinar.

January 12. Faith & Climate Action meets at 12:30 p.m. at Emmaus House near the UM campus. For more information, send an email [email protected]

12 February. Running Up for Air – Mt Sentinel. Runner’s Edge is sponsoring Montana’s participation in this 12, 6 and 3 hour event. And your participation supports Climate Smart’s efforts for clean air. Learn more about this series here and sign up with Runner’s Edge here.

Material donations to Home Resource turns the wheels of reuse in our community; and remember that all you need to know about what to do with your unwanted items is below.

Find more local activities and events on and the Montana Environmental Information Center Retention schedule. And you too can help organize events – here is the 2021 Calendar of Environmental Awareness Days – month-to-month distribution of World Day campaigns.

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