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Protecting Sage Grouse for Future Generations... One Seed at a Time

Posted by Jane Knowlton, U.S. Forest Service in Forestry
Feb 21, 2017
John Sloan, the assistant nursery manager at the Lucky Peak Nursery, showing off a one-year old container-grown sagebrush seedling
John Sloan, the assistant nursery manager at the Lucky Peak Nursery, shows off a one-year old container-grown sagebrush seedling. (Photo credit/Clark Fleege)

The need for food and shelter for wildlife to survive is basic, particularly for sage grouse living in a post-wildfire landscape in western states. The U.S. Forest Service is helping this upland game bird survive by growing about 3 million sagebrush shrubs a year to restore the area’s dry, grassy plains, essential for the bird’s nesting grounds.

“Our goal is to help accelerate the restoration process on our public lands,” says Clark Fleege, manager of the Lucky Peak Nursery, part of the Boise National Forest.

The nursery grows native conifer trees for reforestation on lands administered by the Forest Service, as well as producing native plant seedlings. These are needed to sustain healthy forests and watersheds. Lucky Peak is one of six Forest Service nurseries nationwide that support this type of work.

Because nature abhors a vacuum, non-native, invasive and noxious weeds such as cheat grass and rush skelton weed with little to no value to the local ecosystem are filling the landscape after massive wildfires or prolonged drought.

“Working with our federal and state land manager clients, we are supporting sage grouse habitat, which in turn will inspire current and future generations to continue enjoying the many opportunities that our national forests and grasslands provide such as nature watching, hunting and recreation,” said Fleege.

Nursery workers packing sagebrush seedlings
Nursery workers pack sagebrush seedlings for one of the Lucky Peak Nursery’s federal or state agency customers who plant the seedlings to restore habitat for sage grouse and other wildlife in areas affected by disturbances such as wildfires or prolonged drought. (Photo credit/Kristy Bryner)

The process begins when the customer collects the raw seed from the area needing healthy vegetation and brings them to the nursery in the fall where they are dried and processed. In the spring, the tiny sagebrush seeds are sown indoors in a greenhouse or outdoors in large production fields where they germinate quickly. They grow from May until October with regular irrigation, fertilization and encouragement from the nursery staff. By the time the one-year old sagebrush seedlings are ready for harvesting, packing and planting in October, they are at least eight inches in height.

How much seed is needed depends on the size of the area to be restored. It takes about 100 pounds of the raw seeds to yield 4 pounds of clean seeds. Each pound of seed contains two million seeds roughly the size of pepper specks. Four pounds of seed will yield 400,000 one-year old sagebrush seedlings that will cover around 1,500 acres of land.

“We grew sagebrush and bitterbrush dryland shrubs for our home forest here to plant on the South Fork of the Boise River after the Elk and Pony fires burned approximately 280,000 acres in 2013,” said Kelly Demasters, a program specialist with the nursery.

The nursery is now growing sagebrush seedlings for the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and state agency land management offices in California, Idaho, Nevada and Oregon to plant after this year’s fires.

One-year old sagebrush seedlings grown in production fields at the Lucky Peak Nursery in Idaho
One-year old sagebrush seedlings grown in production fields at the Lucky Peak Nursery in Idaho will be used to accelerate the restoration of native sagebrush vegetation on public lands recently scorched by wildfire in the Great Basin. (Photo credit/Clark Fleege)
Category/Topic: Forestry

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Karen Terney
Dec 15, 2015

Thank you for doing such an important job so well.

Tom Stephan
Apr 01, 2019

I am reaching out to you today as I wish to apply for a grant to control cheatgrass in the state of Idaho's rangeland. My idea is to use herds of goat, sheep cattle or other grazing animals to suppress the invasive grasses. This known technology is employed in San Diego County to eat chaparral. The goats are put in portable corrals rolled out each morning to contain the animals. The corral excludes the goats from sensitive vegetation and targets the plant communities called "Chamise". I am not sure yet which breed of animal is appropriate to eat cheatgrass but not native grasses herbs and forbs. It may be a number of them. Or it may be something different like Llamas. One thing that I wish to do no matter what herding animal I use to control invasive nonative grasses is, I want to plant the treated acreages with sagebrush starts after the animals have been relocated. I used to work for Salmon River Firefighters who in the off season, planted conifers in the mountains of Oregon and Idaho. We would use "hoedads" to plant 700 to 1000 trees a day. After that I was a certified arborist , w.e. #3031. I perform anti compaction and life in the soil amendment treatment for native trees in the landscape to improve soil fertility. I also install Barn Owl nesting boxes as organic rodent control-
I have been in touch with a Mr. Duarte, IDFG person in charge of sage grouse efforts in Idaho. He suggested I get to know the persons and their respective entities so that I may partner with those that are most likely to be mutually helpful to my efforts. That is why I am contacting you. I want to know if procuring sage brush plants from your nursery is allowed to private persons such as myself and other general information that may be important as educational material. I thank you for your time.
Regards, Tom Stephan.