by Gary Hompland, Regional Conservation Officer Question: "I saw a Fish & Game truck and several people out in the sagebrush holding large canvas baskets and beating shrubs with racquets. What on earth were they doing?" Answer: You probably saw one of our native seed collection crews in action. Fish & Game volunteers collect seed from a variety of native plant species used to restore or enhance wildlife habitat in the Magic Valley. Native plants species are an essential component of good wildlife habitat. Unfortunately, habitat is lost each year due to wildfires and other causes. When possible, the Idaho Department of Fish & Game in cooperation with other state and federal agencies, restore lost habitats by seeding or by planting seedlings of native species in critical areas. In theory, locally collected native plant seed is best adapted to conditions and restoration sites; their parent plants having survived in the same climate and soil type. For that reason, the Idaho Department of Fish & Game enlisted volunteers to help collect plant seed. In 2007, volunteers helped the Department collect over 60 pounds of seed from antelope bitterbrush, a critical forage shrub for wintering mule deer, antelope, elk, and bighorn sheep. Hopefully tens of thousands of seedlings will be produced from that seed, and those seedlings will be planted on Magic Valley mule deer winter ranges during the spring of 2009. Last year's wildfires prompted a massive restoration effort. Governor Otter called upon Idahoans to help out with a large-scale seed collection effort. In the Magic Valley alone, 250 volunteers and Fish & Game staff collected over 100 pounds of sagebrush seed that was seeded by aircraft onto the Murphy Complex burn. Actual seed collection for most shrub species is rather simple, but the timing is tricky. Once seed is suitably ripe, it can be stripped by hand into a large canvas hopper like the ones our reader saw. Another common method is to lightly tap the branches so that seed falls into the hopper. Only a gentle tap is needed so that the plants are not damaged; ripe seed will drop readily. Because seed collection is rather simple, it makes a great volunteer activity for people of all ages. Even kids can participate by working in pairs or groups. One or two people hold the canvas hopper while another person removes the seed. In the past, 4-H clubs, scouts, students, families, and individuals have all participated in Fish & Game seed collection projects. Seed collection must be performed under strict state and federal guidelines and permits in order to ensure an area is not over-harvested. It is also important to note that one must obtain permission from a landowner to collect on private lands. This year, the Idaho Department of Fish & Game and volunteers will be collecting seed from several native plant species in the Magic Valley from July through December. If you'd like to volunteer, call the Magic Valley Regional Office at (208)324-4359 and ask to speak to Ed Papenburg, Volunteer Coordinator. If you have any further questions you may call the Magic Valley Regional Office of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at (208)324-4350 or e-mail us at the Fish and Game web site at http://fishandgame.idaho.gov.