The fuel break that surrounds Pine and Strawberry is in constant need of mechanical clearing to keep it an effective tool for combating a fire either entering or leaving the community. This constant clearing is not cost effective nor does it accomplish the restoration of the native ecosystem that is truly the answer in safeguarding ourselves from wildfire. If we can provide a fine fuel that can be burned on a regular basis we can fight fire with fire in the way nature intended. The objective of the re-seeding is to return natural grass vegetation to the now open area that was previously choked out by thick low brush, such as Manzanita and small trees. The grass will bring beauty to the forest, prevent erosion, and provide abundant natural grazing for deer and elk. Once the initial re-seeding takes hold, expansion of the grasses will continue with each spring’s growth; the idea being to turn the fuel break and cleared areas back into a healthy ecosystem with fire playing an important role. Using the grass as a low intensity fuel we will be able to burn off the fire break every few years clearing it of new chaparral growth eliminating the need for the expensive hand crews to do the mechanical clearing. This $35,000 project was completely funded by the communities of Pine and Strawberry through donated funds to the Pine Strawberry Fuel Reduction Committee.
Seed selection was determined by recommendations from Gila County and the Forest Service. The majority of the seeds involve three types of vegetation. The larger mix of seed is the Slender Wheatgrass (32 %) is a bunch grass that grows to a height of one to two and a half feet. It is typically found at the 6,000 – 13,500 foot levels in western states. It is considered excellent forage grass for cattle, sheep, elk, and deer. It is also valuable to many forms of smaller mammals and upland game birds as well as song birds. Next is Western Wheatgrass (25%), which has similar qualities as the Slender Wheatgrass. In addition to good forage for elk and deer, Western Wheatgrass also has excellent qualities in erosion control. It is naturally found between the 3,500 – 10,500 foot levels. Also included is Mountain Brome (22%) which is also a bunch grass. It normally ranges between the 5,000 – 13,000 foot levels. It is also an excellent grazing plant for livestock, elk and deer. It has good erosion control qualities. The next group of seed mix includes Sideoats Grama and Blue Grama. Combined, they represent to total of 11 percent of the mix. They are important range grasses and are found in mountain ranges up to 10,000 feet and thrive in sparse woodlands and forest openings. The remainder of the seed mix contains White Prairie Clover, Yellow Prairie Coneflower, and Lewis Blue Flax. All are naturally found in woodlands similar to the Pine-Strawberry area.
Given a few years, our communities will benefit from a broad scattering of these grasses, bringing beauty to the forest floor and an additional food source for the wildlife.