Partnering for Reclamation seed trials a success in Pinedale Anticline
Pinedale – “There was a lot a of dramatic and extreme restoration being done in the Jonah Field and the Pinedale Anticline, but no one had proof that these reclamation efforts were working,” says NRCS Rangeland Management Specialist and Plant Materials Leader for Southwest Wyoming Karen Clause of the incentive for a restoration project on the Anticline.
“We wanted to provide a public forum to view what would and wouldn’t work in this area as far as plants, seed mixes and using different planting methods, including broadcast versus drill seeding,” explains Clause.
“We just started brainstorming one day. We knew we wanted to do a reclamation trial, and this one ended up falling into place with a location and some great partners,” she adds.
The former well pad had been ripped, smoothed and the topsoil had been replaced, but Clause says the seedbed was still less than ideal for planting. Thirty-two grasses, 26 forbs and 16 shrub varieties were planted in October of 2005. A cone seeder, broadcasting and drilling were used to plant seeds, and a small number were also planted using a hydro-seeder.
Different seed mixtures were used to compare their success levels, and a number of seeds not typically planted in the area were tested. In the broadcast application two seeds mixes were used.
“The first was a Bridger mix, and it contained 72 percent grasses, 23 percent forbs and five percent shrubs. We applied that mixture at 78 seeds per square foot,” explains Clause. “The second mix was a Shell mix, and it had 34 percent grass seeds, 15 percent forbs, and 51 percent shrubs. Application rates were set at 138 seeds per square foot.”
For five years after planting, the site was evaluated on emergence, survival, vigor, biomass and a number of other key points.
Today Clause says the success of the project is highlighted by what they learned, and are able to share with the oil and gas industry, agencies involved in reclamation and the public.
“The biggest push in reclamation right now is in growing shrubs and forbs. We’ve found that we are good at growing sagebrush, but found it interesting to look at what was done on this site and the resulting growth rates.
“We found that there is no magic thing to make forbs grow here successfully, and that we need to continue our work in that area. We had several forb entries in this trial that grew really well for the first two years, and were never seen again. Others tapered off drastically after a couple years. Some that weren’t present the first three years are showing up after five. I think our human time scale and patience level with the reclamation process may not be appropriate for what it takes to get forbs off the ground,” notes Clause.
“The results of our trial helped contribute to a couple grasses being released onto the production market. One of those is Continental basin wildrye, which was a joint release between the Agriculture Research Service and the Upper Colorado Environmental Plant Center out of Meeker, Colo.,” says Clause.
She adds Copperhead slender wheatgrass was also released thanks in part to results from this project. It was originally designed as an acid tolerant plant, but performed well in the alkaline solids outside Pinedale. “Our results added to other results on the species, and showed additional geographical areas it will perform well in,” notes Clause.
In 2010, 98 percent of the species originally planted were present. A number of varieties of basin wildrye and wheatgrass topped the performance list for grasses, and three saltbush varieties topped the replicated shrub list after five years. Western yarrow and Appar flax were the top two performing forbs on the site. Clause notes these are preliminary results, and final results will be released after additional analysis is performed early next year.
“All of the performance information has been added to our agency database. This is very helpful when people from a certain geographical area come in and ask what to plant in this specific location. We have this list from all these background studies that shows us what really works and where,” explains Clause. “We get very specific, too, and within a species that has eight varieties we can show which one or two will perform best in an area.
“The added data from this trial also resulted in some oil and gas companies changing their seed mixtures, or adding additional varieties that we now know will perform well in the area,” explains Clause.
“We have a resource now that supports the appropriate plant species for a region, and this project added to that resource,” she adds.
“But, perhaps the best thing about this project is that people can come and see it. We wanted it to be a public forum, and it has been. We have had a number of people from the oil and gas industry, the university, cooperative extension and a number of state and local agencies to the site, where they can physically see what we did and how it turned out. That has been huge,” notes Clause, who has also been very busy traveling to a number of seminars and meetings, where she presents information on the project.
Clause reminds that the project is ongoing, and additional, more refined work on shrubs, in addition to continued monitoring, is planned for the site.
“One of the most successful aspects of this project was the number of partners, and how we all worked together. Aimee Davison with Shell came on board at the beginning and was a huge partner. The Wyoming Game and Fish, BLM, local and state NRCS offices and the Sublette County Conservation District also contributed materials, time and other resources. It’s rare to have so many partners come together on a project of this scope and have it run so smooth and be such a success,” says Clause.
“The Bridger Plant Materials Center and Upper Colorado Environmental Plant Center were also key partners in the project, and helped with seed selection and material contribution. We were all out there, doing the groundwork with this, and had so many agencies and individuals donate their time and resources.
“This has been one of the best cooperative projects I’ve been involved in during my 18 years with the NRCS. It’s a true success story on how we can all work together and reach a common goal,” she concludes.