Wildfire rehabilitation efforts under way in Eastern Nevada
January 9, 2013
State and federal governments are working together in the wake of a season of sprawling fires fanned by a drought to make sure wildlife and the land can recover.One of the most pressing reasons to reseed land after the area has been burned or to revegetate land that has been damaged by firefighting measures, such as firebreaks, is to prevent the spread of invasive weeds.“If you don’t get the seed in the ground, cheat grass and noxious weeds are going to get established,” said Steven Siegel, Nevada Department of Wildlife habitat staff specialist. The Nevada Department of Forestry has two nurseries, one in Clark County and the other in Washoe Valley. The nursery in Washoe Valley has many seedlings, and many that have yet to sprout.Some of those seedlings may go to efforts to rehabilitate, or repair, fire- suppression damages. Often the damages are created by bulldozers clearing blade-wide swaths of land, meant to stop the progress of a fire by creating a break in fuel.“We make sure we rehabilitate those dozer lines in an effort to repair that damage,” said John Christopherson, the natural resources program manager for the NDF.The NDF does a lot of things when it comes to fires. It fights fires and collects seeds to help rehabilitate in their wakes, as well as repairing the damage made when fighting the fires. The NDF is also a merchant of seeds, seedlings and plants to both the federal government, often in the form of the Bureau of Land Management, and to the Nevada Department of Wildlife, as well as to the public.The BLM has been working together with other agencies, the NDF and NDOW, as well as with mining companies in the area, Elko BLM Public Affairs Specialist Lesli Ellis said.“We’re doing it on a landscape level,” she said, explaining that the BLM is working with private landowners to airily seed the entire area burned by fire. “It benefits all of us more if we’re all working together.” The land-owning businesses, many of them mines, have helped the BLM pay for both the seed as well as the cost of the contract for the helicopter, Ellis said.The snowfall this winter has allowed aerial seeding and moisture is a key component to seeding efforts, Siegel said. The just-enough moisture is required so the seed does not blow awayThe BLM has stopped its drill seeding because of snow and arctic conditions. The drill seeding is done with a tool that looks and operates much like a plow and places seeds a few inches below ground, reducing the amount of seed needed to rehabilitate an area.The temperature in much of eastern Nevada has been below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. The drill seeding will continue come the spring and its consequent thaw, although it may not continue into the spring. When the ground gets too hot, the seeds can be baked to death, Siegel said.The BLM has also paused its anchor chain seeding, where two bulldozers pull 90-pound links of marine chain between them to ruffle the soil. The chaining can also knock down smaller juniper trees, as well as cover the seeds, said Tom Warren, assistant district manager for operations at the Elko BLM district office. In Warren’s district, the BLM is focusing on seven major burns that ravaged thousands of acres each, up to 45,000 acres on the largest. Many of the fires burned in steep and hilly terrain, making them hard to access by foot. The seed being used prospers when it is placed in snow, and with 1-2 feet of it in many of the higher-altitude areas, the seeding is expected to go well, he said.Sage grouse and mule deer are major focuses for NDOW, Siegel said. NDOW has been helping to fund the purchase of seeds that would not normally be in BLM’s seed mix, including special grasses, shrubs and small flowering plants.“We’re trying to replace the natural vegetation to help keep the invasive plants out,” Warren said.Even the type of fire must be considered, he said. Slow and hot fires can leave death in their wake, having killed the buds of perennials and caused damage to the soil itselfQuicker, cooler fires can leave nutrients on the soil in the form of ash and leave the plants beneath the ground alive.In the end, NDOW wants to make sure the seed it buys will benefit both the land but also the wildlife.“The seed we’re using is geared toward wildlife benefits,” he said.Christopherson said the participation from different agencies helps the state to contain, suppress and put out fires during the season.“It’s a great collaborative sort of operation,” Christopherson said.