<<Back to Winter 2007-2008 Steward 

Montana Grown

story and photos by Nora Taylor, MSO

residents planting seeds

Planting begins. Ben and Stephanie (center) clean the pulp off buffaloberry seeds for Debbie (l) and Angie (r). 

plant tubes go into the trays

Mike, Bryan, and Robbie put the plant tubes into the trays. 

residents transplanting seedlings

Shorti transplants seedlings while Robbie watches.

A new partnership with the Special K Ranch will have an impact all across the West. 

Every year, hundreds of thousands of acres of native vegetation in the western United States are lost to wildfire. Other activities such as mining and recreational activities also take their toll. 

The BLM works to revegetate areas susceptible to erosion and the spread of noxious weeds, and to improve wildlife habitat. For many years, non-native species were used because they were more readily available than native species, and because of high success rates due to established growth and transplanting methods.  More recently, however, land managers are shifting to the use of native vegetation as they work to sustain healthy, natural ecosystems.

Finding sufficient supplies of native species is still difficult. Many times, they are not available commercially or in the quantities needed. To alleviate this shortage, in 2002, Congress charged the BLM with developing ways to provide native plant materials sufficient to meet the needs of the public lands, and encouraging private industry to do the same. The result is the BLM’s Native Plant Material Program. 
The BLM in other states is developing contracts with commercial growers to provide shrubs, the priority need for rehabilitation projects. Most of these contracts are for seed, but because seed collection is at the mercy of weather fluctuations and growing conditions, it’s difficult to predict what kinds of seeds will be available and how many will be collected. These uncertainties prompted us to team up with the Special K Ranch in Columbus, Mont.
The Special K Ranch is a residential facility which provides family-oriented, Christian homes for developmentally disabled adults. A working ranch, it allows the residents to learn and achieve vocational skills in horticulture, gardening, general farm maintenance, and care of livestock. In 1997, the ranch started a tree and shrub nursery which has expanded to include production of wholesale bedding plants and hothouse tomatoes which are sold throughout Montana. The ranch has 40,000 square feet of greenhouses which were mostly empty by the end of June.
Initially, the BLM occupied one greenhouse and began planting seeds in June 2007. We got seed from Colorado, Montana, Idaho, North Dakota, and Arizona, and ultimately planted 14 species of trees, shrubs, and grasses. We now have about 14,000 seedlings of 13 different species which will be used for a variety of projects throughout the West. Gunnison sage grouse habitat in Colorado will be restored using black sagebrush seedlings; four species of grasses are being grown for the Lewis and Clark Botanical Garden in Boise, Idaho; and in Montana, green ash will restore hardwood draws, and buffalo berry will rehabilitate wildlife habitat. Other seedlings will go to the Great Basin to help revegetate burned areas.
The agreement with Special K is a benefit for everyone. It allows us to generate a stable supply of restoration and rehabilitation plant materials while maintaining flexibility in the number of seedlings grown and the species used. The project also gives us the opportunity to try different horticultural methods to get the seeds to germinate and become viable seedlings. In addition, the project will keep the Special K Ranch greenhouses occupied after the bedding plant season and present the residents with a new variety of work.
Before winter, the seedlings were moved outdoors to a deer and rabbit-proof compound built by the residents of the ranch, and covered with mulch. Next spring the seedlings will be moved to their project sites and we’ll begin a new round of seedling production.
In the future, we hope to expand the seedling production project as well as start seed production beds for forbs that are not commercially available, but which will further enhance restoration efforts.
greenhouse full of seedlingscrew mulching the seedlingsthe seedling crew

We had great succes growing black sagebrush and blue flax seedlings.  Here is the greenhouse full of seedlings.

The seedlings are being mulched outside for the winter and will be out planted next spring.The seedling crew--Mike, Angela, Shortie, Keile, Stephanie, Shikira, Rod, Bret, Debbie, Bryan, Cindi, Ron, Robbie, and Alex.  Not pictured are the rest of the Speical K residents and the great ranch staff who are helping with the project.