British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium

Native grass seed development : progress after eight years Vaartnou, Manivalde, 1947- 2003

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NATIVE GRASS SEED DEVELOPMENT – PROGRESS AFTER EIGHT YEARS   Manivalde Vaartnou Ph.D., P.Ag.   M. Vaartnou & Associates 11520 Kestrel Drive Richmond, B.C. V7E 4E2 604-271-2505 E-mail:   ABSTRACT  Sound ecological restoration of disturbed areas includes the use of native species in the herbaceous layer. However, seed of grasses native to the west coast of British Columbia is neither available in sufficient quantity, nor at a reasonable price. Thus, in 1996 this long-term applied research program was initiated to determine the utility of native Vancouver Island grasses in restoration of disturbed areas, and ultimately provide a source of native grass seed for use on Vancouver Island and the adjacent mainland coast.  The program is also a prototype for more recently initiated programs for development of native grass seed supplies for northwest Canada and the southern interior of British Columbia.  Native grass seed was collected from the wild during the summers of 1996 and 1997. These seeds were sown to flats in the U.B.C. greenhouse. Subsequently the emergent plants were transplanted to a nursery near Duncan to multiply the seed so that the ensuing parts of the program could be undertaken. Replicated trial sites with agronomic controls were established throughout Vancouver Island. Other sites, which could not be replicated because of a lack of homogeneity in site characteristics, were established as demonstration sites, or larger operational sites. Each summer, the ground cover on all sites has been analyzed on a species by species basis using the ‘Daubenmire’ methodology. This analysis has indicated that native grasses produce at least as much ground cover as introduced, commercially available agronomic grasses.  In order to ascertain the seed production potential of the more successful species, large plots were established near Dawson Creek. All aspects of these plots are handled in a manner identical to that which a farmer would use in field-scale seed production. This involves chemical, mechanical and manual weed control, drill seeding, and harvesting with a swather and combine. Results have indicated that some native grasses will produce substantial amounts of seed in the Peace River region, but others may need to be grown elsewhere.  INTRODUCTION  Revegetation is required after disturbance caused by logging operations, the completion of transportation corridors such as highways and pipelines, and prior to the closure of mines. Benefits obtained through reseeding can be any of the following:  • aid in erosion and dust control  • reduction of siltation of fish streams  • provision of forage for wildlife and domestic species  • improvement of aesthetic values  • improvement of soil through a) nitrogen fixation by legumes b) provision of organic matter  Sound ecological restoration includes the use of native species. Their use has been recommended since the 1970’s. One example is the 1995 Clayoquot Sound Scientific Panel recommendation (Clayoquot, 1995) that native species be used in forestry revegetation. Possible benefits that may occur through the use of native species include any of the following:  • assistance in retention of local biodiversity  • creation of a more harmonious end vista because they blend into the landscape  • higher long-term survival prospects because of adaptation to local climate  • greater reseeding potential because of adaptation to the local photosynthetic regime  • lower costs through lower fertilization and seeding rates  With grasses, the problem is related to agricultural economics and plant biology. If native grass species that are appropriate to any given region are selected for reclamation, they will grow and survive. The questions that need to be answered are:  • Will the use of native grasses achieve the goals of any specific reclamation scenario?  • At what cost can success be achieved?  In 1995 there was not a source of native Vancouver Island seed available to implement the recommendation of the Clayoquot Sound Scientific Panel in the foreseeable future. Thus, Forest Renewal BC provided funding for five years to initiate a long-term applied research program which, when completed, will indicate which native grasses can be successful on Vancouver Island, and what the approximate cost of each selection will be. Subsequently, the program has been continued with funding from the private sector forest industry of Vancouver Island.  The conclusions from this program will be applicable to the CWH biogeoclimatic zone of Vancouver Island, and are likely to also be applicable to the CWH biogeoclimatic zone on the adjacent Mainland Coast, and to the CDF biogeoclimatic zone on Vancouver Island. The vast majority of program activities have been undertaken on Vancouver Island. However, the initial greenhouse program took place at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and the large Seed Production Plots are located near Dawson Creek.  