Bluebunch Wheatgrass Trial


Due to the success of the Richardson's Needlegrass native seed trial, it was decided that other native grass species need to be collected in the Rocky Mountain Trench. Information was needed to assess the ease of collecting, germination rates and establishment under operational conditions. The Invermere Forest District and Skimikin Nursery, in conjunction with BC Parks, Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program and Kootenay National Park jointly worked together on setting-up and monitoring this trial.

On August 4, 1998, Bluebunch wheatgrass was hand stripped on the East Side of Columbia Lake by the Invermere Forest District.  The grass stand had been checked for readiness the week before and seemed close to ripening.  Over the long weekend there were strong winds and a lot of the seed dropped, but there still seemed to be sufficient amount for collecting.  There seemed to be a lot of variation in the plumpness of the seed and seed productivity.  In the end, about 2 paper lunch bags loosely filled of seed was collected.

The next task was to clean the seed.  The Bluebunch Wheatgass stand the seed was collected from was of the awned variety.  A small seed-cleaning machine from the Agriculture Canada Research Station in Agassiz, B.C. was borrowed in order to clean the seed.  This machine (affectionately called "the Clipper") is so old that is has wooden pulleys and leather belts driving the operation.  The Clipper came with two sets of screens over which the seed flows and then ends up in one of three outlets.  A lot of trial and error was put in place to determine which size of screens to use in this process and what to expect from each outlet hole.  The awns repeatedly plugged up the screens and to try and alleviate this, the seed was first rolled and mashed around to try and break down the awns.  

The cleaned seed was then examined under a microscope and on a light table to assess whether or not there was any seed in it.  It certainly did not look too hopeful.  Most of the seed cases appeared to be empty.  This was also the opinion of the staff at the Skimikin Nursery. However, all the seed was sowed in hopes of something germinating.  After many weeks of angst and continuous reports of no germination, the seed finally erupted from the blocks with almost 100% germination.

Approximately 250 Bluebunch Wheatgrass plugs were delivered to the Invermere Forest District on May 20, 1999. The plugs were then distributed to the four agencies involved (Forests, Parks, National Parks, and Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program).  Progress reports from each agency regarding planting trials and survival rates are as follows:

Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program - Stoddart Creek Trial
Number of Grass Plugs planted
(May 20, 1999)
Number of Grass Plugs survived
(August 10, 1999)
Bluebunch
Wheatgrass
Richardson's
Needlegrass
Bluebunch
Wheatgrass
Richardson's
Needlegrass
Submitted by Richard Klafki (CBFWCP)
Plot # 180n/a5 (6.3 %)n/a
Plot # 284263 (3.6%)0
Kootenay National Park - Knapweed Control Trial
Submitted by Rob Walker (KNP)
Our survival is between 20 - 25%. It would likely have been higher but the sheep moved in immediately and pulled some plugs. It is also a knapweed control site.
BC Parks - Wasa Trial
Number of Grass Plugs planted (May 24, 1999) Number of Grass Plugs survived (October 6, 1999)*
  Bluebunch Wheatgrass Richardson's Needlegrass Bluebunch Wheatgrass Richardson's Needlegrass
Submitted by Mike Gall (Parks)
Plot # 1 25 25 1 (4 %) 12 (48%)
Plot # 2 45 n/a 9 (21 %) n/a
Ministry of Forests - Wheatgrass Trial
Number of Grass Plugs planted Number of Grass Plugs survived (Sept. 29, 1999)
CWS Land - Benches above the Columbia River wetlands.
Findlay Basin Trial 70 (May 27, 1999) 55 (79%)
CWS Lands 100 (May 25, 1999) 0

A common comment in the survival surveys is that is was hard to determine if the bluebunch wheatgrass plugs were actually dead or alive. Many of the leaves were yellow, dry and brittle. However, the plant may have already entered dormancy for the year. Surveys are scheduled for the spring of 2000 to further assess the survival rate of these plugs.