Over a million pounds of seeds
Sanpete seeds used for reclamation and restoration
By Rhett Wilkinson
EPHRAIM—Turns out, the Ephraim-Manti area is quite the place for seeds.
As Kevin Gunnell, Great Basin Research Center coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, will tell you, there are a half-dozen private companies smack in the area vending seeds. In fact, Gunnell called the area the “center of wildland collections in the West.”
Then there’s the center itself, located at 498 W. 100 S in Ephraim. And the adjacent seed warehouse. With approximately twice the space it had in 2004, the warehouse holds more than 1.2 million pounds of seeds, including 150 different species and varieties.
Overall, about 1.3 million pounds of seeds will pass through the seed mixer in the warehouse and be cast onto burned lands this year. In total, the count of seeds going through the mixer this year is 1.8 to 2 million pounds. That’s because the other 0.5 to 0.7 million is used for the DWR and its partner’s “proactive restoration projects,” Gunnell said.
“We prefer to try to combat fire before it happens and to make healthy landscapes before they burn,” Gunnell said, drawing a contrast between “proactive management” and “reactive management,” which take place simultaneously.
Particular species of seeds are held in 50-pound bags in the warehouse, Gunnell said.
Climate-controlled, the warehouse is typically held at approximately 70 degrees, Gunnell said.
After getting an order for a particular seed mix, warehouse workers (nine full-time; three to 15 seasonally) will select the correct species of flowers or shrubs or grasses and put the seeds into the mixer. The gigantic blue contraption beats around the seeds and channels them into bags that are primarily planted by a helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft dropping them or by seed drills. (Gunnell said that there are other sundry methods.)
One of those methods, if a drill won’t work, is using an Ely chain – an anchor chain, Gunnell said. One of those is found outside the GBRC building and warehouse. Chains are used to turn soil to increase the likelihood that seeds will be integrated into the ground for habitat restoration.
The most typical seeds utilized in mixes are grasses that can stabilize the watershed following a fire. Native grasses, such as Indian ricegrass, western wheatgrass and bluebunch wheatgrass are well-known, not to mention species that have been introduced, such as alfalfa or crested wheatgrass. (Gunnell called them “some of our workhorse species.”)
These species cost less than $10 to $15 per pound, while native Utah flowers can cost $25 per pound or more, Gunnell said.
Entities such as the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and state or county governments can ask for seed for burned-over areas or for proactive restoration projects, Gunnell said.
Agents seek out almost 100,000 acres yearly for proactive management, such as halting tree infringement by juniper or pinion trees or controlling cheatgrass, Gunnell said.
The cold storage area in the warehouse keeps sagebrush seeds at 34 degrees. In that area, seeds can last for years instead of six months in the normal warehouse, being dehumidified 2-5 percent.
Sagebrush and forage Kochia, important shrub species used for replenishment, are found in the cold storage area.
The DWR and its partners must estimate what seeds are needed a year in advance.
“The crystal ball is always hard,” Gunnell said. “We try to make an educated guess and stock up and prepare for things.”
How well did the DWR and its partners estimate in advance for this year?
They thought they were “positioned really well,” but then the number of fires increased.
“It’s actually one of the bigger fire years we have had,” Gunnell said.
The DWR and its partners will begin to put in seed next month. The agency will do it until when the snow flies. Gunnell called it “a short window to put a lot of seed in the ground.”