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A local example of trout friendly landscaping. PHOTO BY MARK CASTANENDA

Local organizations work to get native plants back in Big Sky soil

By Gabrielle Gasser

BIG SKY – The Gallatin Invasive Species Alliance and the Gallatin River Task Force are both working to educate the Big Sky community about the benefits of native plants and encourage the use of these plants in landscaping.

The alliance is currently holding its online Native Plant Sale and the task force, in partnership with the alliance, offers educational resources and a pledge opportunity through its Trout Friendly Landscaping program. In July, both organizations are also teaming up to offer a gardening workshop.

“Native plants are the foundation of our ecosystems,” said Jen Mohler, executive director of the alliance. The primary goal of GISA, she says, is to get more native plants in the landscape because of the many benefits they provide.

“Montana has 35 state listed noxious weeds, and these noxious weeds are essentially like a silent cancer on our landscape,” Mohler said. “They move in, they displace native plants, they’re competitive, adaptive and persistent. They damage our economy, our environment and have profound ecological consequences.”

Native plants in landscaping use less water and create a patchwork of vibrant colors in gardens.

In contrast to these harmful, nonnative species, native plants, according to Mohler, require less water, form the foundation of the food pyramid, provide important habitat for wildlife, and have deep roots which prevent erosion and promote the health of the soil.

Jessica Olson, conservation associate with the task force, expanded the argument for promoting native plants to include impacts on water systems. When nonnative species are used in landscaping, she said, they require a lot more water, diminishing the drinking supply. Olson added that water use in Big Sky is estimated to be seven times greater in the summer than in the winter due mostly to irrigation.

“If we can cut down on water use by using native plants then we can save a lot of water from leaving the Gallatin,” Olson said.

The task force is looking to educate people about the benefits of these plants and hopefully conserve more water in a drought-prone region.

Similarly, Mohler hopes to educate people about the benefits of native plants and empower them to take this small step in protecting the natural resources that make Big Sky such a beautiful place to live.

“To consciously choose plants that require less water is a really important thing that we can all do and take action and be proactive as these droughts continue,” Mohler said.

This year, there are 29 different species available through the alliance’s Native Plant Sale including hyssop, showy fleabane and penstemon, which Mohler says is great for bees. There will be two pickup days, the first on June 2, from 4-6 p.m. at the Crail Gardens in Big Sky and the second on June 5 from 4:30-6 p.m. at the Simms parking lot.

“Nature is messy,” Mohler said. “It’s intended to be messy. And your garden is not part of the ecosystem unless something is eating it.”

Blanket flowers are one of the native species planted in the Crail Gardens. PHOTO COURTESY

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