After an entire summer of plant monitoring it was a nice change of pace to help with a post-burn native seeding project on two BLM sites. When I was sprinkling the seed that I mixed while working at the “Seed Castle, I realized that this internship has allowed me to come full circle. Last spring and summer I spent my time quantifying the percent cover of native prairie species, then I learned to make seed mixes, and finally I got to spread seed on the ground for the next intern to quantify.
It took Christine and I 4 full days to seed nearly 40 acres of wetland prairie by hand. We would each carry two 5-gallon buckets filled with seeds and a corn husk filler material and try to distribute the seeds as evenly as possible. To keep track of where we had already been we worked in transects marked by pin-flags.
These two sites were both intentionally burned earlier in the fall. The reason behind controlled burning in this prairie system is to decrease encroachment from weedy grasses and small trees and shrubs. These ecosystems are utterly dependent on fire to maintain their open structure and the BLM and other agencies in the Willamette Valley use fire as a tool for restoration. Seeding after a burn gives native seeds a better chance of out-competing woody and invasive species.
As you can see, the recently burned soil surface produces a great environment for the germination of seeds and is also home to a variety of fungi. The bunchgrasses and carex species that grow in the prairies have adapted to frequent fire (a product of Native American management for thousands of years).
At the end of the day I got a dose of what I imagine the rest of you working in rangeland habitats encounter all the time.. cows! In the Willamette Valley there are very few public lands that still facilitate grazing and this herd of cows probably escaped from an adjacent private landowner’s property.
This was the first time I came in contact with cattle while doing restoration. My feelings about grazing-induced ecological collapse aside, being in the presence of these animals spawned a few unexpected realizations on my part. First, cows (especially with young calves nearby) are stubborn and kind of scary. I was especially concerned for my safety when I realized the sheer irony of a 12-year vegan being mauled by a meat cow while doing habitat restoration. Second, cows will eat native seeds right out of your wheelbarrow while your back is turned third, if you leave a five-gallon bucket unattended, cows will try to put their entire head inside, and finally, cows do not seem to understand my sarcasm when I refer to them as restorationist job security.