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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow SEEDING GOES AIRBORNE

SEEDING GOES AIRBORNE

BUCKET OF SEED: Forest Service workers maneuver the large bucket of grass seed into a spot where it can be attached to the helicopter. The seed was spread Friday at Dry Beaver and McIntyre Creek. (Observer photos/LAURA MACKIE-HANCOCK).
BUCKET OF SEED: Forest Service workers maneuver the large bucket of grass seed into a spot where it can be attached to the helicopter. The seed was spread Friday at Dry Beaver and McIntyre Creek. (Observer photos/LAURA MACKIE-HANCOCK).

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

The air was cold as a small group of men and women huddled near the area where a helicopter would land.

The flat space near the top of the foothills above Starkey had been marked earlier that day, and all support services were in place. The 'copter, however, wasn't on a rescue mission, at least not in the usual meaning of the word.

Late in the autumn when snow has usually started to pile up, the ground near Dry Beaver was bare and no snow was in the forecast. The unusually long and dry fall offered optimum conditions for the helicopter's mission: spreading native grass seed.

The seed, grown by Grande Ronde Valley farmers, was to be spread on forest areas that were once roads. Those roads, all 11.3 miles of them, have been obliterated, and planting the seed was the final step. The restored McIntyre Creek was another area receiving seeds from the air.

"This is not the first time we've used native seed," said the Forest Service's Paul Boehne. "We've used it on a smaller scale — spread by hand."

Friday's event, however, was the first time a helicopter had been used. Mark Gomez, the on-the-ground supervisor of the project, said the cost of spreading by helicopter is about $72 per acre, not much higher than having a crew of workers climb in and out of canyons and up and down draws, sowing seed by hand.

Growing and seeding native grasses is a project funded under a federal plan that allocates funds to counties hit hard by losses of timber revenue from national forests. The annual payments go for county roads, schools and forest restoration.

"We hope to get enough seed propagated right here for future planting," Gomez said. "Right now, it's a bit expensive, but in the future it will be cost effective."

Another 50 miles or so of national forest roads are expected to close in the La Grande Ranger District during the next few years, and the Forest Service plan is to use native grasses for reseeding.

The Union County commissioners last week approved $32,000 in federal funding for re-establishing native plants, although Commissioner Colleen MacLeod said she was concerned about spending the money for seed.

"I don't think the intent was to plant native seeds, remove weeds," she said. "Are any trees being removed? I thought this (the funding) was for dead and dying tree removal. I was disappointed."

Despite her concerns, MacLeod voted in favor of spending the money on native plants and noxious weed removal.

In addition to establishing native grasses, funds allocated were $16,200 for weed treatment, $15,000 for a youth resources crew that targets at-risk teenagers, and $32,400 for the Bear Creek riparian restoration in the Starkey Experimental Forest.

The funds are for the 2004 fiscal year.

 
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