In August 2010, the Missouri River Watershed Coalition (MRWC) and the Center for Invasive Plant Management (CIPM) at Montana State University received a $1 million Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) from the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). The three-year project will provide knowledge and benefits to producers and land managers throughout the Missouri River Watershed and will serve as a pilot project for the western region and potentially the nation.
The longest river in the United States, the Missouri River Basin covers a geographic area of 529,350 square miles and includes six states (Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming). Invasive species are displacing the native plant community structure along riparian areas and have greatly impacted the conservation of native species in the region. This project will investigate and demonstrate the use of innovative technologies and approaches to address the natural resource conservation concern of invasive species management and leverage federal and state investment in environmental enhancement and protection, in partnership with agricultural producers. An outcome of the project will be the transfer of technologies, management systems, and innovative approaches into the private sector and NRCS publications.
Project objectives are:
Field activities for the project will be implemented in multiple locations within the Missouri River Watershed.
Specific tasks associated with Objective 1, scheduled to be completed in 2011, were:
Due to record-setting flood events throughout the region from May to September 2011, the field site selection and subsequent survey and treatment activities were delayed. Many of the sites initially considered for treatment and control sustained damage and disturbance, thus new sites needed to be identified.
The site selection process was completed in late 2011. Nine CIG field sites were established in Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota and will be used to conduct herbicide treatments of Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) and/or saltcedar (Tamarix spp.). One additional project site was established in South Dakota for the purpose of conducting a small-scale treatment of phragmites (Phragmites australis), which is negatively impacting riparian areas along various waterways in South Dakota and Nebraska.
Site vegetative surveys and sampling activities will be conducted in June and July 2012 by Synergy Resource Solutions, Inc., and led by Dr. Amy Ganguli of North Dakota State University. Dr. Ganguli is the Field Science Coordinator for the vegetation survey, sampling, and evaluation portions of the CIG project. She has been working with CIPM staff since mid-2011.
Treatment plans have been completed for each field site. Herbicide treatments will be performed by commercially licensed contractors in the fall and winter of 2012 and 2013, and overseen by the CIG project management team.
In July and August 2011, Russian olive and saltcedar samples were collected from five sites in Montana and Wyoming. Feasibility tests were conducted on the samples to determine BTU levels generated per pound of material, ash content, volatile matter content, and moisture content. The test results were then compared to data from forestry species traditionally used in bioenergy applications. Comparisons of the data indicate that while the BTU levels of both Russian olive and saltcedar are relatively close to those of the forestry materials, the ash content level of saltcedar is considerably higher than the desired levels of 0.5 – 1% for use in commercial wood pellet markets.
Additional samples of Russian olive and saltcedar are currently being tested to determine whether elemental composition of the plant material may negatively impact its potential value for use in bioenergy applications. The presence of inorganic elements such as sulfur, sodium, chlorine, potassium, and alkali have shown to be troublesome in other biomass applications, and may indicate specific challenges for bioenergy utilization. Upon completion of the elemental composition testing, the data will be evaluated by combustion specialists to assess the potential of Russian olive and saltcedar biomass for bioenergy applications or conversions.
Ongoing efforts concerning the bioenergy investigation will continue in 2012, and will be driven primarily by the recommendations of industry experts. We expect that upon receiving additional bioenergy test results and analysis, along with input from industry experts, we will be able to develop recommendations regarding the most effective methods for utilizing Russian olive and saltcedar biomass in bioenergy applications.
In 2011, the CIPM and the MRWC developed and distributed outreach products to provide updates on CIG project activities to regional stakeholders. In addition, CIG project leaders gave multiple formal presentations across the region throughout 2011 to provide interested stakeholders with an overview of project activities, and to communicate with regional programs which are involved in similar riparian invasive plant management activities. Educational materials are currently being developed to further disseminate project results and accomplishments to MRWC partners and the general public.
Montana State University News Article: MSU, partners in six states consider converting invasive plants to fuel. (October 6, 2010)