Tag Archives: sagebrush steppe

Collecting Sagebrush Seeds

Article and photos by Gretchen Graber, Sagebrush Grower Contractor at the Institute for Applied Ecology

Seed collectors pose with their seed collection bags.

As part of the Great Basin Sagebrush partnership, we collected sagebrush seed twice this November. The Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) Coyote Ridge off-site inmate technician crew collected first at Swanson Lake Wildlife Refuge, and then in the Saddle Mountains on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property. Both properties are part of Washington State’s sagebrush steppe landscape.

Seed collectors take turns viewing sagebrush seeds through a scope.

For the Saddle Mountain collection, many local native plant society members volunteered, and we were joined by a Juvenile Justice Center work crew. For both collections we had great weather. We enjoyed being outside learning about partnership efforts to restore shrub-steppe habitat for the continued existence of the imperiled greater-sage grouse.

We gathered seed from a subspecies of big sagebrush, called Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata subsp. wyomingensis). The seeds will be shipped and cleaned at the Seeds of Success seed cleaning facility in Bend, Oregon. Then it will sent back to Washington State to be used to grow next year’s crop of 60,000 Wyoming big sagebrush plugs in Coyote Ridge’s Sagebrush Nursery. We collected enough seed to create a reserve supply for the program, and share with other programs for research and conservation purposes.

Seed collectors smile from the field, surrounded by mature sagebrush.

Seeds of Success intern Shawna Kelley supported both collections, along with BLM botanist Molly Boyter. Seeds of Success supports BLM’s Native Plant Materials Development Program whose mission is to increase the quality and quantity of native plant materials available for restoring resilient ecosystems. The Wyoming sagebrush plugs will be planted onto fire damaged lands occupied by the greater-sage grouse. The entire seed collection and sharing process ensures the availability of genetically-appropriate seed for the recovery of the greater-sage grouse in Washington State. Funding for the program is provided by BLM in Washington D.C., the Institute for Applied Ecology coordinates programs regionally, and Sustainability in Prisons Project runs the Washington State program.

During seed collection, they discovered a dead lizard atop a spiny hopsage plant; it was probably intended for later eating by a loggerhead shrike (the Cornell laboratory describes the species as “a songbird with a raptor’s habits”).

Growing Sagebrush in Central Washington

by Environmental Specialist Dorothy Trainer and SPP Program Manager Kelli Bush

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The hoop house at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center brings nature inside the prison with a new conservation nursery. Photo by Kelli Bush.

With funding support from the Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE), Coyote Ridge Correction Center (CRCC) has launched a new Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) Sagebrush Steppe Conservation Nursery Program. SPP is a partnership founded by Washington Department of Corrections and The Evergreen State College. The new program also includes collaborators from Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Washington Native Plant Society (WNP), Washington State University Tri-Cities (WSU TC), and IAE.

Plant ecologist and horticulture educator Gretchen Grabber works with an inmate technician filling tray for seed sewing. Photo by CRCC staff.

Plant ecologist and horticulture educator Gretchen Grabber works with an inmate technician filling tray for seed sewing. Photo by CRCC staff.

This spring inmates started 20,000 sage brush plants at CRCC. As an essential component of the program, hands on training and lectures are provided for inmates and staff by plant ecologist and horticulture educator Gretchen Grabber of WNP and WSU TC. The primary goal of this project is to provide sagebrush for restoration of greater sage grouse habitat. Fifty percent of the sagebrush steppe habitat in the United States has been lost to large scale fires, conversion to other land uses, invasive cheat grass, and noxious weeds. Sagebrush habitat provides important shelter and food for the greater sage grouse and many other species. All of the sagebrush plants grown at CRCC will be planted on BLM land for restoration in the Palisades Flat Fire Project area near Wenatchee, Washington.

Facility staff and Superintendent Uttecht eagerly accepted the opportunity to host this new program with very short notice, resulting in a busy spring and summer at CRCC. It was impressive how quickly they built a hoop house, hired an inmate crew, prepared containers for planting, and planted sagebrush seeds.

This is what we want! A seedling sagebrush shows its beauty in the conservation nursery. Photo by Kelli Bush

This is what we want! A seedling sagebrush shows its beauty in the conservation nursery. Photo by Kelli Bush.

Educational lectures and workshops and plant care will continue into fall. Inmate crews, staff, and Gretchen Grabber will assist BLM in planting sagebrush late fall 2015/early winter 2016.

The Sagebrush Steppe Conservation Nursery program at CRCC is part of a multi-state restoration program including nurseries located in Oregon and Idaho corrections centers. The Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE) is a founding partner of SPP-Oregon, and they have provided the grant funding and training materials making this program possible.

Here, CRCC’s superintendent, CRCC staff, Getchen Grabber, and representatives from IAE, DOC headquarters, and SPP meet to hash out critical details that will make the program a success. Photo by Kelli Bush.

Here, CRCC’s superintendent, CRCC staff, Getchen Grabber, and representatives from IAE, DOC headquarters, and SPP meet to hash out details critical to the program’s success. Photo by Kelli Bush.

Partners involved in the nursery recently met at CRCC to discuss program status. It was a productive meeting focused on planning for the rest of this season and dreaming about additions for next year. Thank you to each and every collaborator involved and we look forward to watching this program grow! Special thanks to Stacy Moore with IAE for bringing this opportunity to CRCC.