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Sagebrush die-off meets resistance

Almost one million acres of sagebrush in Utah is dead or dying. However, the Division of Wildlife Resources expects that it and other agencies will have a greater ability to deal with the die-off through the opening of the new Great Basin Research Center in Ephraim.

The $1 million seed warehouse and research center was dedicated on June 23 and replaces a former facility that was also located in Ephraim. The DWR projects that the new 17,100 square foot facility will allow it to do the following:

•Store 600,000 pounds of seed, compared to 200,000 pounds at the old facility.

•Refrigerate sagebrush seed, so it can be planted at the time of year that will give it the best chance to germinate

•Treat 50,000 acres a year, compared to 15,000 acres a year in the past.

"The new facility will increase the DWR's ability to carry out habitat restoration projects in sagebrush steppe and riparian vegetation types statewide," said John Fairchild, habitat conservation coordinator for the DWR. "Research personnel will provide technical assistance for project planning and logistic support for habitat restoration projects. Seed will be purchased in bulk from vendors throughout the west and custom-mixed at the center for use on cooperative habitat restoration projects on private, state and federal lands."

A partnership known as the Utah Partners for Conservation and Development has also adopted a resolution that will encourage representatives at local and state levels to cooperate in the restoration of Utah's sagebrush rangelands.

"The recent sagebrush die-offs in the Uintah Basin and in southeastern Utah only reinforce the agencies' concern for the future of these areas," said assistant DWR director Miles Moretti.

He said reclaiming these areas will lead to watershed-related benefits, including improved water quality, water quantity and timing and duration of stream flows; fewer at-risk wildlife populations; economically viable ranching operations; productive big game winter ranges and other by-products of healthy rangelands.

Moretti added that the projected demand for seed needed this fall greatly exceeded the capacity of the old warehouse. "The ability to custom-mix seed mixtures that are specifically adapted to each project site is the key to successful restoration," he said. "In addition to its seed inventory role, the new facility will be the center for the DWR's continued involvement in range restoration research."

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