Visitors coming to the Silver Creek Preserve this spring will certainly notice some changes since last summer’s wildfire. The Nature Fire burned a total of 14,869 acres in and around the Picabo Hills in late August, including about 20 acres on The Nature Conservancy property. Sagebrush and other vegetation were consumed by flame, leaving an open, ash-covered landscape. Many acres have already been seeded with mixed native grasses and other herbaceous plants. It is amazing to see the gradual re-greening taking place.
To encourage the re-establishment of more shrubby vegetation, a volunteer planting day was held. Ed Papenberg, of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, acts as coordinator for the Volunteer for Habitat Restoration program. This group includes people of all ages, from individuals and families to schools, civic organizations, 4H and Scout groups, and state and federal entities like the Bureau of Land Management and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
With so many folks pitching in, it was a big group that met to plant bitterbrush seedlings on the BLM land in the hills south of Silver Creek Preserve. We all got delicious cookies as our “bribe” and “thank you” to get us going. We split up and carried planting bars and sacks of seedlings up into the burned-over hills. It was a glorious day, and the panoramic views of Silver Creek often distracted us from our duties! But thousands of bitterbrush plants were set into the damp soil by the enthusiastic crews.
Bitterbrush is a preferred food for large animals like the deer and elk that use this area as a winter range. The plants will also help stabilize the soil, and were selected as a native species that should grow well on this site.
In addition to these benefits, a major goal of the Volunteer for Habitat Restoration program is to involve people of all kinds in local conservation projects. Ed Papenberg stresses the importance of the volunteers’ personal involvement in the rehabilitation of natural areas, and the increased awareness of our surroundings that comes with participation in activities like the planting day.
It was a productive day all around- for habitat restoration, for wildlife, and for the human participants as well!