The Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District wants to help area gardeners take a bite out of the spruce bark beetle problem.
The district is sponsoring a workshop on growing seedling trees beginning at 9 a.m. Thursday at the Kenai River Center. The purpose of the workshop is to show people how easy it can be to start growing white spruce seedlings on their own, according to Kenai District Manager Ruth Lewis.
"It's really not very hard. I think people think it takes a large greenhouse. It doesn't take a large greenhouse. I have a neighbor who grows tomatoes. He could easily add a 200-tray of trees and grow (spruce) seedlings," said Lewis.
More than 1 million acres of forested land on the Kenai Peninsula has been decimated over the past decade due to an unprecedented infestation of spruce trees by spruce bark beetles. Once the trees are killed by the beetles, they must be cut down in order to reduce the fire hazard that comes with having lots of dead, dry spruce trees standing around. And that means there is plenty of room for new trees.
Lewis said it takes roughly 400 seedlings to reforest just one acre of land. That's a lot of seedlings. Currently, most reforestation projects on the peninsula rely on seedlings grown at commercial farms in Canada. However, the need for seedlings far outpaces the demand.
"There's no way we can produce that many trees," on the peninsula, said Lewis. However, area growers easily can produce small crops of seedlings, which can then be sold to groups like the Kenai Peninsula Borough or private logging operations who need seedlings for reforestation projects.
"It's not going to be a big out-of-pocket expense (to get started). (Growers) could start something in a garage. Someone who says, 'This could be fun and interesting' might turn around and sell their trees," she said.
Lewis said, depending on quality, seedlings can sell for between 30 cents and a dollar each. That could be a decent incentive to grow the trees, especially considering the peninsula now has a need for about 400 million saplings.
Thursday's workshop will feature a presentation by Tom Landis, a Forest Service nursery specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Landis is the author of a six-volume tree growing series entitled, "The Container Tree Nursery Manual." Lewis said Landis will give a presentation that will cover anything someone would need to know about getting started.
The workshop is not the first attempt the district has made at producing locally grown spruce trees for reforestation. Last year, with the help of a recovery grant from the Forest Service, the district, along with the borough and the city of Seward, started a spruce nursery program at Seward High School.
In just over a year, the project has turned a dilapidated school greenhouse into a facility capable of producing 5,000 spruce seedlings suitable for replanting. Lewis said the conservation district plans to expand the program to other schools. She said interest in the project from teachers and students alike has been high.
"They're really looking forward to it. The students gain vocational education, real-life skills and some responsibility besides just learning about growing trees," she said. Plans to build a new greenhouse at Skyview High School already are in the works, she said.
Lewis said, in addition to the public workshop, a program is planned to show area teachers how to implement tree growing into their curriculums. Educating both adults and students alike about how they can help white spruce trees return to the peninsula is the main focus of the program.
"We're kind of trying to take the mystery out of growing these tress," she said.
And once people figure out how to grow seedlings, new business opportunities might just pop up, too.
"There's a lot of opportunity. It could become a whole new entrepreneurial thing on the peninsula, growing native plants (for profit)," she said.
The Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District's workshop on growing seedling trees will be from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Thursday at the Kenai River Center in Soldotna. There is no charge, but those interested in attending are asked to preregister with Ruth Lewis by calling 283-8732, ext. 108.
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