It’s been five weeks since I started my second CLM internship in Wenatchee, and I’ve spent the vast majority of that time sitting at my computer entering data from dusty, decade-old data sheets into Microsoft Access. It was a good task to keep us busy during this snowier-than-usual winter, and a huge help to the field office, which usually doesn’t have interns during the off-season. However, I can only stare at a screen for so long before starting to feel a little crazy. Which is why I’m happy to announce that it’s the beginning of field season once again–the beginning of flowering, the beginning of long hikes and being covered in dirt and ash, and the beginning of another exciting year of learning and exploring in central Washington.
Last Thursday was my first day in the field, and it didn’t disappoint! We traveled a couple hours south of Wenatchee to the Range 12 fire to inspect the aerial seeding of native bunchgrasses into certain portions of the burned area. Aerial seeding is an important part of the Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation process, since it gets lots of seed laid down quickly over large swathes of land. For this area, a mix of basin wild rye, bluebunch wheatgrass and Sandberg’s bluegrass was used. The work was contracted out to Central Valley Helicopters, a business that provides many important land management services such as aerial herbicide application, fire suppression, wildlife surveys and, of course, aerial seeding. Their sophisticated GPS systems and ingenious seed-distributing apparatus (which they built themselves!) allow an incredible amount of precision when they are dropping seed. Watching the helicopter arrive and pick up load after load of seed was one of the most exciting things I’ve done during this internship, and I’m glad we got the chance to experience this important aspect of post-fire stabilization.
The seed dispenser was much more complex than I’d imagined
Hooking the seed dispenser requires lots of precision
Flying off to dump some seed!
We didn’t just drive down to the aerial seeding operation to observe. Due to wind gusts and slight discrepancies between the seeding polygons and the actual draws they are supposed to represent, certain areas may be missed by aerial seeding. Usually this isn’t too critical, but in some cases, when the missed spots are bare, coated in a monoculture of weed seedlings, or showing signs of erosion, it’s important to get them covered with native seed. That’s why we laid down tarps in three of the draws slated for seeding before the seeding began–when it was over, we returned to the tarps to see how much seed had fallen on them. One had a lot of seed, one had a little seed, and two were bare, indicating areas that had been missed. In the spots that were not missed, the areas where the tarps had been will serve as control units later on when we are assessing the success of the seeding.
This tarp at the beginning of a draw was bare after the seeding, indicating that we needed to return for hand seeding
Since there had been an error in calculating the amount of seed that would be needed, we ended up with 500 extra pound of the seed mix. We returned to the seeded area on Tuesday with this extra seed and hand-seeded some of the spots that had been missed, with a focus on particularly degraded looking areas. It was much harder work than I expected it to be, but also lots of fun! We didn’t stop once we finished the aerial seeding area, either. Since there was so much leftover seed, we brought it with us to other parcels in the fire as we drove around mapping structures and scouting the best access routes. We walked along draws and put seed down wherever we saw bare ground and erosional features.
Feeling like a goofy sandwich with my seeder and my backpack!
Kat puts down some seed in a shallow draw
We found this “glacier” in a draw we were hoping to seed. The snow was so deep we were able to walk right over a fence!
While the seeding was fun, the most exciting part of the week for me happened during lunch on Tuesday, when I spotted my first flowering plant of the season in a draw bottom. It’s some kind of Lomatium, but I haven’t been able to identify it to species (yet). It was heartening to see something native coming back, and gave me hope for the area’s recovery.
Lomatium spp…possibly quintuplex or watsonii, both of which are on the state watch list!
Katherine Schneider, BLM, Wenatchee Field Office