Montana Conservation Corps: Walking the Range for Seeds

August 15, 2012

Bruce Waage, NRCS/BLM Liaison-Sage-grouse

BOZEMAN – Two teen leaders from California and Michigan along with six volunteers from Bozeman pitched in to collect plant species important to sage grouse. They were determined to carry-out the summer project even when subjected to extreme heat, snakes and the desiccating sun.

“We came to this project after doing trail work for the Forest Service in the mountains near Bozeman, so this was a change for sure – no shade anywhere,” said Cole Columbus, crew leader.

Shelby Weigand, one of the Belgrade volunteers said she comes from a conservation minded family, as her grandpa and uncle worked for the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks.

The crews of the Montana Conservation Corps (MCC) collected important forb seeds that can be used to reclaim disturbed areas or to stock nurseries. A forb is a herbaceous flowering plant (like the Bitterroot – Montana’s state flower). Sage grouse dine on forbs in summer as part of a healthy diet.

Seed collection is a tricky business. BLM botany intern Becky Riley explained that first you have to have all the required permits in place. Then, seed collection protocol must be followed to assure that the sites are not overharvested. The timing for picking has to be right, too.

Becky received training last year on seed collections through a program called “Seeds of Success” offered by the U.S. National Herbarium. The collection crew relied on Becky to identify the species and to determine seed ripeness.

Tauzha Grantham, regional supervisor from the Billings MCC office received a Montana Association of Conservation Districts Grant that covers the cost of fielding crews for two weeks. The MCC provides a great outdoor work experience for young people over the summer, said Tauzha.

Each summer the MCC youth crews head out into the wilds of Montana to work in two, four-week sessions building trails, pulling weeds, marking fences and collecting seeds for sage grouse. These young people get toughened-up over the course of their work session. They don’t check into the local motel. Instead, they bivouac each night at a local campground and if none are close, at the work site. All food and travel costs are provided. They pack what they need and the only essential requirement is fresh water.

These industrious young people earn a $200 service award, a Presidential Service Award, pin and letter of thanks from the president.

Several species of forbs were collected on a private ranch in Carbon County. The next crew will be in south Phillips County collecting on BLM lands there. Seed collections go to Seeds of Success (SOS), a Department of Botany U.S. National Herbarium seed storage facility. Seeds of Success was established in 2001 by the Bureau of Land Management(BLM) in partnership between the BLM and the Chicago Botanic Gardens (MSB) facility dedicated to collect, conserve, and develop native plant materials for stabilizing, rehabilitating and restoring lands in the United States. Collections that did not meet the minimum number of 10,000 seeds required for SOS will go to Special K Ranch to be grown at their nursery. Special K Ranch is a working ranch that provides family-oriented Christian homes for adults with developmental disabilities. It is located on 230 acres, 8 miles east of Columbus, Montana.

3 pix:
Shelby Weigand MCC volunteer from Bozeman, MT.
MCC crew learns how to collect seeds.Oval leaf buck wheat Eriogonum ovalifolium is one of the native forbs collected.