Seeding the Land

In the aftermath of Oregon's fires, the BLM's Drill Repair Shop plays a key role in restoring our scorched public lands.

story by Derrick Henry
photos by Derrick Henry and BLM Drill Shop Staff

Following such environmentally catastrophic events as Oregon's Long Draw Fire, local land managers use rangeland seed drills to restore vegetation and help prevent soil erosion. Thanks to this heavy machinery, seeds are being mechanically planted en masse without having to resort to the slower work of planting by hand. But after many hours of scuffing terrain, creating furrows, and dropping and covering seeds, these drills must be sent by the BLM to its Vale District's International Rangeland Drill Repair Center.

At this shop, seed drills are refurbished in a large garage that can handle up to three seed drills at a time. Two workers receive and evaluate each machine, much like your neighborhood mechanic might inspect your car. Then the resulting work orders will vary depending on the repair.

A drill used on smooth terrain like burned-out sagebrush habitat will show little to no wear. Workers can quickly replace warped discs and perform a safety inspection before getting the machine back to work. However, a drill used on harder rock and in steep gullies may crack a frame or break a spindle. That type of job may take a couple weeks. In some cases, the shop must obtain custom-made parts.

"There isn't another district or another shop in BLM that does this," said Mark Manezes, the shop's head drill repair mechanic.

Seeding the Land
photo by BLM Drill Repair Shop

The shop is open year-round and is part of the BLM's mission to provide for rangeland equipment that helps to reclaim lands after wildfires. The center has roughly 230 drills that can be sent to various locations. The center also maintains carts that can unfold to accommodate three drills. Plows are also available.

Custom-made parts are another unique aspect of the drill shop. The drills that the BLM uses are 40 to 50 years old and parts are no longer available. As a result, the shop works with various foundries in the United States to cast parts. The BLM also hires local shops to make specialized steel pieces.

"The repair shop is a key part of reclamation efforts because it helps ensure a supply of equipment for fire rehabilitation," Manezes said, pointing to a fleet of more than 55 drills that had been repaired this season.

As he spoke, a truck hauled two damaged seed drills into the back lot.

"It all comes back to Vale," he said. "We have the experience. We have the parts. That's why it's done here."