OBJECTIVES  The long-term objective of the program is the harvest of sufficient seed from the Seed Production Plots to allow established seed merchants to grow the seed at field-scale for purchase by large-scale users. For this to happen, three basic conditions must be met. These are:  • there must be sufficient native seed available for large-scale reclamation by major seed users  • native species trial plot results must be comparable to results achieved on control introduced agronomic species plots  • the cost of native species seeds must be no more than minimally higher than the cost of agronomic seeds  To achieve this the following activities were undertaken in the early years of the program:  • seed of grasses, and to a lesser extent legumes, which are native to Vancouver Island was collected from the wild  • the seeds were sown to flats in a greenhouse at U.B.C.  • the emergent seedlings were transplanted to a Seed Increase Nursery established just south of Duncan  • replicated native grass seed trial plots with accompanying agronomic grass seed control plots were established throughout Vancouver Island  • demonstration and operational sites were established on areas which could not be replicated because of a lack of homogeneity in site characteristics  • large Seed Production Plots were seeded near Dawson Creek so that the cost of the native selections can be determined over the long-term  METHODS  Seeds of grasses native to Vancouver Island were collected in 1996 and 1997, with some additional collection of grasses native to the Garry Oak Ecosystem or subalpine meadows from 1998 to 2000. In total, 122 selections were collected, and 61 are currently in the program. Subsequently, the seeds were sown to flats in either the UBC greenhouse or the Cairnpark Nursery Services Inc. greenhouses on Vancouver Island.  Emergent seedlings were planted to a field nursery near Duncan so that the seed of these grasses could be multiplied and used for the ensuing parts of the program. If sufficient plants are available, rows are 50 metres long; spacing between rows is 1 metre. A maximum of 250 plants were planted to each row, but many rows now have more plants as a result of seed drop. The site is fertilized annually with 18-18-18 @ 400kg/ha. A combination of manual, mechanical and chemical weed control is used throughout the year to minimize the presence of weeds. The maintenance is undertaken by Cairnpark Nursery Services Inc., hired labour and the author.  From late June to early September, the seed produced in the Nursery is hand harvested by the author and Cairnpark staff. Some selections, which have even maturity, need only one harvest, while for others, either two or three harvests are needed to minimize the loss of seed.  ESTABLISHMENT OF TRIAL, DEMONSTRATION AND OPERATIONAL SITES  From 1997 to 1999, 34 replicated trial sites were established on Vancouver Island. At each site two plots were established. One was seeded to a mixture of agronomic grasses while the other was seeded to a mixture of native grasses, using seed grown in the Seed Increase Nursery. The plots are 16m x 5m. These sites were established on compacted, abandoned logging roads. These sites were chosen to obtain legitimate replication as fully deactivated roads and slide tracks differ in important characteristics such as aspect, slope, amount of slash debris, stumps and rocks, and the degree of compaction. An additional 10 sites with identical plot dimensions, which could not be replicated, were established as demonstration sites. Also, since 2000, 6 large operational sites have been established. These latter sites are approximately 1000sq m (+/-20%); other site characteristics are found in Table 1.  TABLE 1. CHARACTERISTICS OF LARGE OPERATIONAL SITES  Name BGC General Location Time of Seeding Type of Site Soil Type Aspect Slope Wd101 CWH xm2 Ward Lake Fall, 2000 Deactivated Road Sandy Loam Nil Nil TahE1 CWH vm1 Tahsis Spring, 2001 Creek Banks  & Ditch Sandy& Silt Loam Variable 5-35% SiSk CWH ms1 Silverhope Creek Spring, 2001 Road Cut  Slope Sand West 40-65% Br31Y CWH xm2 Wiener Creek Fall, 2001 Deactivated Road Sandy Loam North- east <10% LeCk CWH vm1 Port Renfrew Fall, 2001 Creek Bank Sandy Loam North 0-20% NiLk CWH xm2 Port McNeill Spring 2003 Deactivated Road Sandy Loam East 0-10%   Seeding rate was 50-55kg/ha. Primary considerations in the formulation of the comprehensive mixtures seeded to these final sites were the quantity of each species that was available, and performance in other parts of the program. The number of seeds per gram of each species was also considered, and species with larger, heavier seeds were included at much higher percentages by weight than species with small seeds. The sites were fertilized with 18-18-18 at approximately 250kg/ha in the year they were established.  