Energetic groups of adults and kids spread out across the City of Boise’s Hyatt Hidden Lakes Reserve in early December in search of the fuzzy dry flower heads of rabbitbrush plants. The once-bright yellow flowers had turned a faded beige and harbored thousands of tiny seeds the volunteers carefully collected in paper sacks. Back at the trailhead, experts with the Land Trust of the Treasure Valley and Golden Eagle Audubon Society and Boise River Enhancement Network Coordinating Team members Tamsen Binggeli, Lisa Harloe, Erin Brooks, Kathy Peter and Charissa Bujak helped the volunteers plant the seeds in germination trays. The volunteer native plant gardeners then took the trays home to tend until the seeds germinate and the rabbitbrush seedlings are big enough to transplant.
All the fun is part of the Hyatt Hidden Lakes Reserve Habitat Enhancement Project, a partnership between the City of Boise, Boise River Enhancement Network, Land Trust of the Treasure Valley and other local organizations supported, in part, by funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The goals of the project are to improve the hillside habitat by restoring native plants and provide opportunities for community members of all backgrounds to develop a connection to this unique outdoor space. The seed gathering and plant growing is part of the project’s community plant nursery, a program to have volunteers grow plants well adapted to local conditions and use them for site restoration. The rabbitbrush grown from seeds collected by these volunteers will be ready to plant at the reserve in about one year.
Sean Finn of the Golden Eagle Audubon Society helps coordinate the community plant nursery. Sean explains, “The plants grown from local seed will be well-adapted to the soil and climate and should thrive at the reserve. Just like the plants, the volunteer gardeners are putting down roots and gaining a long-lasting connection with the wild places in their neighborhood.”
The anticipation of returning to plant rabbitbrush they grew themselves was evident as volunteers carried their germination trays carefully to their cars with instructions for care over the winter. Gathering seeds and growing the plants that will be used to improve bird habitat at the reserve is full of rewards. It’s an activity people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds can enjoy. Teams from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Idaho participated, and one young volunteer described the event as “pretty cool.”
The project is also engaging new residents that have come to Boise from many nations in the community nursery. Involving refugees in conservation helps them build a connection to their new home. Using seeds gathered at the reserve, project leaders helped fifteen new Boise residents from Bhutan prepare two germination trays, one with rabbitbrush and one with sagebrush. The men visited the reserve with project volunteers in October where they saw rabbitbrush and sagebrush and used binoculars to get close-up looks at the birds. Counselor Sally Guaspari said, “Visiting the reserve was a really rewarding experience. Most of the men were farmers by trade in their native Bhutan, so they have a strong appreciation of nature and plants. Tending to the germination trays connects them to the community and they will be eager to take another trip to the reserve.”
The volunteer native plant gardeners will be back in the spring to transplant the seedlings into growing pots for the summer, and next fall, the new rabbitbrush will be planted at the reserve.
The project is led by the Land Trust of the Treasure Valley, Boise River Enhancement Network, and the City of Boise. Project partners include U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, Idaho Office of Refugees by Jannus, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Idaho, Golden Eagle Audubon Society, Intermountain Bird Observatory, Boise State University, The Wetlands Group, Idaho Fish and Game, Idaho Weed Awareness Campaign, and Partners for Clean Water.