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Region 4 Science Partner Program: Increasing site resilience and biodiversity on the Curlew National Grassland

August, 2016

As part of the Region 4 (R4) Science Partner Program, RMRS scientists have teamed up with the Caribou-Targhee National Forest Soil Scientist, Botanist, and Hydrologist to remove Russian olive from riparian habitat in Curlew National Grassland, covert it to biochar, apply to the removal site, plant and monitor native grass and forb species, and determine soil physical and chemical changes from biochar additions. The science-management partnership between RMRS and R4 has helped to develop inroads between research goals and management on the ground, which has allowed RMRS team members to tweak protocols and site selection to produce more effective results based on management needs, and enabled managers to take advantage of projects currently taking place and incorporate research rapidly into adaptive management.


Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia), a non-native, invasive tree, has widely invaded riparian habitats across western North America, threatening native above- and below-ground biodiversity and ecosystem function. Cut trees are traditionally piled and burned, which can produce unwanted air and soil impacts.

Converting this waste wood to biochar (a solid material obtained from thermochemical conversion of biomass in an oxygen-limited environment; i.e., pyrolysis) may provide an alternative disposal method; incorporating biochar back on the removal site has potential to sequester recalcitrant carbon, improve soil pH, reduce soil bulk density, and increase water and nutrient holding capacity. These changes to soil conditions may improve growing conditions for native species, reduce invasive grasses, improve flowering of forbs supporting native pollinators, and thus increase biological diversity.


Team members are leveraging an existing riparian stream re-elevation project that Caribou-Targhee employees are implementing on Deep Creek and Rock Creek in the Curlew National Grassland. After site visitation, team members determined that the area that is best suited for this project is undergoing stream re-elevation and that successful implementation of biochar forb islands is dependent on stream re-elevation.

Key Findings

Collecting seed along Rock Creek
Collecting seed along Rock Creek
This project functions as a proof of concept for doing restoration projects that have value in improving ecosystem function and meeting management goals, and research value in testing novel concepts in restoration practice. This project is highly interdisciplinary and has enabled researchers and managers to work together to solve a problem and accomplish a shared goal.





The initial steps of the project timeline were accomplished, including the harvesting and chipping of Russian olive and converting it to biochar. Cutting and chipping was done onsite by personnel from the Westside Ranger District then delivered to Amaron Energy for pyrolosis, where it was pyrolyzed at two different temperatures.

Bags of collected seed
Bags of collected seed
Pollinator-friendly forb and shrub seed were collected from the Rock Creek Project Area during a site visit with RMRS researchers, R4 Botanist, Forest Staff including Forest Botanist, Hydrologist, Soil Scientist, and a Chicago Botanic Garden intern. Timing of planting the forb islands using biochar amendments was altered after a site visit to take advantage of on-going restoration projects and improve end results.

A small portion of R4 BeSMART microgrant was used to fund a site visit for planning purposes during the fall of 2017. Remaining funds were obligated to the USFS Coeur d’Alene Nursery to support the deployment of native plant materials onto the landscape, including soil amendments with biochar. Stream re-elevation is expected to be complete in fall 2018, and the installation of forb islands will occur shortly after in either late fall 2018 or early spring 2019.

field visit included netting monarch butterflies for migration tagging
A field visit included netting monarch butterflies for migration tagging
Next Steps:

  • Resources are currently allocated to growing plants at the Coeur d’Alene nursery for forb island plantings based on a list of desired species. Seed will be grown out into plugs to be planted out in fall 2018 or early spring 2019. Native bees, flies, butterflies and moths utilized forbs at other demonstration forb diversity islands.

  • Continued monitoring of the site installation will be necessary to determine if the treatments are effective. Unfortunately, no funding source is currently available for monitoring this project post-installation.

  • Project monitoring data will be shared between Caribou-Targhee and RMRS. Findings will be shared with outside groups through journal articles, site visits, the Science Partners Program website, and presentations.

Rose Lehman - Caribou-Targhee National Forest
John Proctor - Intermountain Region