ESTABLISHMENT OF SEED PRODUCTION PLOTS  Since 1999, large Seed Production Plots have been established just north of Dawson Creek (Mile 3 – Alaska Highway) on property owned by Glen Mielke. These plots have short and long-term objectives.  Short-term objectives:  • to determine if any of the Vancouver Island selections will winterkill in the Peace River region  • to determine the amount of seed per hectare that can be produced by each selection  • to determine for how long the plots will produce significant quantities of seed prior to becoming sod-bound  • to determine if there are any major large-scale seed cleaning problems with any selection which would raise the cost to an impractical level  Long-term objective:  • to use these plots as a source of seed for field-scale seed production by established seed merchants once a market has been established for any given selection  All activities are identical to what would be done in a field-scale seeding program. The site was initially cleared of existing vegetation with an application of glyphosate. Subsequently, the seed and fertilizer (16- 32-6) were mixed to provide a continuous flow from the drill seeder. Holes in the drill seeder were taped over to seed a row every 18in. The size of the plots is 12ft x 600ft. Large gaps were left between the plots. These are seeded annually to a tall annual crop, fall rye (Secale cereale), to conform to Agriculture Canada isolation standards. Each fall the native grass plots are weeded. Selections that are in Seed Production Plots at this time are:  Agrostis scabra #43   Bromus sitchensis #45 Bromus sitchensis #48   Calamagrostis stricta #84 Deschampsia cespitosa #30  Deschampsia elongata #72 Elymus glaucus #17   Elymus glaucus #20 Elymus trachycaulus #40  Festuca idahoensis var. roemeri #116 Festuca rubra ssp arenicola #91 Phleum alpinum #97 Poa compressa #83  TRIAL AND DEMONSTRATION SITE EVALUATION RESULTS  The annual late spring visits to the trial sites have indicated that winterkill is not a problem on the west coast. There has been no winter damage to either the native grasses or the introduced, agronomic cultivars. The trial sites are evaluated for ground cover production in the summer. Eight measurements are taken from each plot using the traditional ‘Daubenmire’ technique (Daubenmire, 1959, 1968) for evaluation of herbaceous species. Each seeded species is assessed individually for ground cover production. The ‘Daubenmire’ numbers are converted to percentages and the total seeded ground cover attained on the native grass plots is ‘t’ tested against the cover produced by the agronomic grasses on the control plots.  In all cases since 1998, the native grasses have produced cover comparable to that produced by the agronomic grasses. No significant differences in cover production have occurred at the 0.05 level. Space precludes the inclusion of the work tables for the biometric analysis from 1998 to 2002 for the replicated sites, or the data from the demonstration sites, but these can be found in the annual reports for this program (Vaartnou 2000, 2001, 2002). OPERATIONAL SITE EVALUATION  The operational sites are also evaluated for ground cover production in early August. However, because these are much larger, 16 measurements are taken at each site. The 2003 ‘Daubenmire’ numbers have not been converted to percentages as yet, but results from previous years are found in Table 2.  These results indicate that ground cover production is very high at all sites, and that ground cover increased in the second year on the sites established prior to the fall of 2001. Thus, long-term success is likely. Individual species success varied from site to site. The five most successful species were hair bentgrass (Agrostis scabra), Alaska bromegrass (Bromus sitchensis), slender hairgrass (Deschampsia elongata), blue wild rye (Elymus glaucus) and a Vancouver Island selection of red fescue (Festuca rubra ssp. arenicola). In general, these are the identical species that have been the most successful elsewhere in the program. However, it should be noted that some of the slower developing species, such as tufted hairgrass (Deschampsia cespitosa), have provided minimum cover in the first year on other sites, but have become dominant by the third year of evaluation.   TABLE 2. GROUND COVER PRODUCTION ON THE OPERATIONAL SITES  Species Ground Cover (%)  Wd101  2001     2002 TahE1    2001     2002 SiSk 2001     2002 Br31Y   2002 LeCk   2002 Agrostis exarata #10      0.0        0.0        0.9        0.0       0.0        0.0     0.0     0.0 Agrostis scabra #61      2.5        0.2      13.6        9.8       0.5        0.0      0.0     2.2 Bromus sitchensis #45      5.6        0.3        3.3        9.4     18.3      27.0   24.7     4.7 Calamagrostis stricta #84      1.3        7.3        0.5        5.3       0.3        0.2     0.0   11.4 Deschampsia cespitosa #30      0.3        0.0        0.8        0.0       0.0        0.0     0.5     0.0 Deschampsia elongata #13      8.6        1.3      13.6      34.2       3.0        0.0     3.1     6.4 Elymus glaucus #20      1.6        6.9         1.4        7.5       6.1      10.3   12.3     7.8 Elymus trachycaulus #40      0.0        0.0        0.0        0.0       0.0        0.2     0.0     0.0 Festuca rubra    ssp arenicola #91*    19.5      36.1        ---          ---       1.7        7.0     ---   19.2 Festuca rubra    ssp pruinosa #56**      ---         ---        1.1        0.0        ---         ---     0.0     --- Poa compressa #83      0.3       0.2        1.4        0.0       0.2        0.0     0.0     0.5 Trifolium hybridum      6.4     12.8        1.4        6.7       0.6        0.0     0.0     0.0 Trifolium pratense      0.1       0.0        0.2        0.0       0.0        0.0     0.0     0.0 Trifolium repens      0.0       0.0        0.2        0.0       0.0        0.0     0.0     0.0  TOTAL     46.2     65.1       38.4      72.9      30.7      44.7    40.6    52.2 *Only included at sites Wd101, SiSk and Br31Y **Only included at sites TahE1 and LeCk  SEED PRODUCTION PLOTS  The seeds grown in 2003 on the Seed Production plots have not been cleaned and weighed as yet. However, in general, seed production is increasing each year. One notable exception was a native subspecies of red fescue (Festuca rubra ssp pruinosa #56). This selection was among the first plots seeded in 1999, but failed to produce seed in four years. The plants were very healthy and vigorous but fail to set seed. Thus, the plot was removed in 2003. It is likely that this selection will have to be grown elsewhere to achieve seed production. Data from 2002 (converted to kg/ha) are found in Table 3.  The major cultural problems that are being addressed with these plots are the correct width between rows for each selection; proper mowing height after harvest; susceptibility to chemicals needed for weed control, and chemical treatment needed to avoid diseases such as rusts and silver top. Also, under observation is the ability of slender hairgrass (Deschampsia elongata) to reseed itself every year, even though the mother plants die each winter because of a lack of cold hardiness.  TABLE 3. 2002 SEED PRODUCTION ON THE DAWSON CREEK PLOTS WHICH WERE HARVESTED BY COMBINE                                                            kg/ha Selection 2000 2001 2002 Bromus sitchensis #45    657.8 448.5 837.2 Bromus sitchensis #48 1,196.0 523.3 583.1 Deschampsia cespitosa #30       ----  ----   29.9 Elymus glaucus #17      49.8   29.9   59.8 Elymus glaucus #20      19.9 ---- 142.0 Elymus trachycaulus #40    357.0 357.0 100.9 Festuca rubra ssp arenicola #56    ---- ----   14.9 Poa compressa #83     ---- 358.8   52.3   DISCUSSION  The eighth year of this ten-year applied research project has now been successfully completed. Other jurisdictions, such as Australia, Alaska and much of the contiguous United States, have legislation requiring the use of native species in restoration of public lands. This is not the case in western Canada, as the lack of a reliable, cheap source of seed has been the major implementation barrier to the large-scale use of native species in reclamation reseeding programs in British Columbia. This is also the barrier to any consideration of standards or legislation requiring the use of native species in restoration of public lands. Consequently, vast amounts of seed of exotic grasses are added annually to our landscape. This program is designed to verify that native grasses can achieve the goals of restoration programs on Vancouver Island, and that some native grass seed can be grown at a reasonable cost in field-scale production, not just on a ‘hobby’ farm basis.  The biometric analysis of the replicated sites has consistently indicated that the native grasses  provide ground cover comparable to that obtained with introduced agronomic grasses. The evaluation of the replicated sites is nearing completion. The goal is to obtain five years of data, and the sites established in the fall of 1997 and 1998 have now been evaluated for five years. The other replicated sites need one more year of evaluation. All of the large operational sites established in recent years had very high levels of ground cover in 2002 and 2003. The future performance of the native grasses on these large sites will have a significant bearing on how readily native grasses will be accepted and ordered by reclamation managers. Also of interest is the performance of the native grasses on projects undertaken by other people. One such project, the seeding of Alaska brome (Bromus sitchensis) to a site approximately 900m ASL, was not successful. Seedling emergence had been considerable in 2001, but it was reported to me that all plants died over the winter of 2001/02. This is not a surprising development as Alaska brome is not a high elevation species, but it was useful to have this confirmed. Two wildlife habitat enhancement projects at lower elevations that were seeded to a mixture of native grasses in 2002, were very successful in their first two years, as was seeding of native grasses to a location on the Galloping Goose trail in greater Victoria.  