The future of the Colorado Plateau is stored in 50-pound bags in a warehouse near Delta.
The warehouse houses locally sourced grass and forb seeds key to state and federal efforts in restoring native ecosystems.
“This warehouse will help us provide locally adapted plant varieties, or currently unavailable plant varieties, to Western Slope land managers who are conducting habitat improvement or restoration projects,” said Jim Garner, terrestrial habitat coordinator in Montrose for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
The $1.2 million, 9,000-square foot facility on the Escalante State Wildlife Area was built by Colorado Parks and Wildlife using money from the federal Species Conservation Fund.
Having the climate-controlled warehouse will allow stockpiling hard-to-get seeds, some costing $100 per pound, when the seeds are available.
It takes thousands of pounds of seeds for restoration work and agencies looking to store seeds have been limited by the lack of proper storage facilities.
The Grand Junction Field Office of the BLM is using 140,000 pounds of seeds to restore native plants burned earlier this year in the Pine Ridge Fire area north of Grand Junction.
“That’s at 14,000 pounds or so an acre,” said BLM Rangeland Management Specialist Jim Dollarshell. “We’re talking almost $880,000 worth of seeds for Pine Ridge.”
Dollarshell explained three different seed mixes, each designed for specific environments, are being spread on the burned area.
“It’s a combination of getting the natural vegetation restored, what would be best for soil stabilization and what’s best for the wildlife in the area,” Dollarshell said.
Having the seed warehouse near Delta means having the seed on hand when it’s needed, he said.
“It’s really helped, because we wouldn’t have been able to store the amount of seed we need for Pine Ridge,” he said.
Seeds from the warehouse also have gone into restoration efforts for the 2011 Cosgrove Fire, which burned 1,744 acres north of Grand Junction.
The native seeds are hand-stripped from local plants and then grown by commercial native-seed growers in Washington, which has become the country’s center for native-seed production, Garner said.
“It takes some very specialized farming to grow the seed,” he said. “It takes specific equipment and knowledge and the farming has to be very clean, with no weeds. It’s a lot more difficult than you would think.”
Garner said it takes three to five years to test seeds and it could be a decade or more before certain seeds are ready for commercial use.
“It’s always best to plant seeds that were taken from the local area,” Garner said. “Plants evolve characteristics that make them best suited to particular soil, moisture and light conditions.”
Having the right seeds is vital from an ecosystem standpoint and stops the invasion of alien species such as cheatgrass, Garner said.
“When you talk about restoring an ecosystem and that function of it, people don’t understand what’s missing,” he said.
The seed warehouse is another step in Uncompahgre Plateau Project, a collaboration began in 1998 of federal and state agencies and utility companies.
The project focuses on restoring balance to the Uncompahgre Plateau ecosystem.
The Uncompahgre Partnership Native Seed Program, which began in 2002 and two years later spread to include the entire Colorado Plateau region, has been gathering and testing seeds for the past 10 years, Garner said.
“We’re finally at the point we are getting things out of the pipeline,” Garner said.
Since 2002, the program has placed 16 native plants into production and thousands of pounds of seed are being harvested annually.
“Currently, there are 25-50 key plant varieties we are working with,” he said.
Federal native plant programs have funded the bulk of the seed program, Garner said.
The UP will host a public open house at the warehouse from noon-3 p.m. Thursday. For information and map, go to http://www.upartnership.org.