Planting experiment hopes to help habitat recover from wildfires

06 November 2016

published by http://www.stgeorgeutah.com


USA —   ST. GEORGE – Work is underway on an experimental project that could go a long way towards restoring desert tortoise habitat destroyed by wildfire in Washington County’s two national conservation areas.

“We’re excited,” Bureau of Land Management spokesman Christian Venhuizen said. “It’s an incredibly large project with a lot of partner organizations involved.”

Several thousand containerized native plants will be planted in areas severely damaged by fire in 2005-2006.

AmeriCorps volunteers are planting in a 100-acre plot in the Woodbury-Hardy study area in Beaver Dam Wash National Conservation Area.

The area currently isn’t even supporting cheatgrass, biologist Ann McLuckie of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources said in an earlier interview.

The plants will initially be hand-watered and protected by chicken wire fences until they mature enough to survive, Venhuizen said.

Wildfire destroyed about 25 percent of the tortoise habitat in the conservation areas, resulting in a drop in tortoise populations of up to 50 percent.

Seeding of the damaged areas has been tried unsuccessfully in the past; without an immediate soaking rain, the seeds dried out, got eaten or blew away.

Biologists are hopeful the project will help reestablish fertile islands of native grasses and shrubs which will then spread naturally.

“We’re excited,” Bureau of Land Management spokesman Christian Venhuizen said. “It’s an incredibly large project with a lot of partner organizations involved.”

Several thousand containerized native plants will be planted in areas severely damaged by fire in 2005-2006.

AmeriCorps volunteers are planting in a 100-acre plot in the Woodbury-Hardy study area in Beaver Dam Wash National Conservation Area.

The area currently isn’t even supporting cheatgrass, biologist Ann McLuckie of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources said in an earlier interview.

The plants will initially be hand-watered and protected by chicken wire fences until they mature enough to survive, Venhuizen said.

Wildfire destroyed about 25 percent of the tortoise habitat in the conservation areas, resulting in a drop in tortoise populations of up to 50 percent.

Seeding of the damaged areas has been tried unsuccessfully in the past; without an immediate soaking rain, the seeds dried out, got eaten or blew away.

Biologists are hopeful the project will help reestablish fertile islands of native grasses and shrubs which will then spread naturally.

Next month, the project will continue on 100 acres along Cottonwood Road in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, an area that is overgrown with cheat grass and tumbleweeds.

Rehabilitation is difficult in the Mohave desert, a landscape which is not adapted to wildfire.

Historically, the Mohave was not vulnerable to fire – species like creosote are naturally fire-resistant and there wasn’t enough vegetation to carry fire between the shrubs.

However, cheat grass and other invasive species changed that and made it easy for fires to spread.

For the project, approximately 10,000 native plants were grown in a nursery at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area as part of a joint project with University of Nevada Las Vegas professor Scott Abella.

Shrubs such as creosote and white bursage; midsize plants such as globemallow, desert four-o’clock and desert marigold; and several species of native grass will be planted.

The number of plants that survive, the impact on non-native plants, the effectiveness of different planting methods and cost-effectiveness will be tracked.

If the project proves to be a success, it will be expanded to other parts of damaged tortoise habitat, biologist McLuckie said.

The BLM, The Nature Conservancy, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington County, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas are partners in the effort, Venhuizen said.

Government has urged Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers who are deployed to guard Viphya Plantation against destruction to be vigilant by dealing with the perpetrators accordingly.
Msaka (left) walking in the plantantion

Msaka (left) walking in the plantantion

Minister of Mines, Energy and Natural Resources, Bright Msaka, made the statement Tuesday after touring the plantation, especially areas under the jurisdiction of Total Land Care and Raiply Malawi Limited.

Incidences of fire destroying numerous hectares of trees every year have been a never-ending song for the Viphya Plantation for over a decade now. The plantation is shared by two districts of Mzimba and Nkhata Bay.

However, the issue has raged on in spite of efforts by government and its stakeholders to plant trees and guard them against destruction. Reports have indicated that more often, the fires that destroy the plantation are deliberately set rather than accidental.

The minister said government is aware that some disgruntled workers and individuals whose licences were cancelled are the ones setting fires in the plantation.

“People need to know that this is a national asset, so if the department of forestry has denied somebody a licence for the reasons best known by the department, they are supposed to understand instead of setting fires,” he said.

To mitigate the challenge, Msaka said government deployed MDF soldiers in protected forests across the country as a way of scaring people from destroying the plantations.

In spite of the effort, some people are still setting parts of the Viphya Forest on fire, regardless of the size of trees.

“We have directed the Malawi Defence Force solders to deal with anyone setting bush fires and operating in the forest without licences and that the law will take its course [against them],” he warned.

However, Msaka commended Raiply Malawi Limited and Total Land Care for utilizing the forest sustainably and adding value to the trees from the forest.

“In the past, we have been cutting trees or sawing and selling them abroad at a very cheap price. We behaved like a prodigal son who squandered all what his father gave him.

“We need to be very careful and be proud of what we inherited so that we can benefit from it and pass on those benefits to the next generation,” advised the minister.

Earlier, Chief Executive Officer of Raiply Malawi Limited, Thomas Oomen, cited bush fires and encroachment as major challenges facing his company.

“This year alone, we have lost about 526 hectares [of trees] to bush fires, unfortunately, most of  these trees are below 15 years old but they are supposed to be harvested at the age of 25. This is dooming our future,” said Oomen.

Chikangawa Forest consists of seven plantations comprising 53,000 hectares.

- See more at: http://www.nyasatimes.com/minister-msaka-warns-perpetrators-fire-viphya-forest/#sthash.5gaV0MIe.dpuf