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Nature Notes: Collecting sagebrush seed

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Nature Notes: Collecting sagebrush seed
Sagebrush seed volunteer Teven Perkins. (Submitted)

“We need more sagebrush? Don't we have enough?” I was recently asked. Yes, we do need more sagebrush. The recent catastrophic wildfires we have endured destroyed hundreds of thousands of acres of sagebrush. The loss of this sagebrush has meant a great loss in wildlife habitat.

Eleven volunteers recently spent a Saturday morning collecting sagebrush seed. The seeds we collected will be used in rehabilitating burned lands to improve wildlife habitat. Norv Dallin, volunteer coordinator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife, organized the event while the Northeastern Nevada Stewardship Group supplied lunch.

Collecting sagebrush seed is not high tech and it took Norv about 30 seconds to explain to us everything we needed to know. Even I could immediately begin collecting. Sagebrush helps out by making the picking very easy. In August, flower stems rise as tall, thin sticks from the top of the plants. By November, the flowers are dead but the stems are covered with ripe seeds. By next spring, all the seeds and old flower parts will be gone and these stems will persist as bare sticks rising from the sagebrush.

The correct harvest method is to grab the base of one stem and strip upwards, pulling free the seeds, flower parts, along with a few leaves and dump the handful into a bucket. Commercial collectors use a technique not much different than mine, other than, of course, they are much faster and more efficient. I did manage to collect four buckets of seeds, but I won't say how my efforts compared to others.

Sagebrush seeds are tiny and my bucket full of material will probably yield about 10 percent of its mass as seeds. Our group collected nine bags of seeds, about 60 to 70 pounds, which will be sent to Carlin for drying and cleaning. The cleaned seed, probably six or seven pounds, will be returned to NDOW here in Elko. Our seed will be mixed with other seeds into a mix designed for a specific area. The mixture will be spread by helicopter to rehabilitate burned land.

Our efforts are important to NDOW, since commercially collected sagebrush seed costs them $6 to $8 a pound. Anything we collect means more money NDOW can spend on other rehabilitation work.

This Saturday proved to be a nice way to spend a beautiful morning away from town. We enjoyed a good lunch while the camaraderie of the event was, as always, the best part. We left knowing we participated in something useful.

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