Locally raised plants to help in fire restoration

Marilyn and Crystal Knittel work on growing sage plants for the Warner Creek Correctional Facility’s Sagebrush in Prisons program; they grew 25,000 sagebrush and bitterbrush seedlings.

Stacy Moore, manager of the Sagebrush in Prisons programs, came to Lakeview last week to help package 25,000 sagebrush and bitterbrush seedlings. This year, due to Covid-19 restrictions, the Warner Creek Correctional Facility inmates were not allowed to raise the plants. Instead Crystal Knittel nurtured the seedlings in the backyard of her Lakeview home. With the help of husband Jerry and daughter Marilyn, Knittel watered, fertilized and thinned the growing plants.

During the hot summer months, they had to water the seedlings twice a day and keep them covered with a shade cloth. As the plants were growing, they sent pictures to Moore who monitored their progress. “I have a sense of accomplishment,” Knittel said. “It’s scary being responsible for that many plants.”

“I appreciate Crystal and her family for their hard work growing plants in her back yard,” Moore said. It took two days to box the crop. The sagebrush and bitterbrush will be used by BLM crews for habitat restoration on wildfire burns. This year the planting will be done at Applegate, Twin Falls, Idaho Falls and Klamath Falls BLM districts.

After a burn, it takes 30-50 years to re-establish sagebrush and bitter brush. Transplanting seedlings with developed root systems gives the plants a head start over invasive cheat grass. The new plants will provide food and cover for greater sage grouse and 300 other species of wildlife, including elk and deer.

Moore, who is also ecological education program director for Institute for Applied Ecology, manages the Sagebrush in Prisons program for 10 correctional facilities in Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, California and Wyoming. The Institute for Applied Ecology partners with Bureau of Land Management and Department of Prisons, with funding coming from BLM’s national office.

Moore is hopeful that the program can return to Warner Creek Correctional Facility next spring and again involve inmates in the project. This year, Tyler Knapp offered workshops at the facility on science and ecology, but it was limited to 10 inmates per session.

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