Trout-friendly landscaping aims to protect water – Explore Big Sky

By Gabrielle Gasser EBS EMPLOYEES

BIG SKY – The typical American lawn is a lush, green mat of Kentucky bluegrass, a grass that requires high water usage, especially in drought-prone locations like Big Sky. Taking into account the use of resources, the non-native grass is not well suited for the high mountain environment.

The Gallatin River Task Force has created a certification program that evaluates Big Sky properties and helps homeowners transition to drought tolerant, native landscaping that makes local rivers smile. The Trout-Friendly Landscapes Certification Program started in late summer 2020, making it the first full summer available.

The program has two goals, according to Emily O’Connor, director of the conservation program at GRTF. “The trout-friendly program promotes landscaping practices that protect water quality and quantity,” she said in an interview with EBS.

Crail Ranch Gardens are great demonstration gardens that have implemented native landscaping and use less water. PHOTO BY GABRIELLE GASSER

The benefits of switching to trout-friendly landscaping are numerous. Landscaping is healthier for children and pets, saves homeowners money, creates habitat for local fauna, protects water quality, and saves water.

Water conservation is doubly important in this case, as not only was southwest Montana experiencing moderate drought all summer last year, but the Big Sky County Water and Sewer District recently increased its water prices. On June 1, the board of directors voted in favor of passing an ordinance that increases the water tariffs for the basic tariff and tariff user levels by 5 percent. Saving water will not only benefit the nearby Gallatin River, it will also ease the wallet of homeowners.

This water-oriented landscaping also protects water quality from pollutants from point sources such as fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides that can be replaced by organic alternatives or are unnecessary for native plants. These chemicals can be a significant source of excess nitrogen and phosphorus, according to the GRTF website. O’Connor said these excess nutrients end up in streams and rivers, becoming food for the widespread algal blooms that have been observed on the Gallatin in recent years, threatening riparian habitats and river health.

Native plants are drought tolerant and create habitat for native wildlife. PHOTOGRAPH BY APPROVAL GALLATIN RIVER TASK FORCE

Certifying your lawn is as easy as completing a seven-step checklist.

There are many resources available to homeowners on the GRTF website, including checklists for basic and gold certification. Steps include using native plants, reducing chemical use, improving the soil, and effective irrigation practices.

“A good soil base reduces the amount of water you need,” said O’Connor. “We encourage practical lawns by limiting size and maintenance, e.g. B. mowing 3 inches or more to save water. “

Implementing efficient irrigation practices is an equally important part of certification. O’Connor referred to newer irrigation technology that has timers to automatically turn off the water based on soil and weather conditions. Buying a new system won’t cost homeowners the money as the task force offers discounts on new irrigation equipment.

To support the relatively new program, Mark Castaneda, a conservation fellow from the Montana Conservation Corps, has joined the task force team. Castaneda launched in May and will be available through October to conduct free property appraisals and connect homeowners to a variety of resources and ideas on how to remodel their landscaping.

The certification process is meant to be as simple as possible for homeowners. After arranging a free assessment with Castaneda to go through the trout-friendly checklist and certification process, homeowners can make any necessary changes and receive any relevant discounts from the task force.

A Big Sky homeowner JeNelle Johnson shared her experience managing her landscaping. Johnson said she owned her home in Big Sky for nine years and invested a lot of time and money in landscaping in the early years, which didn’t go well.

“I’ve taken a minimalist approach for the past few years,” she said. “We added boulders to our landscaping that look great and don’t need water. We love our native grass and old trees. We have installed some drought tolerant plants near our house that are on a drip system. I am currently replacing mulch with stone bark for fire resistance. I add a splash of color by planting flowers in a couple of pots on our porch and patio. “

Adding stones to landscaping is an aesthetically pleasing way to reduce water consumption. PHOTOGRAPH BY APPROVAL GALLATIN RIVER TASK FORCE

Heather Budd, another Big Sky local and Treasurer of the GRTF Board of Directors, spoke about the importance of trout-friendly landscaping.

“We believe trout-friendliness is synonymous with general river health, and general river health affects everyone associated with the gallatin, from fishermen and recreation seekers to downstream landowners and agriculture,” Budd wrote in an email to EBS .

In addition to some Big Sky homeowners who have made the move, O’Connor said the Town Center Owners Association and the Hidden Village Owners Association are currently doing the certification. She also said the task force is currently working with the Big Sky Owners Association to recommend updates on implementing some trout-friendly and water-saving practices.

Going forward, O’Connor said the program will be split into two different tracks. There will be one route to be certified for existing properties and a new route for properties that are in the planning and construction phase, although the latter has not yet been completed.

She encouraged homeowners to visit the website and take advantage of the wide variety of information it offers. “We’re here as a resource,” she said.

Visit for more information on trout-friendly landscaping.

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