Our Seed gathering process is part of a year-round endeavor.
As warm, sunlit mornings fade and are replaced with a cool crispness in the air– the Alta Environmental Center (AEC) takes these seasonal cues as the time to begin our annual seed harvesting. From late summer through fall, the AEC is busy collecting over 25 different species of wildflowers, trees and shrubs. The harvesting process can be as simple as walking along the trails harvesting seed, or a full-scale climbing expedition with AEC employees putting on harnesses and belaying one another as we climb into trees to collect seed. During this process, the elevation, location, date and species are recorded to ensure we plant the seed we harvested back into a similar environment.
By collecting viable seed from similar environments in which the restoration work will take place, we give vegetation its best chance at success in areas of disturbance.
Each harvested plant and tree seed is dedicated to the Alta Environmental Center’s vegetation management program. Our vegetation management plan is guided by science, aimed at naturally revegetating the forest in areas disturbed through construction, operations, or erosion. Planning these restoration projects takes a minimum of 1–3 years, and somewhere between 3–10 years of active planting, invasive species removal and monitoring. Sites of disturbance are individually evaluated, and plans for revegetation are custom designed for each site. Plant community type, available water sources and the likelihood of continued impact are factors considered during the planning phase.
By collecting viable seed from similar environments in which the restoration work will take place, we give vegetation its best chance at success in areas of disturbance. These plants already have the genetic makeup of successful, high-alpine forbs, ensuring only native species are returned to the forest.
Volunteers planting seedlings with the AEC during this summer's volunteer days | Photo: Rocko Menzyk
Once the seed has been harvested it is brought into Albion Grill where it is separated and laid out to dry. Once dried, the following weeks are spent separating the seed from the chaff—a layer of protective organic material that encases the seed—next, the seeds are placed into individualized packages according to species and sent to our local grower, Dryland Horticulture.
Reforestation efforts at Alta date back to 1933, and since the creation of the AEC in 2008 we have been able to continue Alta’s history of environmental stewardship.
At Dryland Horticulture the seeds will be grown throughout the winter into the spring. Matthew, our long-time horticulturist, will grow the seedlings in a similar environment they will encounter at Alta—this is called cold stratifying or “winterizing” the seeds. Cold stratifying will simulate the natural conditions the seeds are subjected to in high-alpine environments and help ensure germination. This process of exposing the seed to the natural conditions it will encounter up at Alta ensures the plant will be strong enough to handle specific high alpine conditions, such as long and cold winters.
The AEC seed harvesting with Dryland Horticulture in early fall. | Photo: Beth Yetter
Once the snow-capped mountains have started to melt and late spring has arrived, it is time to pick up the seedlings and bring them up to our nursery located right here at Alta. AEC staff will tend to the nursery and the seedlings will be planted throughout the summer. The harvested seed will be put back into the ground based on needs for the following summer’s revegetation plans. The dedication and work that goes into our revegetation and restoration projects is no small task, we are so thankful to our volunteers and partner organizations who play a crucial role in helping us complete our summer land conservation work. This summer:
- 9,000 wildflowers and shrubs species were planted
- 35o trees planted were planted
- The AEC had 400 volunteers take part in planting and tree harvesting
- 20 stewardship, volunteer and educational events were hosted by the AEC and its partners
- 400 total hours were spent planting this past summer
AEC nursery, seedlings ready to be planted. | Photo: Rocko Menzyk
Harvesting, sorting, growing, and planting these seeds is a full-circle process that takes an entire year to complete. Reforestation efforts at Alta date back to 1933, and since the creation of the AEC in 2008 we have been able to continue Alta’s history of environmental stewardship. Thanks to our partners and dedicated volunteers we have been able to grow this program immensely and are always looking to the seasons ahead on further restoration and reforestation projects.