Hanford Site to restore wildland after grass fire

March 4, 2021, 9:30AMANS Nuclear Cafe

A worker readies a hanging bucket for a helicopter used to drop native grass and shrub seed on thousands of acres of the Hanford Site that burned in 2020. Source: DOE

An aerial seeding project on the Hanford Site’s Gable Mountain will help restore lost habitat following a wildland fire in June of last year, according a March 3 announcement from the Department of Energy’s Richland Operations Office (RL). The wildfire burned more than 5,500 acres on the mountain at Hanford, in Washington state.

Outgoing DOE contractor Mission Support Alliance coordinated the effort to drop 75,000 pounds of native grass and shrub seed from a helicopter during the rainy winter season. The project will continue under the new contractor, Hanford Mission Integration Solutions. Biologists expect the seeds to germinate by spring.

“Remediating environmental damage from the Gable Mountain fire is a priority, and the use of harvested native seeds will offer the best chance at future restoration of this critical habitat,” said So Yon Bedlington, RL program manager.

The area: The once-pristine sagebrush found on the remote shrub-steppe region provided a home to black-tailed jackrabbits and sagebrush sparrows, which often used it for nesting. The land also contributes historic archeological data on the prehistoric life of Native Americans who lived on the vast expanse and made use of its natural resources, making it of high importance to northwest tribes, according to RL.

The work: Aerial seeding is a specialized method for the Hanford Site and took months of planning before three consecutive days of seed application could begin.

Biologist Emily Norris said that the unusual timing of the fire in early June, at the start of the fire season, resulted in an opportunity to accomplish the most appropriate recovery effort, without missing an ideal window for planting. Efforts include locally sourcing specific seeds for the three distinct ecological areas that burned within both hillside and lowland areas.

“This restoration will provide erosion control, replace lost habitat, and prevent the overtaking by invasive species that may seek to fill the once-mature sagebrush found around Gable Mountain, which is a habitat valuable to both Hanford and the entire region,” Norris said.

Renewal: Environmental scientists expect to see the first evidence of germination in a matter of months. They will monitor the seeded areas for five years.