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Burned out? Plant oats and barley to stabilize soil

Donna Daniels
Staff Writer

With the threat of rainstorm-triggered floods and mud flows growing daily, the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service is offering free oat and barley seed to people whose land was burned in the Coal Seam Fire.

“We have consulted an area range specialist about applying temporary cover to help protect your soil until the Natural Resources Conservation Service can fly the entire area for reseeding later this fall,” said a letter from the four area conservation districts to local landowners sent July 5.

Oats and barley are fast-growing grains that will provide ground cover in the event of a heavy rainstorm and slow the runoff of water on denuded slopes.

Anyone interested in receiving the seeds must apply at the NRCS office, 401 23rd Street in Glenwood Springs, 945-5494.

“The reason we recommended oats and barley is they’re annuals and have a short growing season,” said Don Smith, president of the Mount Sopris Conservation District. “They offer the best ground cover of anything available.”

Nor will they interfere with the native plants that will be reseeded by the NRCS over burned areas in the fall, he said.

Seeding of burned over areas is especially important where the fire was most intense.

In areas such as Mitchell Creek, Red Mountain and South Canyon where the fire burned virtually all the vegetation, the heat was so intense that the soil afterwards repels water, a condition called hydrophobicity.

According to a Colorado State University Cooperative Extension fact sheet, burning plants emit a gas that penetrates into the soil. As the soil cools, the gas condenses and forms a waxy coating over the soil that allows it to repel water.

Hydrophobicity increases the rate that water will run off the ground, adding to the volume of water in the event of flooding.

Land owners can test for this condition by dropping water on the soil surface and waiting a few moments. If the water beads up and does not penetrate, the soil is hydrophobic.

The best way to plant the oat and barley seed is to roughen the soil with a metal rake, then broadcast the seed with a hand held seeder, the fact sheet said. Thorough seeding will require 10 to 20 pounds of seed per acre.

Straw should be used to cover the seeded area. This reduces erosion and creates a protected moist environment for the seeds to grow. It’s also important to use weed-free straw certified by the Department of Agriculture to prevent introduction of noxious weeds to the burn area.

If possible, the straw should be covered with netting or sprayed with a tacking compound to keep the seeds in the ground.

Once the seeds are sown, rain will help them germinate, Smith said.

A truck-load of oat and barley seed has already been delivered to land owners in the Mitchell Creek area, Smith said.

“We’re sympathetic with the situation of the fire. That’s bad enough, but when the rains come there’ll be the danger of erosion,” Smith said. “We’re very interested in seeing the ground covered as quickly as we can.”


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