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Roots Against Erosion

The Bitterroot River is one of the most dynamic rivers in Montana.  This means the channel “migrates” or moves back and forth within its floodplain.  This meandering can create new channels and braids.

You can see the results of channel migration at Skalkaho Bend Park.  The River has been moving to the east—and because the Park lacks riparian habitat, like woody shrubs—eating away at the open grass area, eroding the stream bank.

The image to the left shows movement over the last 25 years and projections for the future.  Over the past few decades, we’ve seen the river bank erode away about 5 feet every year.  That means that every 5 years, we lose an acre of park land.

What can be done to slow this process and improve habitat?  Roots against erosion!


Vegetation along streams helps to hold streambanks together and provide wildlife habitat. To protect the Park against erosion, the Water Forum planted thousands of plants, whose roots will grow into a strong web that will strengthen the banks and improve habitat.

To allow vegetation to establish, planting areas are set back from the bank, giving the plants the time they need to grow.  A dense row of plantings will slow river migration to help protect the banks.

A depression was created to make it easier for the plants to access water. Native shrubs and trees like willows, dogwood, and cottonwood will provide roots against erosion and provide habitat for fish and wildlife!

The riparian area is the “green zone” of water-loving vegetation found along streams. Healthy streamside vegetation:

  • Reduces excessive erosion

  • Protects or improves water quality—buffers stream from pollutants

  • Shades the stream—reducing water temperatures

  • Slows water flows—replenishing groundwater

  • Provides habitat for fish and wildlife

Above:  Descriptive design map from Geum Environmental Consulting.