A $2 million tree project will green up Butte Hill this summer as a major county planting effort gets underway.
The project is mostly paid for by the Butte Natural Resource Damage Council and partially by the county and will continue for eight years.
Butte-Silver Bow Public Works will plant several hundred trees and shrubs each year.
“Everything we’re doing is for species diversification, soil stability and preventing soil erosion,” said Tom Malloy, the county’s reclamation manager. “We’ll have something besides just acres and acres of grass.”
This summer’s projects include planting at the intersection of Texas Avenue and Civic Center Boulevard, along the Butte Anaconda & Pacific Copper Way trail between Montana and Main streets and between Henry and Emmet streets, and in upper Missoula Gulch.
Before planting, the county digs down about five feet and removes any mine waste. The holes are backfilled with clean soil to create a “tree pod” — a large, healthy root zone for the new trees and shrubs. If tree roots grow down into mine waste that has been capped with less soil, the trees die. There are 600 reclaimed acres on the hill.
But more than just preventing soil erosion, especially during storm water runoff, the trees and shrubs will add an aesthetic value.
“Everyone in Butte should have access to a nice canopy,” said Julia Crain, special projects planner with the county. “They provide shade, which is essential in recreation areas on hot days. They demonstrate the natural resource development and revegetation we’re doing. We want it to be evident to the community.”
One important feature of the program is the in-ground irrigation the county is putting in each of the tree pods.
“There’ll be a bubbler head irrigator at each tree,” Malloy said. “They’re efficient at just watering the tree you want to water.”
The county, upon the recommendation of the Natural Resource Damage Program and Kellee Anderson, the Butte-Silver Bow county extension agent, is planting a plethora of trees and shrubs. Making the list are serviceberry, buffaloberry, ash, aspens, chokecherries, a variety of pine trees, potentilla and lilacs.
“We used to be the garden city,” Anderson said. “We want to make sure there’s a wide range of trees out there. We want to introduce fall color, and find the bird populations and the bees.”