Colorado Parks and Wildlife Terrestrial Habitat Coordinator Jim Garner said the Western Slope has a limited amount of proper storage space in which to stockpile specific seeds for restoration projects such as fire rehabilitation, soil stabilization and habitat preservation.
“We have some very special needs when doing wildlife restoration work, particularly forbs and shrubs for sage grouse habitat and mule deer,” Garner said. The new, climate-controlled facility contains around 180,000 pounds of seed at present, according to Garner, and has a maximum capacity of 300,000 pounds.
The federal Bureau of Land Management has plans to use 140,000 pounds of that seed to rehabilitate 13,920 acres of land consumed by the Pine Ridge fire that burned north of Grand Junction earlier this year. That effort is expected to cost nearly $900,000, due to limited supply of seed that has driven prices to record highs.
“Every scrap out there was being purchased by the BLM for fire rehab work,” Garner said, adding that a majority of the seed currently stored at the facility is intended for BLM use. The U.S. Forest Service, the BLM, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife will all bank seed in Delta, according to Garner.
“The warehouse is going to be a nexus for habitat restoration efforts across the Western Slope,” Garner said.
The goal is to provide a variety of local plant species, in addition to seeds for plants that are currently unavailable. While some of the native seed is available in large quantities, it is still very expensive, with some seeds costing $100 or more per pound. A few higher-priced species include sagebrush, dusty penstemon, sulphur flower buckwheat and sqiurrel tail, as well as a variety of shrubs, grasses and forbs.
Two years ago, seed prices were low, and agencies could stockpile 50-pound bags inexpensively, Garner said. But after a record fire season, bracketed by drought, stockpiles remain scarce and demand is rising. “You get a grant for a project and figure a budget, and then your seed price doubles. It just kills you,” Garner said. Earlier this year, Colorado suffered one of its worst fire seasons on record, triggered by a massive, prolonged drought. The drought placed a high demand on seed as part of an action plan for aggressively combating the environmental damage wrought by fire, and for working toward soil stabilization and grass restoration.
The new warehouse has given land managers in this part of the state a reserve to draw from when natural or manmade disasters occur. Colorado Parks and Wildlife skipped their annual purchase of seed this year, due to high prices, Garner said. He added that commercial growers in Washington, the state which has become the epicenter of commercial native seed supply, will plant more seed to increase the supply next year. “They expect a big crop next year, and if there isn’t a big fire season,” seed bank officials “could stockpile much more,” Garner said.
The warehouse is a new tool to be used in the Uncompahgre Plateau Project, a collaboration of federal and state agencies, utility companies and Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The partnership was created in 1998 to study the human effects on the Plateau‚ its ecosystem and the habitat and survival of its mule deer population. Located west of Montrose, the 1.2 million-acre expanse is rich in timber and wildlife habitat, and is open to many uses, including livestock grazing.
“In general, human activities appear to have significantly changed the ecological complexion of the Uncompahgre Plateau,” the Uncompahgre Partnership noted on its website. “In addition to changes in native plant species diversity, age, and productivity, post-settlement activities have increased soil erosion and noxious weed invasion. Maturing plant communities result in an increase in transpiration [vegetative water loss], and a decrease in vegetative ground cover, moisture retention and water quality.”
In 2001, the Uncompahgre Plateau Project joined with the BLM, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service and the citizen-led effort of the Public Lands Partnership to create the Uncompahgre Plateau Partnership. A year later, the Uncompahgre Partnership’s Native Seed Program began collecting, testing and transplanting seeds to areas across the Western Slope. The program has grown to encompass the entire Colorado Plateau region and some parts of eastern Utah.
“In general, human activities appear to have significantly changed the ecological complexion of the Uncompahgre Plateau,” the Uncompahgre Partnership notes on its website. “In addition to changes in native plant species diversity, age, and productivity, post-settlement activities have increased soil erosion and noxious weed invasion. Maturing plant communities result in an increase in transpiration...and a decrease in vegetative groundcover, moisture retention and water quality.”
Since 2002, the Uncompahgre Partnership’s Native Seed Program has placed 16 native plants into production; thousands of pounds of seed are being harvested annually.