Boise, ID – A long-term initiative to restore native plants throughout the Great Basin Region includes hundreds of thousands of acres of land south of Kuna, Idaho. The Morley Nelson Birds of Prey National Conservation Area is prime habitat for raptors, like the American kestrel and the Red-tailed hawk. But their prey -animals like jack rabbits, are disappearing with the native plants they like to eat. The Bureau of Land Management is trying to bring back some of those plants to help the raptors. But the agency needs manpower and seeds to do it.
Under a hazy sky, a group of volunteers clad in hats and gloves gathers around restoration Ecologist Anne (Ah-nah) Halford .
She shows them how to collect the seeds from four-wing saltbush into large paper bags and big canvas baskets, or hoppers.
The seeds from this bush can fit inside a thimble. They look like little tan helicopters.
As she pulls seeds from the bush, Halford explains that grazing, a change in how and when fires burn in the region, and the introduction of invasive and non-native plants has displaced native plants and impacted native wildlife.
She points to a light brown, feathery grass that wobbles in the cold breeze.
“It’s prolific throughout the Great Basin, it’s been here since the early 1900’s and has just fundamentally just changed the landscape of the Great Basin,” she says.
The Snake River runs along the northern border of the Great Basin. It’s a giant watershed that lies between the Wastach and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges. It spans five states including the southwest corner of Idaho. The Great Basin is an arid region, well known for sagebrush and other desert shrubs, like four-wing saltbush. But invasive Cheatgrass carpets large swaths of the region. It’s here beneath our feet too.
“I think one of the most important thing to consider now,” says Halford, ” is just the capacity of these native systems to be resilient, to give them time to manifest their resiliency.” She points to the grass below. ” Because this grass right here is a native Poa – Poa secunda – it’s a native Nevada bluegrass and it can outcompete cheatgrass.”
These native grasses also provide tasty forage for animals – like jack rabbits – that find themselves on the menu when it comes the area’s 25 birds of prey species.
According to Halford, “the main mission for the Snake river BOP is to provide habitat for raptor species and we’ve lost 75 percent of the shrub system here.”
Sagebrush along with the four-wing saltbush and other woody shrubs provide protection for jack rabbits and little lizards.
“Some of our goals is to restore at least islands of those shrubs,” says Halford. “One of the most important things we can do is to obtain seed form the local stands of native remnant shrubs we have, because sometimes we gather seed from different populations of sagebrush, higher elevations of sagebrush that doesn’t do as well on these more arid sites.” Read more…