Living the Dream: Collecting Seed at Crater Lake
In 2016, Institute of Applied Ecology in Corvallis, OR was thrilled to begin working on a new seed collection project at one of the most beautiful places in the Pacific Northwest: Crater Lake National Park in southeastern
Oregon. Established in 1902 by President Theodore Roosevelt, it is the fifth oldest National Park in the U.S. Preservation is a top priority here, and the Park’s human visitors and wildlife alike are fortunate that the National Park Service (NPS) understands that preservation means maintaining both cultural and natural history, including old buildings, retaining walls built in the 1930s, native habitats, wildlife, and plant species.
After several years of native seed collection using in-house resources, the NPS realized they needed help in order to supply the quantities of plant materials needed for restoration seeding. IAE was contracted by the NPS to collect seed from a suite of common and resilient native species in 2016 and 2017: western needlegrass (Achnatherum occidentale), California brome (Bromus carinatus), squirreltail (Elymus elymoides ssp. elymoides), Hall’s sedge (Carex halliana), Shasta buckwheat (Eriogonum pyrolifolium), marumleaf buckwheat (Eriogonum marifolium), Green’s goldenbush (Ericameria greenei), rubber rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa), desert oceanspray (Holodiscus microphyllus var. glabrescens), and Pacific lupine (Lupinus lepidus). The seed that we collect will be used to restore areas disturbed by a major road construction project in the Park (initiated to remediate roadway problems and hazards along Rim Drive), improve access to Cleetwood Cove (the only place in the Park where visitors can access the water), and restore areas that have been disturbed over time due to heavy use.
The road construction began in 2016 and will eventually impact 2/3 of Rim Drive. The Park designed a habitat restoration plan for the project that involves the designation of five seed zones for restoration and seed collection, each with different biological conditions and soil types, to maintain local genetics and increase the success of planting and establishment. We were allowed to collect within one mile of Rim Drive, which meant a lot of ground to cover in those big open meadows! Each target species was collected from one or more of these five zones and dried, cleaned, and stored separately by species and zone. In 2016, we collected a total of 167 pounds of bulk plant material over a total of 184 person-collection hours by hand-stripping seeds or clipping seed heads. It’s hard to picture this much, but it works out to be about 300 large paper grocery bags that when lined up to dry, fill about 20 conference tables. Once cleaned, we had about 23 pounds of seed.
The high elevation of the Park (6,000 – 8,000 ft) means that its native plants have adapted to a short growing season and a cold snowy winter. Most of the species flower and set seed in a brief window from late June through September and seed ripening is highly dependent on local weather conditions, making it difficult to predict optimal collection conditions with more than one to two weeks’ notice. In 2016, the Park experienced a late snow melt followed by a relatively cool, wet summer, which may have contributed to a more gradual ripening for our earlier species. The Crater Lake Collection Crew had to be ready to jump at the most optimal ripening times for the most species, and work long days to achieve our sizable collection goals during these brief periods. We were fortunate in 2016 and were only “grounded” for two days in mid-September to wait for a blizzard to pass through.
While collecting conditions were challenging at times, we were rewarded with stunning views, songs around a campfire at night, and bragging rights of working and camping in a historic and beautiful national treasure. Not bad for a day’s work! And in 2017, we’ll have to repeat the process and endure it all over again!