Spokane District helps restore pygmy rabbit and sage-grouse habitat
Story by Chris Sheridan, Ecologist. Photos by BLM and courtesy of Droneseed, Inc.
In November 2021, the BLM Oregon/Washington Spokane District teamed up with agency partners to help restore essential habitat devastated by wildfire. Spokane District staff including wildland firefighters, along with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the Washington Conservation Corps (WCC), planted 37,000 seedling plugs on more than 650 acres of BLM-managed lands. These seedling plugs included the native grasses, shrub (Wyoming big sagebrush), and forbs necessary to support habitat for Greater sage-grouse and the federally-listed pygmy rabbit.
The area was affected by the September 2020 Pearl Hill wildfire, which burned more than 13,000 acres of BLM-managed lands in Douglas County, Washington. In the wake of the fire, the Spokane District acquired Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation funding. They were also able to use the Sage-Grouse Habitat Integrated Program of Works funding slated for this important area. This funding allowed them to stabilize and begin restoration of the shrub-steppe habitat. Their restoration work including drill seeding and herbicide application on more than 900 acres.
The Spokane District also partnered with Droneseed Inc., a private company, that helped deploy over 30,000 seed pucks on 120 acres within the wildfire area. The seed pucks were developed for use in areas not amenable to seed drilling, such as steep, rocky areas. Due to restrictions on drone use, pucks were distributed by hand by the BLM, the WCC, and the WDFW.
A seed puck, which looks like a suet cake for a bird feeder, provides the nutrients a seed needs to grow and become established. Much like an egg protects a developing baby bird, the puck provides a self-contained, protective environment for the seedling to germinate. In the same way that an egg yolk provides energy and nutrients to a chick, the puck feeds the seedling with nutrients to help it grow. The pucks also contain non-toxic deterrents (bad flavoring) to protect seeds from snacking animals. Because these pucks can be manufactured within a matter of weeks, rather than the year or two it takes to grow seedlings in a nursery, this method could be used for rapid reforestation after a fire.
Experiments with these seed pucks will allow Droneseed Inc. and the BLM to assess the effectiveness of this developing technology. This work will allow for easier and more effective post-wildfire restoration.