DATE: May 26, 2005
CONTACT: Mike Brown
ELKO FIELD OFFICE: 2005-36 (775) 753-0386
AFTER THE FIRES … HELPING MOTHER NATURE
An extensive four-year tree and shrub restoration project on public lands in northeastern Nevada wrapped up this spring with the planting of 47,000 bitterbrush seedlings.
Commercial contract planting crews from Oregon planted and applied treatments such as mulching and tubing to the bitterbrush seedlings that were planted on HD Summit (30 miles north of wells); in the Palisades area (30 miles west of Elko); Mineral Hill (40 miles south of Carlin); and Pony Creek (20 miles south of Carlin).
As a result of a combination of climatic conditions including severe drought and high winds, the 1999, 2000, and 2001 fire seasons burned about 2.8 million acres in Nevada. About 1.5 million acres of that total were public lands in northeastern Nevada managed by the BLM Elko Field Office.
Fire is a natural process- it has historically renewed vegetation types and habitat - but three consecutive years of wildfires that consumed large expanses of forest and critical wildlife habitat, especially mule deer winter range, caused major concern among federal and state agencies and the public. When large expanses of forest types are killed by wildfire, those sites are not expected to regenerate naturally for centuries because of a lack of seed source and because the sites are fairly dry. Another major issue that land managers now face with wildfires is introduction of exotic plants such as cheatgrass. These exotic plants quickly invade disturbed sites such as burned areas and rob critical soil moisture from the soil before native species can germinate. In the aftermath of the 1999 fires, it was apparent that both forest stands and crucial mule deer habitat would need help and the BLM Elko and Battle Mountain Field Offices joined forces to begin planning restoration efforts.
BLM Rangeland Management Specialist Tyson Gripp said, “The amount of work was so extensive, we broke it down into phases over a several year period. The first phase of the project was to collect the native seed - bitterbrush, pinion, Utah juniper, and mountain mahogany for the upland sites; and quaking aspen and narrow-leaf cottonwood for the riparian areas. Nevada Division of Forestry crews helped BLM forestry staff to gather the seed in 2000 and 2001.”
“In the second phase of the project, we sent the seed to a Forest Service nursery in Placerville, California where the seed was sown and grown as either container or bare root stock in 2002 and 2003. Some species (bitterbrush and cottonwood) take one year for the nursery to grow into large enough plants that are capable of being successfully transplanted while other species (pinion pine and Utah juniper) take a minimum of two years to grow into acceptable transplant size. Several factors determined whether we chose to grow the planting stock as container or bare root including survival rates and cost. Container stock is more expensive due to additional labor and material costs. Some species, like bitterbrush, will usually transplant with high survival rates in the bare root form; while other species, like mountain mahogany and pinion, must be grown as container stock in order to have a chance at survival.”
“The third phase,” Gripp continued, “was the actual planting. The riparian species came first and were planted in 2001/2002 within various riparian systems in the Sadler Fire area south of Elko. Because of the smaller quantities of plants, we used Nevada Division of Forestry crews, BLM personnel and volunteers to plant the riparian species. In 2002, we also received our first shipment of bitterbrush plants and we contracted again with Nevada Division of Forestry crews to plant in the Union Pass area also part of the Sadler Fire. In 2003 we received our first major shipment consisting of 103,000 bitterbrush seedlings. Because of the large number of seedlings, we issued our first commercial planting contract to plant in both the Battle Mountain and Elko Field Office areas. In 2004, the majority of the planting stock was shipped and commercial planting contractors planted more than 600 acres with 300,000 bitter brush seedlings, 70,000 pinion pine seedlings, 7,000 mountain mahogany seedlings, and several thousand Utah juniper seedlings. This year we planted the remaining 47,000 bitterbrush seedlings. Bitterbrush is a key species for mule deer.”
“The planting ‘window’ is very short – only two to three weeks. It’s the period of time between snowmelt and before the soil dries up. We were fortunate this year and had good planting weather,” Gripp concluded.
Partners in the project included several volunteers, the Mule Deer Foundation, Nevada Division of Forestry, and U.S. Forest Service.