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Special K Ranch in Columbus partners with BLM for post-fire replanting project

2021 Roberston Draw fire burned about 30,000 acres near Red Lodge
Ed Petersen watering the seedlings
Posted at 2:00 PM, Mar 07, 2024

COLUMBUS — It’s an effort to breathe new life back into an area scorched by fire.

The Robertson Draw fire was sparked June 13, 2021, near Red Lodge and burned nearly 30,000 acres of land. A partnership between the Bureau of Land Management and Special K Ranch in Columbus is attempting to repopulate sagebrush in the area.

Residents at Special K Ranch have been hard at work lately, prepping for a special project.

“We always appreciate doing things with other organizations around," said Marvin Schieldt, the program director at Special K Ranch, on Wednesday. "We don’t want to just be captivated here, we want them to get out and be able to experience life like all the rest of us get to do."

Marvin Schieldlt
Marvin Schieldlt

Special K Ranch is a nonprofit working ranch for adults with developmental disabilities.

"It’s something unique that we can do," said Schieldt.

The ranch offers several vocational programs for its residents.

Planting Sagebrush seeds
Planting Sagebrush seeds

“This one helps create kind of an appreciation for the wildlife because of the sage grouse habitat. So we wanted them involved in something like that," Schieldt said. "It’s a way to give back to the community for that kind of thing. But it also helps us work with new education, and new things for them to do that’s different than some of our other vocational programs."

About one-third of the total land burned belonged to the Bureau of Land Management.

"BLM had 10,000 acres burned. 8,000 of that we’re looking to reseed,” said Wendy Velman, a botanist with BLM, on Wednesday.

Wendy Velman
Wendy Velman

Sagebrush was wiped out from the fire, which is home to sage grouse, which has federal protections as a near-threatened species. Residents at the ranch are planting seedlings as their special project, which will provide food and shelter for the sage grouse. They will then go back later this year and replant to ensure the health of the ecosystem.

"Planting these sagebrush seedlings out there is going to help us to get those seeds back in the places they need to be and let nature take its course,” said Velman.

Sage Grass
Sage Grass

"The perennial flowering plants are what the sage grouse chicks need for those first 3-5 months of life. So if they have just patches of this stuff. Well, that’s what’s important,” said Schieldt.

Sage Grouse
Sage Grouse

On Wednesday at the ranch, residents were busy working out their green thumbs.

Ariel transporting dirt
Ariel transporting dirt

Special K Ranch and BLM are partnering to make a difference.

"It gives our bunch just a good exposure to regular life," said Schieldt. "And that’s what we want to do."

To learn more about sage grouse and wildfires, click here.