USA–– Nevadas range faces a double whammy of woes, charred by an epic fire season made worse by a shortage of seed to restore a damaged landscape.
Some agencies report a significant lack of seed particularly sagebrush seed available on the market while drought conditions are hampering the ability of unburned sagebrush to reproduce so new seed can be harvested.
Ive been in the business 24 years and this is the most extreme fluctuation in demand and availability Ive ever seen, said Ed Kleiner, owner of Comstock Seed, a commercial seed distributor based in Gardnerville.
The demand is due to an extreme wildfire year that burned nearly 9 million acres nationally and roughly 800,000 acres in Nevada, the most since 2006.
Even as the fire season was developing early in the summer officials such as Nevada State Forester Pete Anderson were predicting a seed shortage could make a bad problem worse and thats exactly what transpired.
This year sagebrush seed is very, very spotty, if you can find it at all, said Kim Toulouse, a range expert with the Nevada Department of Wildlife. Were looking for sagebrush seed and basically, none of that is available.
Right about now is the time of year when sagebrush is flowering and seeds are collected on the range. But drought-stressed sagebrush isnt performing as normal this year, Toulouse said.
Because its so dry, the plants start to flower and figure out they dont have enough energy, Toulouse said. The seed inside that flower simply doesnt develop or the plant just shuts down and doesnt reproduce at all.
Any seed that is on the market is extremely expensive. Sought-after Wyoming big sage is normally sold for around $15 to $20 a pound and last week was going for more than three times that, Toulouse said.
Commercial seed distributors store seed harvested during previous years but time limits the viability of older seeds, he said.
Most sagebrush seed that is available has gone to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which recently purchased about 3 million pounds, said Kleiner of Comstock Seed.
The shortage extends to other seeds for native shrubs and grasses, Kleiner said.
Experts are currently prioritizing burned land to determine what areas will be seeded with available supplies, said Mark Coca, vegetation management specialist for Nevada BLM. Drill seeding of fire areas should start any time and aerial seeding follow.
Certainly, its not enough to do everything we would like to do, Coca said. One megafire alone the lightning-sparked Holloway Fire burned roughly 250,000 acres in Nevada and about the same amount in Oregon.
That fire, like others, was pretty significant, high-intensity burns that left relatively few islands of unburned terrain, Coca said.
Much of the fire-damaged landscape is valuable habitat for sage grouse and thats of particular concern because the bird is a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act.
Sage grouse habitat, along with that used by other threatened species such as Lahontan cutthroat trout and the desert tortoise, will be given the highest priority for restoration, Coca said.
Well just struggle along. Hopefully seed production will go up next year, Toulouse said.