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Drill Seeding Sagebrush May Help Prevent Wildfires

Bureau of Land Management Elko District Office

Last year was one of the worst wildfire seasons on record in the West. But certain seeding treatments may help prevent more fires in the future.

In a new study, University of Idaho researcher Chris Bowman-Prideaux explored how different types of seeding impact wildfire occurrence in sagebrush. Seeding is used to stabilize and improve sagebrush ecosystems across the West. Since 2000, much of that seeding has been with native grasses and big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata).

Bowman-Prideaux compared drill seeding and aerial seeding. Drill seeding involves plowing land to bury seeds, which are then covered as a tractor runs back over the soil. In aerial seeding, helicopters or planes drop seeds from the air.

"In general, drill-seeded sites seemed to have fewer fires and those fires were certainly less frequent, so there were longer periods in between fires," he said.

In sites with aerial seeding or no intervention, fire frequency depended on moisture. More precipitation and humidity meant fewer fires.

"If we focus more on drill seeding, my research suggests that the periods between fires will be much longer than with other types of seeding treatments, which will give our sagebrush a chance to come back," said Bowman-Prideaux.

However, he admitted drill seeding isn't always possible in wilderness locations or rocky sites.

Have a question about this story? Please contact the reporter, Ashley Piccone, at apiccone@uwyo.edu.

Ashley is a PhD student in Astronomy and Physics at UW. She loves to communicate science and does so with WPM, on the Astrobites blog, and through outreach events. She was born in Colorado and got her BS in Engineering Physics at Colorado School of Mines. Ashley loves hiking and backpacking during Wyoming days and the clear starry skies at night!
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