NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK
Resource managers experimented last year with a new solution to an old problem. The problem dealt with revegetating sites in the sub-alpine meadows which are damaged by overuse or erosion. The solution involved hand transplanting greenhouse propagated native species to the damaged sites. As a naturalist at Longmire, I was fortunate to have a project day assigned to helping park botanists with a planting project near Myrtle Falls at Paradise.
In order for the National Park Service to maintain their standard of preserving scenery, the meadows should be maintained as much as possible in their natural state. However, it is not possible for over a million people to visit the meadows annually without leaving their impact. Much of the denudation in the meadows is due to the existence of trails, both "social" and maintained. The thin, volcanic soil is easily disturbed by continued impact from footprints, along with erosion from wind and water.
In the past, the denuded areas were covered with jute netting, a fibrous rope material which helps stop erosion by stabilizing the soil. Resource managers also tried raking the soil and scattering seeds over the sites. The success of this method was limited by the short growing season of the sub-alpine meadows which allows minimal time for seed germination and plant growth. Rangers experimented with digging up plants from healthy areas and transplanting them to damaged ones. While this gave the newly established plants a head start, it also left a hole in the spot where they were dug. Care had to be taken to refill the transplant sites with soil and avoid taking too many plants from one location.
Improvements in ground coverings and the use of greenhouses for plant propagation have improved revegetation methods. As I worked with park botanists, Gina Rochefort and Mignonne Bivon, and volunteer Steve Gibbons, I asked them questions about this method. Gina explained that she became interested in using the greenhouse as a means of growing native plants when she heard about a revegetation project at North Cascades National Park, where over 7,000 plants are grown annually and transplanted into sub-alpine meadows. She spoke with the volunteers who developed the project and decided to try a similar one at Mount Rainier. Along with the sedge, partridgefoot and alpine timothy grown at North Cascades, Gina raised lupine, aster, sitka valerian, native thistle and phlox.
We planted three species of "plugs" near Myrtle Falls -- sedge, lupine and partridgefoot. Preparations for planting began in 1984, when seeds and plant stock were collected. Volunteers from the Native Plant Society and Gina collected lupine seeds, which were scarified and planted in individual pots at the greenhouse. Gina and Steve collected plugs of partridgefoot and sedge to be used for vegetative propagation in the winter. Partridgefoot was grown from cuttings and the sedge from plant divisions.
Botanists also collected seeds and plant stock from Indian Henry's, Tipsoo Lake, and Sunrise. To avoid altering the genetic diversity of the separate meadows, Gina labeled the plants according to their collection site. This assured us that revegetated sites received stock of the same genetic makeup.
After seeing all the time and care that went into the collection and propagation stages, I was eager to learn about the planting process. We chose a cool September day for planting. Fall is prefered for planting since the moisture level is higher than the summer monts, yet the ground is not frozen. The first season's snowfall flocked the huckleberry and mountain ash bushes which were deep shades of red and orange. Dark, billowy clouds lined the Tatoosh Range, telling us that heavier snowfalls were not far off.
We spent over three hours at the site, planting 170 plugs and recording data for future monitoring. First we swept snow from the social trail and arranged the pots four to six inches apart, scattering them to avoid the appearance odf rows. The planting process went quickly. Next we scattered measured quantities of lily, western anemone and aster seeds over the soil. The use of seeds allows for comparison of survival rates between plants established from stock or seed.
Since this is a pilot project at Mount Rainier, it is important to monitor plant survival. The first step in the monitoring process was to photograph the revegetated area. Next Gina laid a square grid over randomly selected sites and tallied the number of plants and the species found within each square inch. The combination of pictures and grid tallies allows the botanists to return next year and assess the survival of plants.
One final step remained before we left. Without some type of protective covering, the soil around the plants would beging to wash away, leaving erosion gullies. Therefore, we spread two types of netting over the plants which would lessen raindrop impact and erosion. The new groundcovers also help retain moisture and modify the soil temperature. Excelsior was used on one trail, which is a one-inch layer of shredded aspen bark, woven in a photo-degradable netting. We used another ground cover called Roll-ite, made of paper and nylon mesh, on the other trail. Before leaving, we cut holes in the netting around the taller plants and pulled the stalks through so they would not be crushed. By using two types of groundcover, Gina hopes to determine if either affects plant survival. She will also compare the biodegradability of Excelsior and Roll-ite, the decay period may be as long as three years.
Wen we finished, a green bed of plants tucked under tan netting greeted our eyes. Soon, someone else came to admire our work. The sound of a whistle by Myrtle Falls caught my attention. A hoary marmot squatted on its haunches, eyeing us. After contemplating its next move, the marmot charged past us and scurried over the plants we had so carefully tended. Now we might be able to persuade visitors not to use this trail any more, but how do you convince a marmot of that?
I returned a few weeks later to see how they plants fared. All the lupine had been neatly mowed off, no doubt the work of hungry marmots, feasting before their winter famine. The sedge and partridgefoot looked hardy; perhaps even the lupine would live if the root stock was established.
The revegetation project at Myrtle Falls is only one of the targeted transplant areas. Revegetation efforts are also planned at Sunrise, and Eunice Lake, along with more work at Paradise, Indian Henry's and Tipsoo Lake. In 1986 Gina planted 4-6,000 plants. In the future she may consider contracting out the greenhouse work so she can devote time to other projects such as the rare and exotic plant list and the inventory of Brockman plots.
In the past, park personnel and volunteers lent a hand for resource management projects such as exotic plant removal, biological control and seed collection. Several people helped propagate and water the plants in the greenhouse this past year. Gina welcomes help from those interested in working in the greenhouse or in the field this summer.
Gina believes that this is a very worthwhile effort. I tend to agree with her, after my day in the field. We cannot have millions of people visiting the meadows without some damage to the plants and the soil. But we can learn ways to restore the meadows to a more natural condition. The combination of the greenhouse and improved groundcovers offer us the chance to replace some of the beauty which can be degraded through human and environmental impacts. Let's give a hand to those who helped with planting projects in the meadows. . .or, better yet--offer them your own hands and help out!
Monitoring of 1985 greenhouse transplants revealed approximately 16% mortality at Myrtle Falls vs 5% elsewhere in the park. High mortality rates are attributed to grazing by marmots.
Eleven plants died in the monitoring plots, 10 lupines and 1 sedge. This information will help us develop site-specific planting guidelines for future revegetation sites.
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