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Smart Cookies: High School Students Use New Technique to Revegetate Conservation Lands

On Saturday, March 9, students from Beaver Dam High School assisted in spreading “seed cookies” in the Woodbury Study Area of the Beaver Dam Wash National Conservation Area. The students were from Beaver Dam High’s Interact Club, a student group focused on broadening the horizons of the students, and were supported by The Mesquite AZ chapter of the Rotarians. This is an innovative and experimental way to promote recovery from wildfire.

The students had previously made the seed cookies themselves under the direction of Ashley Gilreath, the lands outreach coordinator of the newly formed Southern Utah National Conservation Lands Friends (SUNCLF). Clay and potting soil were mixed with water, the seeds of native species were added, and the resultant “mud” was formed into “cookies”, which were then dried until solid and firm. Each dry cookie weighs about one ounce; the volume of seeds added to the mix determines how many seeds are distributed per acre. 

Seed cookies protect the seeds from ants and rodents until moist weather arrives and the rain dissolves the cookies, releasing the seeds. This ensures that the seeds become available for growth only when weather conditions are wet enough to be conducive to plant growth. 

There is hope that the native plant species, once established, can compete with the non-native annual grasses that promote frequent wildfires. This would create an opportunity to have fewer wildfires, giving the native plants and animals a chance to recover. In addition, the native plant species are palatable and nutritious forage for the desert tortoise, a Federally Threatened species, unlike the non-native plants which are increasingly dominating the area.

The students were shown the devastating effects of wildfire and invasive plants on desert tortoise habitat. They toured an area where tortoise populations were once dense and robust, but have since suffered a decline of 95% or more due to starvation, disease, and wildfire. The groups then distributed the seed balls over a four acre area in a semi-random pattern. BLM staff will monitor the area in the future to determine the success or failure of the seed cookies.

Without methods such as this, vegetation in the Mojave Desert shows little to no ability to reestablish after having been burned. If the vegetation does not recover, the animal species that depend on them suffer as well, including the Mojave Desert tortoise. This method of revegetation had not yet been tried in Utah.

Tim Croissant, SGFO Wildlife Biologist shows students a map with the fire history within the field office

Students help spread "Seed Cookies"

Woman holds basin full of seed cookies