Re-seeding of areas damaged after wildfires appears to be paying off
By Marcy Stamper
A multi-year campaign to restore plants in areas disturbed when utility lines damaged by wildfires were repaired appears to be helping reestablish native grasses and crowd out invasive weeds.
For the third year in a row, volunteers organized by the Methow Conservancy fanned out throughout the Methow Valley in a “seed mob” to scatter native seeds. On Saturday (Nov. 12), three dozen volunteers planted 20 to 30 pounds of seed, according to Jason Paulsen, executive director of the conservancy. The group included nine youths from the Methow Valley Cascaders 4-H Club and their parents.
Volunteers worked in areas burned two years ago in the Carlton Complex and Rising Eagle Road fires and those burned last year in the Twisp River Fire. They only re-seeded sites that sustained impacts from machinery doing powerline restoration or re-routing.
The crews tackled disturbed areas near upper Beaver Creek and Balky Hill and between Signal Hill and Elbow Coulee roads, where the Okanogan County Electric Co-operative relocated its utility lines after the infrastructure burned.
The seeding is intended to revegetate areas where bulldozer lines and other vehicles disturbed the ground or created temporary roads, not to combat erosion, said Paulsen. Utility trucks drove back and forth hundreds of times to address powerline issues during and after the fires, he said.
The conservancy has provided seed to property owners so they can re-vegetate their own land to restore plants and prevent erosion.
The conservancy has focused on areas with mechanical and human disturbance, since the larger landscape should recover on its own, said Paulsen. Indeed, in areas that had burned — but not been disturbed by equipment — volunteers found some bitterbrush had grown almost a foot in the two years since the fire, and bunchgrasses were recovering well.
Volunteers also revisited sites where they planted seeds last year, photographing both native plants and weeds.
“We saw a lot of plant regeneration, especially in dozer-line areas,” said Paulsen by email. “Overall weed abundance was less than we had feared, though there are pockets of white top [a weed that forms dense patches] that are obviously of concern.”
Conservancy staff and volunteers are still studying their results to compile estimates of the distribution of native bunchgrasses and other native plants, as well as non-native grasses and invasive weeds. Near where the powerline burned in the Rising Eagle Fire, volunteers found considerable tumble mustard, a weed that spreads easily, along with grasses, yarrow and balsamroot.
This is the first year crews have returned to previously seeded sites to check on progress, said Paulsen. They took note of the five dominant plant species as well as other plants that have cropped up.
One of the first things the Conservancy did after the 2014 Carlton Complex Fire — in partnership with the electric co-op — was to purchase $10,000 of native grass seed, mostly bluebunch wheat grass. The co-op purchased the seed to revegetate the disturbed powerline areas, and the conservancy bought additional seed to distribute to people affected by the fire. The conservatory also contributed seed for the powerline corridor.
That seed supply has gone far, as they only need 20 to 30 seeds per square foot. The Conservancy plans to use the remaining seed this year while it remains viable, said Paulsen.