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Wildfire seeding program hasn't taken root locally

A popular state program that helps private landowners reseed areas burned in this summer's wildfires has been less of a hit in Southern Oregon than elsewhere in the state, in part because the free seed takes too much effort to plant, authorities said.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has spent all of its &

36;100,000 set aside in late summer for an emergency seeding program that promotes big-game forage and soil stability in fire-charred areas across Oregon. The agency also set up a streamlined application process meant to get seed into landowners' hands quickly.

The program has provided free grass seed for dispersal on more than 5,000 acres of burned land in need of a green boost during upcoming fall rains, said Susan Barnes, who manages the program through the ODFW's Access and Habitat Program.

But Jackson County landowners have asked for, and received, just &

36;8,700 worth of grass seed from the emergency program ' enough to scatter on 292 acres.

ODFW habitat biologist Vince Oredson said the likely reason is that most of the private parcels burned here this summer are small tracts owned by people unwilling or unable to put in the time and effort to disperse the seed with a hand-spreader or via an all-terrain vehicle.

For people to go out, walk around with a hand spreader and seed 10 acres themselves is a lot of work, Oredson said. That's about all these folks can handle.

But elsewhere in the state, enough interest has been generated that Barnes today will ask the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission for another &

36;100,000 in emergency reseeding money from a habitat fund supported by a surcharge on hunting licenses and tags.

Barnes said the money would cover a &

36;7,730 overrun from the first &

36;100,000, then fund any new projects approved before the Oct. 23 deadline. The program was originally set to close Sept. 25, but continued interest among landowners generated the extension, Barnes said.

We don't have any new projects approved yet, and I don't know if we will, Barnes said. But there are more private landowners affected by the fires this year. Maybe they'll apply. Anything's possible.

The ODFW annually helps provide landowners with grass seed planted for big-game forage. The emergency program was created in the wake of hundreds of thousands of acres of habitat burned last summer.

The mix of non-native grass seed typically sprouts about two weeks after the fall's first rain. The shoots provide food for deer, elk and some non-game species, while the roots help stabilize dirt slopes and can curb erosion during upcoming winter storms.

Of the 10 projects funded statewide, the largest is in the Summer Lake area, where 17 landowners applied jointly for &

36;77,000 to seed 3,539 acres, Barnes said.

Locally, six projects received funding, with the largest being a 100-acre parcel in the Elk Creek drainage hit by the Timbered Rock fire, Oredson said. Another 80-acre parcel near Grizzly Peak burned by the East Antelope fire was seeded by helicopter, with the ODFW's habitat program picking up the &

36;770 helicopter cost, Oredson said.

Along with the habitat program seeding, about 4,700 pounds of grass seed also was given to 30 landowners who dispersed it on about 200 acres of land, Oredson said. The Oregon Hunters Association paid &

36;8,100 for that seed, and those projects were not part of the ODFW's emergency program, he said.

Most of the local projects involved seeding steep slopes, intensely burned patches or where fire lines were carved into the soil, Oredson said.

The real serious, problem areas are the ones we concentrated on, and I think we got them, Oredson said.

Anyone interested in applying for seed can telephone Oredson at 1-541-826-8774.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail