Restoring Natural Systems

Returning natural resources like streams, ponds and parcels of over-grazed land to their original states after mankind has abused them for years is not always an easy task.

But Inter-Fluve, Inc., based in Bozeman, Mont., has tackled these type of challenges by the dozens since starting up in 1983. And the outcome is generally favorable for the fish and wildlife that inhabit these resources.

“Our goal is to create something that was always there before man stepped in,” said Bob O’Brien, one of the firm’s founders. “If you can tell we worked on a site, in our minds, we failed. Our techniques are based on natural processes, so in the end, a project should look like its been there all along.”

For example, Inter-Fluve is helping TBS and CNN founder Ted Turner return a Montana cattle ranch he bought to its original state. All fences crisscrossing the interior of the ranch have been removed and stream beds damaged by thousands of thirsty cattle repaired.

By shoring up banks and building natural spawning sites with clean gravel, trout are now once again thriving in the ranch’s streams, O’Brien said. And by encouraging the growth of natural grasses on the land, nature is taking its course.

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“Our concern lies in trying to restore habitat that has been lost to urbanization or poor land-use decisions,” he said. “Our main focus is to provide nature with a start to its own recovery. We simply accelerate the recovery process by improving natural landforms and water bodies.”

In some cases, the company is hired to actually create a new environment. At Wade Lake, a popular fishing spot near Yellowstone National Park, overuse had hurt the fishing population. The lake was fed by a spring tumbling down a hill at one end of the water body, and the hillside limited upstream spawning potential.

So Inter-Fluve was hired to boost the fishery. By knocking down part of the hillside where the spring flowed into the lake and using the dirt to fill in a portion of the lake, the company created a meandering spawning channel. Now the lake’s trout population has a suitable place to reproduce.

Although a majority of Inter-Fluve’s work is done in the Rocky Mountain region, the firm does handle some international projects. Also, the company currently is working on a major project in New Jersey on the site of a centuries-old munitions plant now owned by a large corporation.

The project involves large-scale removal of contaminated earth. Once everything is removed, fresh dirt and vegetation are placed on the once-damaged land.

“We’re now getting into some of this full-scale environmental remediation — taking land that has been hammered and starting from scratch to rebuild it,” O’Brien said. “We try and make the land look like it’s been in fine shape forever.”

Earth Fact: Bob O’Brien’s background is in fluvial geomorphology, which is the study of river characteristics and surface landforms.

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