One of the major challenges many Corps of Engineers lakes face is invasive species of plants and
other environmental encroachments. In the arid, desert-like climate of Eastern Montana's Fort Peck
Lake, Patricia Gilbert takes aim at all kinds of botanical encroachments with a combination of
scientific research, savvy partnerships and non-stop vigilance.
Back in 2010 when the rangers at Fort Peck discovered the dreaded Eurasian Watermilfoil (EWM) in
their waters, this noxious weed soon found out there was a new sheriff in town: Patricia Gilbert.
As Fort Peck's Natural Resource Specialist, Trish quickly learned all she could about the plant (she
has encyclopedic knowledge of 30 species) and then teamed up with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
to explore ways to manage the spread of the invasive weed. Previous efforts at other lakes around
the country to eradicate the weed, even with chemicals, had proven futile, but consistent
management had proven effective at dramatically reducing its mass.
Once Gilbert teamed up with MFWP, their first effort was to establish a monitoring station by
converting an unused info booth, where Fish, Wildlife & Parks' employees could inspect visitors'
boats as they enter Fort Peck. She obtained a $30,000 grant under the Corps Handshake
Partnership program, which was used to update the facility. Inspectors carefully undertake a ten-
minute probe of all boats coming onto the project, reviewing boat engines and hulls and removing
any pieces or fragments of watermilfoil they find, preventing them from entering the lake. At the
same time, they are able to conduct a search for another pest: aquatic mussels, which, if discovered,
require boat owners to conduct a more thorough inspection and remediation. This inspection
station is the first of its kind in the Omaha District, and it also conveys Corps stewardship messages
and educates visitors on these species and their impacts.
Gilbert also partnered with the Missouri River Conservation District Council and the local Valley
County Weed Control District, obtaining $5,000 from the partnerships to cover Corps costs for
Gilbert's other foes include salt cedar, an invasive plant that dominates its environment by increasing
soil pH and creating a monoculture, crowding out native plants. She also worked with the Natural
Resource Conservation District to replace the Russian Olive with native species.
Gilbert is modest about receiving the award and gave credit to her team, saying, "If it weren't for the
support of my staff at Fort Peck it would have been impossible for me to get the award. The
Administrative staff, our purchasing agent and many others have been a great help working with our