A sagebrush seedling planted in fall 2021, doing well in 2022.
RESTORATION EFFORTS UNDERWAY IN BRUSH CREEK VALLEY The draft 2021 Sky Mountain Park Management Plan outlines a number of Resource Management Actions, including the continuation of efforts mandated in the initial management plan adopted for the Park, in 2012. Two projects - restoration of old irrigation ponds and a study of sagebrush restoration methods - were started in 2020 and are ongoing. Both are taking place in the Brush Creek Valley.
Sagebrush restoration test plot study Between Brush Creek and Brush Creek Road is an old agricultural field now dominated by non-native grasses and weeds, though it was historically dominated by sagebrush. The area, with clay-rich soils, is the focus of a sagebrush restoration study that began in 2020 and will last for several years.
The overall goal is to develop a successful restoration strategy (one that is not dependent on intensive applications of herbicide) that can be applied to other open space properties and shared with other local land managers where sagebrush restoration is a goal. The study uses a test plot design, based on extensive research, literature reviews and analysis for feasibility and scalability. OST will investigate three seeding/planting methods across 12 test plots, with and without irrigation and fencing, to restore sagebrush shrublands and determine the most effective restoration methods. OST is prioritizing non-chemical methods and the use of local sagebrush seed to maximize long-term ecological health and resilience of the system. FIND OUT MORE.
Project update: The majority of the sagebrush seedlings planted in October 2021 survived the winter and are growing well at Sky Mountain Park in summer 2022. No germination from the seeding has been observed yet, though it may be too soon to tell.
How it began: In the summer of 2020, the test plots were laid out, and mowing and tilling commenced. This ground preparation continued through the growing season of 2021 to reduce the vigor of existing pasture grasses, thereby decreasing competition for the native plants that will be reintroduced. Sagebrush seed was collected from native sagebrush shrublands, both within the Park and from other open spaces in the upper Roaring Fork Valley. The test plots were planted with the local seed and seedlings grown from that seed in early October 2021.
Annual monitoring and analysis will continue for several years in order to evaluate short-term and long-term success across the treatments. Results will be used to inform larger scale restoration efforts in this area and shared to inform regional sagebrush restoration efforts.
In 2022, more than 200 native shrubs and 600 wetland "plugs" go in the ground where two old irrigation ponds have been reclaimed.
Brush Creek pond riparian restoration In 2018, conceptual plans for restoration of man-made ponds and adjacent low-lying pasture were prepared to restore valuable riparian habitat. The overall goal of this riparian restoration project is to regrade the lower two former agricultural ponds, create a natural transition and tie the existing sagebrush and riparian ecosystems into the pond restoration areas with native vegetation.
Project update: In early July 2022, more than 100 native shrubs were planted within the restoration zone (the area that previously held two old agricultural ponds dominated by invasive species). The new plantings ranged from riparian species like willow and twinberry to upland species like serviceberry. Additionally, more than 600 wetland “plugs” as they are called, were planted in the wet zones. These included water sedge, beaked sedge, arctic rush and fowl bluegrass.
How it began: Implementation began in spring 2020 with regrading and seeding completed in fall 2020. Restoration planting, wildlife protection fencing and a new pump and temporary irrigation system to help establish the native seed and plants continued to be implemented in sequence through 2021. Temporary irrigation and fencing will be removed once the vegetation reaches an age and size that is resilient to ungulate browsing.
For more information: Liza Mitchell Open Space and Trails Naturalist Resource Planner and Ecologist email@example.com or 970-429-2796