Pilot Study: A Preliminary Investigation into Bitterroots in Scratch Gravel
Bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva) is the Montana state flower, and its populations are often a conservation concern. They require little moisture, and they are highly resilient to drought, disturbances, and fire. Recently, many habitats that are important for bitterroot populations have been exposed to increasing use by outdoor recreation such as mountain biking, disc golfing, and hiking. The Scratch Gravel Hills northwest of the Helena valley contains substantial bitterroot populations, but has also seen recent increases in recreational and ecological disturbances. The Bureau of Land Management is currently working on instating new recreational management in this area to preserve the state flower. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effects of disturbance on bitterroot population densities to help inform management decision-making. Two study areas were surveyed to evaluate the effect of disturbance on bitterroot populations. High-density foot traffic areas were compared to off-trail, non-traffic areas that represent natural site conditions. There was a significantly higher population density in the high disturbance recreational areas relative to the low disturbance natural areas. This pilot study should inform future research into the role of disturbance type, frequency, and severity and could be used in developing future management plans for multi-use conservation areas.