Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ethnobotany: An interesting perspective on range management, at a bombing range.

By: J. Johansen, SRM Student Member

Ethnobotany: the study of how a culture uses plants. But, who cares about plants anyway? Let alone knows their names, their relationships to each other and other living things? Aren’t all those cultures dead? I find it interesting that the American sub-culture of the range manager may be one of the few who still speak the language of plants.

Range Manager, or Plant Magician?
 On this year’s Pacific Northwest Summer Tour we got a real treat, a trip through the Yakima Training Center, the US Army’s live-fire training grounds. Our gracious host shared with us his job of keeping the soil on the ground, in spite of tanks, artillery, and fires. He guided us through test plots of grasses and shrubs planted in the late 90’s, describing how each had faired over time, and how well they stood up to the abuse of army vehicles driving over them. The test plots were really interesting, in that it could be seen what plants had failed completely, what plants wandered out of their row, what plants grew larger at the edge of their plot to try and outcompete it’s neighbor, and just the chance to work on identification. The YTC’s Botanist consultant set me strait that the “two” grasses I had were in fact the same, one just had a fungal infection (don’t worry, cheatgrass!). Also, in another area towards the end of our YTC tour, we looked at a test plot from 1961.

SRMer's speak the language of plants
Land destroyed by wildfire!

In this area we looked at the after effects of a wildfire and sage seedlings that had been planted last fall. The grasses and massive amounts of lupines in this photo and all throughout the burn area had come back on there own, without seeding. The sage seedlings were planted because a large portion of the burn was within a Sage Grouse protection area (yes, on a bombing range) and they wanted the sagebrush to return.

Intact sagebrush system with previously burned hill behind

We also visited sites outside the YTC grazed by the Martinez family’s bands of sheep. One of the Principals of the largest sheep operation in the state of Washington, Mark Martinez was generous to take time out of his day, show us several sites and discus the ins and outs of running seven bands of about 7,500 sheep total.

*** J. Johansen will be attending OSU’s Range program at Eastern Oregon University for his junior year this fall, is working as a NRCS student intern, and has no credibility whatsoever. You can take a peek at what he does in his spare time at

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