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Warehouse stores seed for Western Slope

To aid in the restoration of wild landscapes on the Western Slope, Colorado Parks and Wildlife recently completed construction of a specialized warehouse where seeds of native plants will be stored and distributed.

Located at the Escalante State Wildlife Area west of Delta, the $1.2 million, 9,000 square-foot facility will play a critical role in wildlife habitat conservation far into the future. The money was appropriated by the Colorado General Assembly through the Species Conservation Trust Fund.

Using native plants that are suited to Colorado’s landscape and climate is critical for properly restoring areas that have been disturbed by forest fire, resource development, grazing or other activities.

“This warehouse will help us to 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 facility will also provide significant cost savings for reclamation efforts. While some native seed is available it can be very expensive, sometimes $100 or more per pound. Prices also fluctuate significantly from year to year depending on demand. The warehouse allows Colorado Parks and Wildlife to buy large quantities of seeds when prices are low so they can be stored in the climate-controlled conditions for future use.

“That will be a huge benefit to our work because we’ll have a steady supply of material on hand,” Garner explained. “And in a few years we’ll have established a large-scale seed bank.”

Colorado Parks and Wildlife will also store seed for other agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and the BLM.

As much as possible, seeds will be collected throughout the Western Slope from plants on the landscape. In addition, the agency will use specialty growers that are able to produce large quantities of seeds. Some of the types of seeds to be collected include: sagebrush, dusty penstemon, sulphur flower buckwheat, squirrel tail and a variety of shrubs, grasses and forbs.

“It’s always best to plant seeds that were taken from the local area. Plants evolve characteristics that make them best suited to particular soil, moisture and light conditions,” Garner said.

The idea to set up a seed warehouse started with the Uncompahgre Plateau Project, a collaboration of federal and state agencies, utility companies and Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Located west of Montrose, the 1.2 million-acre expanse is rich in timber and wildlife habitat, and is open to many other forest uses. It’s used for livestock grazing and major power lines cross the area. The project organizers established a native plant program to help restore disturbed areas and to provide food sources for wildlife. Since 2002, the program has placed 16 native plants into production and thousands of pounds of seed are being harvest annually.

“The warehouse is an important milestone. This facility is a far-sighted investment for wildlife habitat on Colorado’s Western Slope,” Garner said.

This story was posted on December 20, 2012.