Protecting Our Wildlife

Our service territories are located in an exceptional natural environment. As stewards of this shared environment, we must balance our obligations as an electric utility with the needs of our service areas and the safety of its unique bird habitat.

Restoring O’Dell Creek

Artist Monte Dolack stands in front of his painting of ODell Creek

Restoring O’Dell Creek

Over the past 13 years, one of the areas of focus has been on the restoration of a rare and extensive wetland/spring creek complex along O’Dell Creek, a tributary that enters the Madison River near Ennis. This vast wetland complex was ditched and drained in the 1950s to facilitate cattle grazing and hay production, resulting in the loss of hundreds of acres of productive wetlands and degradation of many miles of prime spring creek habitat.

NorthWestern and our predecessor have invested more than $2 million in this project. Project monitoring shows the number of migratory bird species found in the O’Dell project area has doubled since restoration work began and the number of waterfowl species and broods has tripled. Trout numbers doubled two to four years after one area of the creek was restored. Trumpeter swans, a species that nearly went extinct in the U.S. 100 years ago, are being reintroduced into the restored O’Dell Creek wetlands. More than 250 wetland plant species are found in the O’Dell Creek restoration area, including five rare plant species.

NorthWestern Energy’s Avian Protection Plan (APP)

Watching an osprey dive into the water, sometimes submerging completely before rising from the surface with a struggling fish, leaves a lasting impression. Ospreys are once again a common sight across most of Montana as their populations rebound from the negative effects of DDT, a widely used pesticide that was banned in the 1970s. However, with this wildlife management success story comes some conflict: Ospreys are relatively tolerant of human activity and frequently build nests on power poles. Nests can cause power outages and even fires, and their proximity to energized equipment puts the birds at risk of electrocution. NorthWestern Energy has installed hundreds of platforms to maintain service reliability and to provide a safe place for ospreys to raise their offspring.

NorthWestern Energy’s Avian Protection Plan (APP) incorporates industry best practices developed by the Avian Power Line Interaction Committee, which is a collaboration among the Edison Electric Institute, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and member utilities. The primary goal of an APP is to reduce bird injuries and mortalities from power line collisions and electrocutions. If one species epitomizes the potential for conflict between our electric system and birds it is the osprey.

Exploring Our Avian Protection Plan

Line workers check on an osprey nest

Exploring Our Avian Protection Plan

Our APP reflects a commitment to environmental stewardship, and fulfilling its provisions to safeguard ospreys is just one example of responsible risk management. Osprey-power line interactions can be complicated, and solving conflicts by practical necessity must involve engineers, linemen and biologists. Implementing our APP includes designing avian-friendly power poles, training line crews, providing information on federal regulations protecting migratory birds and increasing public awareness. In fact, we cooperate with osprey research projects throughout the state and these partnerships have yielded mutually beneficial results. We learn quickly of new osprey nests discovered by citizen scientists participating on these projects, which gives us the opportunity to erect nest platforms in a timely manner. The researchers, in turn, receive donated support to access nestlings for banding.

Madison Recreation Funding

NorthWestern Energy provides annual funding to state and federal agencies for the operation and maintenance of five recreation sites in the Madison drainage. In addition, NorthWestern Energy participates in a public-private partnership River Trust Fund to meet public recreation needs along the Madison and Missouri rivers. Projects have included campground renovations and improvements, hiking trail construction and improvements, boat ramp construction, and water system upgrades.