Earth Notes - After the Fire IV (Native Seeds)

Flagstaff, AZ – Earth Notes: After the Fire IV (Native Seeds)

After a wildfire passes, it's natural to want to replace the plants that have burned. But unprecedented wildfires in recent years have provoked an unnaturally high demand for plants to stabilize soils.

Land management agencies do their best to use native plants for reseeding. But in the rush to prevent erosion, they have at times grabbed for whatever's available even short-lived cereal crops from the central United States.

Recently, the Forest Service committed to using native plants in all its rehabilitation projects. But there's a shortage of native seeds, particularly in the high volumes needed for post-fire recovery. The White Mountain Apache tribe, for example, bought up millions of dollars worth of native seeds to rehabilitate its lands after the 2002 Rodeo-Chediski Fire. That nearly wiped out that year's national supply.

Now the Northern Arizona Native Seed Alliance is helping out. It's a group that includes Northern Arizona University. Its goal is to make native plant seeds available and affordable for land restoration projects, so that agencies don't have to resort to non-natives in emergencies.

The job won't be easy, since aridity limits large-scale agriculture in much of the Southwest. But regional ranchers may be able to help. And even if some local seeds have to be shipped to out-of-state growers, at least there will one day be native plants to bring back home.

Next week, our After the Fire series concludes with a look at how some of Arizona's biggest animals do after the flames die away.

-Anne Minard