Wildfire Restoration Work Aims to Help Bees, Butterflies

Karl Christians, a state conservation district specialist, plunged his arms elbow deep into a special concoction of grass and flower seeds to stir up the batch before applying the mixture with a spreader attached to his four-wheeler.

Karl Christians, of the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, seeds grass and plants that attract native pollinators on fire breaks at the site of the Stump Gulch fire near Columbus. Karl Christians, of the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, seeds grass and plants that attract native pollinators on fire breaks at the site of the Stump Gulch fire near Columbus.

Christians then drove along a fire line that had been cut to fight the 2010 Stump Gulch fire north of Columbus. As the spreader threw the mixture across the swath of line, Christians stopped and adjusted the spreader to get just the right amount of seed application.

He was getting started Thursday morning on seeding about six miles of the 20 miles of lines on the Stump Gulch fire. Weather conditions, early snow and scheduling conflicts prevented re-seeding last year.

In addition to native grasses of slender, blue bunch and thickspike wheat grasses and green needle, Christians added a coffee-can scoop of native purple prairie clover, prairie coneflower, western yarrow, flax and ladak alfalfa seeds as a pollinator mix.

The pollinator seeds are for a variety of native wildflowers and grasses intended to bloom through out the growing season and to attract bees, butterflies, moths and other pollinators that are in decline.

“We just thought we would try it. We’re going to get some flowering plants in here,” Christians said.

The Stump Gulch fire burned about 10,000 acres of mostly private land that has grassy hills, ponderosa pine trees and juniper.

The Stump Gulch fire and the Canyon Creek fire, which burned about 2,560 acres near Laurel in September, are pilot projects for the pollinator mix in wildland restoration work by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

The DNRC rehabilitates lands burned by wildfire not only to obliterate dozer-cut fire lines but also to reduce erosion and control weeds and to give native plants a strong foot hold, said Ray Beck, administrator of DNRC’s Conservation and Resource Development Division.

This year, the state also is using the rehab work to give a boost to Montana’s native pollinators, which are the bees, butterflies, moths and other species.

Pollinators worldwide are declining at an alarming rate, Beck said. In the U.S., domestic honey bees pollinate an estimated $15 billion worth of crops a year. In Montana, leaf-cutter bees pollinate alfalfa and are raised primarily to pollinate alfalfa for seed.

“Imagine living in a world without bees or other pollinators. It would be a world without flowers, fruit, most of the food we eat, a cup of coffee, even chocolate,” he said.

The DNRC, working with county conservation districts and the federal Natural Resource Conservation Service and landowners, is trying to help reverse pollinator decline, Beck said.

DNRC employees reseeded the Canyon Creek fire recently with the pollinator mix.

The pollinator mix came from Circle S Seeds of Montana in Three Forks.

“We are somewhat limited in Montana with the species that grow in this clime and seed availability,” Beck said.

The DNRC bought 91 pounds of pollinator mix for $1,500 and is using a little more than a pound an acre, Christians said.

Whether including pollinator mix will become a regular part of fire reseeding has not yet been decided.

“We’re just trying it out. We’ll see. Budgets are a big thing,” Christians said.

Karl Christians, a state conservation district specialist, plunged his arms elbow deep into a special concoction of grass and flower seeds to stir up the batch before applying the mixture with a spreader attached to his four-wheeler.

Christians then drove along a fire line that had been cut to fight the 2010 Stump Gulch fire north of Columbus. As the spreader threw the mixture across the swath of line, Christians stopped and adjusted the spreader to get just the right amount of seed application.

He was getting started Thursday morning on seeding about six miles of the 20 miles of lines on the Stump Gulch fire. Weather conditions, early snow and scheduling conflicts prevented re-seeding last year.

In addition to native grasses of slender, blue bunch and thickspike wheat grasses and green needle, Christians added a coffee-can scoop of native purple prairie clover, prairie coneflower, western yarrow, flax and ladak alfalfa seeds as a pollinator mix.

The pollinator seeds are for a variety of native wildflowers and grasses intended to bloom through out the growing season and to attract bees, butterflies, moths and other pollinators that are in decline.

“We just thought we would try it. We’re going to get some flowering plants in here,” Christians said.

The Stump Gulch fire burned about 10,000 acres of mostly private land that has grassy hills, ponderosa pine trees and juniper.

The Stump Gulch fire and the Canyon Creek fire, which burned about 2,560 acres near Laurel in September, are pilot projects for the pollinator mix in wildland restoration work by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

The DNRC rehabilitates lands burned by wildfire not only to obliterate dozer-cut fire lines but also to reduce erosion and control weeds and to give native plants a strong foot hold, said Ray Beck, administrator of DNRC’s Conservation and Resource Development Division.

This year, the state also is using the rehab work to give a boost to Montana’s native pollinators, which are the bees, butterflies, moths and other species.

Pollinators worldwide are declining at an alarming rate, Beck said. In the U.S., domestic honey bees pollinate an estimated $15 billion worth of crops a year. In Montana, leaf-cutter bees pollinate alfalfa and are raised primarily to pollinate alfalfa for seed.

“Imagine living in a world without bees or other pollinators. It would be a world without flowers, fruit, most of the food we eat, a cup of coffee, even chocolate,” he said.

The DNRC, working with county conservation districts and the federal Natural Resource Conservation Service and landowners, is trying to help reverse pollinator decline, Beck said.

DNRC employees reseeded the Canyon Creek fire recently with the pollinator mix.

The pollinator mix came from Circle S Seeds of Montana in Three Forks.

“We are somewhat limited in Montana with the species that grow in this clime and seed availability,” Beck said.

The DNRC bought 91 pounds of pollinator mix for $1,500 and is using a little more than a pound an acre, Christians said.

Whether including pollinator mix will become a regular part of fire reseeding has not yet been decided.

“We’re just trying it out. We’ll see. Budgets are a big thing,” Christians said.

SOURCE

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