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Science and Innovations

Earth Notes: Collecting Pine Seeds For The Future

Associated Press

Every once in a while, ponderosa pines turn out a lot more seeds than in an average year, as a hedge against obstacles that threaten their regeneration. Hurdles like high-severity fires – which deplete the soil of viable seeds – drastically hamper forest recovery.

But recent back-to-back summer and winter seasons of above-average precipitation across northern New Mexico and southern Colorado have led to a rare bumper crop of cones, an event that could become much rarer as the climate changes.

This past fall, various conservation groups decided on the ambitious goal of collecting one million seeds. Members of the Santa Clara Pueblo have been building a native tree seed bank for over a decade and have located ponderosa stands across Bandelier National Monument with the greatest collection potential.

Cone picking isn’t exactly a leisurely stroll in the woods. Crews don spurs, ropes and hard hats to scale hefty tree trunks. They use long clippers to snip only those branches loaded with perfect cones, without any sap or signs of insect damage.

The cones are dried and their seeds cleaned and sorted. Some are sent to nurseries across the southwest, grown into seedlings and replanted as part of current post-fire restoration efforts.

The remaining seeds are squirreled away in special freezers – vital deposits in a seed bank which can be drawn on to reforest fire-scarred hillsides for the next 100 years.

This Earth Note was written by Diane Hope and produced by KNAU and the Sustainable Communities Program at Northern Arizona University.