Outdoor Report: A Montana conservation success story

Water howellia is a very unique plant species
Posted at 2:50 PM, Aug 26, 2019
and last updated 2020-05-13 20:54:12-04

One of the rarest living beings you’ll ever see in the world is located in Western Montana.

"Water howellia is a very unique plant species, its found only in these shallow wetlands in the Swan Valley," said Steve Shelly with the US Forest Service.

Out of the 300 locations where Water howellia is found in the Western United States, Montana is home to more than 200 of them -- making the Seeley-Swan area a special place for this threatened plant.

"The sites that we have in Montana represent about two-thirds of the known species in the world. So, the Swan Valley is very special for lots of ecological reasons," Shelly explained. "Water howellia is certainly one of those."

Water howellia needs dry ground in the Fall for its seed to germinate. The seedlings over-winter under snow and then grow as the pond recharges with water -- and then flowers in mid-summer. It then drops its seeds and the drying of the pond in late summer into fall allows the process to begin again.

"It's very much a balancing act between adequate water and adequate drying on a yearly basis," Shelly said.

Because of this sensitive life cycle conservation measures have been put in place to protect the howellia going forward.

"Due to the specialized habitat, we do have conservation measures in place on Forest Service lands in the Swan Valley," Shelly explained. "And then we work with other agencies to help maintain the integrity of the habitats around the small ponds."

The conservation measures have led to a call to delist the water howellia -- a success in conservation that gets lost in the valley's other charismatic living beings.

"You know, there’s the obvious splendor of grizzly bears, lynx, bull trout -- and then we have howellia," said Chris Hoge with the USFS. "This thing that grows in these quiet ponds -- and people drive by everyday and have no idea this really incredibly rare plant is growing right here in the Swan Valley.

Water howellia is also found in Idaho, Washington, Oregon and California.