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Group plans for fall forest planting of ‘tree islands’

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Trees grown from collected pine cones now live at the NMSU John T. Harrington Forestry Research Center in Mora. (Courtesy of Owen Burney)

The Las Conchas Fire of 2011 burned more than 150,000 acres of Bandelier National Monument and the Jemez Mountains.

To help reforest the region, the Nature Conservancy teamed up with federal, state, university and tribal partners.

In the fall of 2019, the team collected 350,000 ponderosa pine seeds – half of which will grow into seedlings and be replanted. It was the state’s biggest seed collection effort since the 1970s.

But many more seeds are needed for reforestation, said Collin Haffey, conservation manager for the Nature Conservancy of New Mexico.

“When you’re talking about multiple species of seed, piñon, and Douglas fir and aspen, those seeds are really hard to come by in any given year,” Haffey said.

Ponderosa seedlings from Bandelier are now growing at the New Mexico State University John T. Harrington Forestry Research Center in Mora. The collected pine cones were first placed in a greenhouse.

“That changes the temperature within the cone and allows them to open up,” said Owen Burney, the center’s director. “If you go in there on a pretty warm day, it sounds like a big giant bowl of Rice Krispies as the cones all slowly open up.”

The crew places the pine cones in a tumbler, cleans the seeds that fall out and tests them for viability.

Seeds can also be stored in a freezer for up to 50 years.

bright spotThe group will start planting the trees this fall and also plans to collect more seeds. The goal is to plant 100,000 trees in the Jemez Mountains over the next two years.

Burney said seedlings are determined ready for planting based on root system health, plant height, main stem diameter, and nitrogen and chlorophyll levels.

Scientists may plant smaller groups of “tree islands” to mimic natural regrowth, and adaptations to fire and drought.

“The idea is to be resistant to fire in the future, because you have open spaces in between,” Burney said. “If one of the islands for whatever reason caught fire, the likelihood of spreading to the neighboring islands is low. … Then, those trees can seed out and provide new offspring.”

Haffey and Burney will present a webinar about reforestation at 10 a.m. Wednesday, June 24. Participants can register by visiting nature.org and searching for “TNC TV: After the Fire, Seeding New Mexico’s Future,” or by visiting the New Mexico Nature Conservancy Facebook page.

Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.

 

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