At this stage of the program the agricultural economics component has become of prime importance. The cost of the seed to the large-scale end user must be addressed prior to recommendation that native grasses be used in restoration programs. This is a function of land costs and the amount of seed that can be grown per hectare. Large-scale grass seed production will not occur on Vancouver Island or the Lower Mainland/Fraser Valley because the cost of land is prohibitive. Also, there is neither the expertise nor infrastructure needed for large-scale seed production. Thus, the establishment of large Seed Production Plots near Dawson Creek is an ongoing part of the program. In general the plots established in previous years were more successful than in the past. For the first time, in 2002, eight of the plots produced enough seed to make harvesting by combine a worthwhile operation. However, these plots will need to be monitored for several more years to gain a realistic assessment of how much seed of each selection can be grown in a typical year. Also, the vagaries of weather in any year indicate that it is important to continue endeavours to locate potential growers in the pacific northwest United States.  While the evaluation of all sites has not been completed, it has become apparent that any of the following species can be successfully utilized in main stream revegetation in the Coastal Western Hemlock Biogeoclimatic Zone on the west coast of British Columbia.   Agrostis exarata   Agrostis scabra  Bromus sitchensis   Calamagrostis stricta  Deschampsia cespitosa   Deschampsia elongata  Elymus glaucus    Elymus trachycaulus  Festuca rubra ssp arenicola  Festuca rubra ssp pruinosa  Poa compressa  However, of these, only the Alaska brome (Bromus sitchensis), Canada bluegrass (Poa compressa), blue wild rye (Elymus glaucus) and slender wild rye (Elymus trachycaulus) are positive candidates for large- scale seed production at the present time. Two others, a native red fescue (Festuca rubra ssp arenicola) and tufted hairgrass (Deschampsia cespitosa), have potential if their seed production increases in the future. The other selections listed above have either not been in Seed Production Plots long enough to establish their utility, or have either suffered from winterkill (slender hairgrass (Deschampsia elongata)), or have failed to set seed in the Peace River area (another red fescue (Festuca rubra ssp pruinosa)). These latter two selections may have to be grown in more southerly latitudes to achieve adequate seed production.  Other candidates that need more work and time are those which were not in the original program, but which have been added because of their critical importance to restoration of unique environments on the west coast. These include Garry Oak Ecosystem species, such as Roemer’s fescue (Festuca idahoensis var. roemeri), California oatgrass (Danthonia californica), junegrass (Koeleria macrantha), Lemmon’s needlegrass (Stipa lemmonii), bearded fescue (Festuca subulata), Harford’s melic (Melica harfordii) and Columbia brome (Bromus vulgaris), and higher elevation species, such as alpine timothy (Phleum alpinum), mountain hairgrass (Vahlodea atropurpurea), spike trisetum (Trisetum spicatum) and timber oatgrass (Danthonia intermedia). REFERENCES  Clayoquot Sound Scientific Panel. 1995. Sustainable ecosystem management in Clayoquot Sound- planning and practices. 245pp.  Daubenmire, R. 1959. A canopy-coverage method of vegetational analysis. Northwest Science 33:43-64.  Daubenmire, R. 1968. Plant Communities. New York, Evanston and London. Harper & Row.  Vaartnou, M. 2001. Establishment of a native seed industry for the west coast of Vancouver Island. Final report – 1996/2001. Prepared for Forest Renewal British Columbia. 26pp + Appendices.  Vaartnou, M. 2002. Establishment of a native seed industry for the west coast of Vancouver Island. Final report – 2001/02. Prepared for International Forest Products Ltd., Weyerhaeuser Company Ltd., TimberWest Forest Ltd. and Western Forest Products Ltd. 22pp + Appendices.  Vaartnou, M. 2003. Establishment of a native seed industry for the west coast of Vancouver Island. Final report – 2002/03. Prepared for International Forest Products Ltd., Weyerhaeuser Company Ltd., TimberWest Forest Ltd., Western Forest Products Ltd. and Canadian Forest Products Ltd. 22pp + Appendices.  ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS  Previous funding for this program was provided by Forest Renewal BC – Research Funding; and the B.C. Ministry of Forests – Resource Tenures and Engineering Branch. Current funding is provided by International Forest Products Ltd., Weyerhaeuser Company Ltd., TimberWest Forest Ltd., Western Forest Products Ltd. and Canadian Forest Products Ltd. Also, the author would like to thank Cairnpark Nursery Services Inc., Yellow Point Propagation Ltd., Glen Mielke, and numerous west coast foresters for their assistance in the past eight years.


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