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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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New seed pellet air dropped to restore forested areas hit by wildfire

UPDATED: Wed., Feb. 15, 2017

Longtime farmer Paul Dashiell, left, and Kathy Hutton show off the latest replanting technology: seed, mulch and nutrients in pellet form that can be spread by air or by broadcast spreaders on the ground for reseeding burned areas that can’t be planted with traditional farming methods. The two were touting their new product at the annual Ag Expo in Spokane on Feb. 7. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Longtime farmer Paul Dashiell, left, and Kathy Hutton show off the latest replanting technology: seed, mulch and nutrients in pellet form that can be spread by air or by broadcast spreaders on the ground for reseeding burned areas that can’t be planted with traditional farming methods. The two were touting their new product at the annual Ag Expo in Spokane on Feb. 7. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

A new seed and mulch pellet is being used to help restore steep forested land devastated by a wildfire last summer.

It’s being developed by Paul Dashiell, a landowner west of Rockford who had a large chunk of his property ravaged by wildfire last August.

Dashiell teamed up last fall with the Spokane County Conservation District to apply the native seeds to ground along Rock Creek just upstream from its confluence with Latah Creek.

There, the creek drops through a steep canyon that is inaccessible by road. Timber and undergrowth in the canyon were badly damaged and killed.

Dashiell developed what he calls the “straw bullet” through his Seeds Inc. and Plants of the Wild companies based in Tekoa, Washington. It can be dropped from the air.

Dashiell was at last week’s Spokane Ag Expo at the Convention Center showing off his invention during the trade show.

After last summer’s wildfire, Dashiell applied for recovery assistance through the conservation district. He put up $6,000 to match a state conservation grant of about $20,000 for the aerial application.

The native grass seed is attached to a mulch of wheat straw. The pellet is held together by a polymer and contains a beneficial bacteria to provide nutrients to the seedlings when they emerge. That is important because the ground was largely sterilized by the heat of the fire and robbed of its normal nutrients.

When dropped on the ground, the pellet absorbs moisture and the seeds germinate at about 40 to 45 degrees.

Kathy Hutton, who runs the seed and live plants operations for Dashiell, said the company specializes in restoration. The companies operate a series of greenhouses and facilities in Tekoa, Nez Perce and Worley, Idaho, where. In addition to native seeds, the company also produces live plants of native and low-maintenance species such as red-twig dogwood shrubs and evergreens.

She said the application on Dashiell’s forested acreage hasn’t had a chance to sprout, as snow fell soon after the pellets were dropped, and they’ve been covered ever since.

“We will have to wait until the snow melts,” she said.

Once the grasses take hold, they will reduce the risk of landslides and soil erosion into Rockford and Latah creeks, she said.

Dashiell said at least two other land owners are considering the aerial application. Okanogan County officials were also looking into Dashiell’s reseeding method, he said.

Charlie Peterson, of the Spokane County Conservation District, said the agency has access to additional restoration grant money for landowners interested in recovery from fires.

The seed mix used on Dashiell’s land was made up of two types of brome, a thick-spiked wheat grass, white Dutch clover, small burnet and Sandberg bluegrass.

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