Best of the West: Restoring forests with seedlings; rural rideshare; purifying air with corn; year-round accessible outdoor recreation

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting Feb. 27, 2023. (Photos courtesy of Olivia Sun and Colorado Parks and Wildlife)

As the West uses native seeds to restore forests after wildfires and protect them from invasive species, the U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to invest $10 million in forestry nurseries and native seed partnerships.

State-federal collaboration, like Good Neighbor Authority, allows states to help with land management on federal property. The Washington Department of Natural Resources is using the program to restore federal seed orchards, which could help with fire prevention. Learn more about optimizing Good Neighbor Authority implementation in a roundtable from Idaho Governor Brad Little's Working Lands, Working Communities initiative

Western states are also partnering with universities to manage nurseries that can help native species recover.  

Over the past three decades, the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources reintroduced thousands of silversword plants on the Big Island. To expand restoration, the agency formed a partnership with the University of Hawaiʻi. Researchers plant seedlings grown in the University's greenhouse along with wild seedlings to balance genetic diversity. 

The Colorado State Forest Service Seedling Tree Nursery is undergoing a business model revamp and infrastructure improvements to become a leader in reforestation. Operated by Colorado State University, the updates could allow the facility to preserve regional genetics and increase production capacity to meet national demand. 

Native seeds can protect local species from invasives and diseases too. Officials with the Oregon Department of Forestry collected 900,000 seeds from the Oregon Ash tree to mitigate the impact of the invasive emerald ash borer. They will preserve genetic diversity and help scientists with breeding resistance. If officials can identify insect-resistant genes, they could crossbreed them into trees and re-populate the state.

The whitebark pine tree, which spans seven western states, faces threats from invasive fungal disease and wildfires. In Montana, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are restoring the trees on Tribal land. Their work includes identifying spots with resistant trees, planting seedlings, and protecting ripening cones with a cage. Additionally, Tribal members collect genetic material to help researchers analyze drought and blister rust resilience. 

Combining Direct Air Capture and Geothermal: Fervo Energy will build a direct air capture system in Texas powered and heated by geothermal resources. In addition to removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the facility will assess the feasibility of storing carbon dioxide in geothermal reservoirs. Watch a webinar from Colorado Governor Jared Polis' Heat Beneath our Feet initiative to learn more about using geothermal to store energy.

Rural Rideshare Service: More than a third of state rural health offices found that inadequate transit is the largest barrier to elderly individuals staying in their homes. To help rural communities expand access, Cedar County Transit in Nebraska launched an affordable service. In 2019, Kansas was one of two states to offer the most rural transit agencies nationally, and Oklahoma unveiled a plan to position the state as a leader by 2040. Learn more about Western Governors' recommendations to improve rural transit in North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum’s past Reimagining the Rural West initiative.

Purifying Air with Corn Protein: Washington State University researchers created an air filter with corn protein that can capture smaller particulates and more chemicals than filters with petroleum. Filtering chemical gas molecules simultaneously with particulate is a significant accomplishment that could develop stronger air purifiers to help regions with poor air quality. Learn more about how Western Governors' policy prioritizes air quality.

Year-round Accessible Outdoor  Recreation: Staunton State Park in Colorado is expanding access to outdoor  recreation for visitors with disabilities. The park has two heavy-duty wheelchairs that weigh more than 400 pounds and can navigate trails during all seasons. Since 2017, the park has logged 1,500 trips. "Just knowing that I could get on the chair and get out there…it was just such an awesome feeling," park visitor Lisa Willman said.

sign up for our newsletters