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One Seed at a Time: Plant Materials Center in Los Lunas Helps Restore Grand Canyon’s South Rim

Grass grown from the NRCS Plant Materials Center in Los Lunas line the edge of Mather Point.

David Dreesen, NRCS agronomist, shows the first signs of life of the native grass seed.
Fenchel, manager of the Center, examines native grasses grown to help restore the Grand Canyon.
 
Baby elk eats and rests in native grasses near South Rim Visitor Center and Mather Point.
 
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LOS LUNAS, N.M. - For more than 20 years, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service has been growing seeds for the Grand Canyon and other national parks just a short drive south from Albuquerque in Los Lunas.

When the National Park Service renovated the Grand Canyon’s South Rim visitor center in 2008, they looked to the NRCS Plants Materials Center in Los Lunas to produce the seed needed to restore native grasses in the area.

Now, driving along eight miles of twists and turns of the South Rim, you can see the bright green grasses surrounding the parking lots, roads, and various viewpoints including Prima Point, Hermit’s Rest and the Bright Angel Trailhead.

"Where you don’t have native grasses put in, you would have invasive weeds coming through,” said Janice Bosco, Park Horticulturalist with the National Park Service. “The native grasses grown by NRCS also give elk and deer some nice food.”

In national parks across the West including Zion, Arches, Canyonlands and the Grand Canyon, NPS uses seed from the Plant Materials Center in Los Lunas to restore disturbed areas where roads, trails, walkways and parking lots have been added or removed.

But growing the seed isn’t easy.

Because each species of plant has developed an advanced genetic makeup specific to the cliffs, valleys, and ridges of the parks, NPS uses seed native to that specific park area. NPS collects a small amount of those specific seeds and provides them to NRCS for planting.

The Plant Materials Center then grows and supplies large quantities of the native grass seeds such as blue grama, spike muhly, muttongrass, needle-and-thread and Indian ricegrass, in quantities of tens to hundreds of pounds ready to be planted by NPS.

In addition to supplying seeds to the national parks, the Plant Materials Center also develops new varieties of plants that are drought tolerant and combat erosion to be used for conservation projects on public and private lands across the southwest.

“These grasses not only reduce erosion and provide food and cover for wildlife, but they also beautify the area,” said Greg Fenchel, manager of the Los Lunas Plant Materials Center.

The next task for the NRCS native seed is to revegetate Orphan Mine, an old mining site of the Grand Canyon used as a source of uranium from 1953 until 1972.

NPS is looking to reclaim Orphan Mine and the surrounding area and will be using seed from the Los Lunas Plant Materials Center.

“It is an honor for us to be a part of these revegetation efforts for our national parks—some of the most beautiful places in the world,” Fenchel said.

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For photos visit: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjHZegux

 

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USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service helps America’s farmers and ranchers conserve the Nation’s soil, water, air and other natural resources. All programs are voluntary and offer science-based solutions that benefit both the landowner and the environment.

Follow NRCS New Mexico on Twitter. Checkout other conservation-related stories on USDA Blog. Watch videos on NRCS’ New Mexico YouTube channel. 

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