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Charles E. Bessey Nursery Showcases its ‘Babies’ – Seedlings That Will Become ‘Forests of the Future’

Richard Gilbert, Bessey Nursery Manager talks with students from Sandhills Public Schools about the seed collection process, growing process and replanting. (U.S. Forest Service/Tim Buskirk)

Richard Gilbert, Bessey Nursery Manager talks with students from Sandhills Public Schools about the seed collection process, growing process and replanting. (U.S. Forest Service/Tim Buskirk)

Two million seedlings will grow up one day to become the forests of our future.

The vision for all of those trees is part of the mission of the Charles E. Bessey Nursery, part of the Nebraska National Forests and Grasslands, and the oldest federal seedling nursery in the nation.

Working with the Bessey Ranger District and the volunteer group Friends of the Nebraska National Forests, the nursery recently invited the public in for a rare opportunity to see the nursery in full production; growing, packing and shipping hundreds of thousands of seedlings to U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, conservation districts and other government agency locations. The seedlings are used for reforestation following fire and insect infestations, wildlife/habitat plantings, wind breaks, conservation plantings, and general planting.

“We’ve just shipped 150,000 container seedlings of Douglas-Fir and Ponderosa Pine to the site of the Hayman fire on the Pike San Isabel National Forests in Colorado,” says Richard Gilbert, the nursery manager. “These seedlings were grown from cones gathered by forest personnel near Colorado Springs and sent to us for extraction and storage until they are needed. The seedlings were started in February 2013, packed once they were dormant in November 2013, stored in a freezer at 26 degrees, and today we are ready to return them home. It’s gratifying to know we play a part in preserving the natural integrity of our nation’s forests.”

According to Gilbert, in addition to the Hayman fire site, another 136,000 container seedlings were shipped to the Pike San Isabel National Forests. Almost 2.3 million seedlings were shipped for spring planting to forests in the Rocky Mountain Region and state agencies including the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest, the Nebraska National Forests,  Grand Mesa, Umcompahgre National Forest , Kansas Forest Service, White River National Forest, Black Hills National Forest and the San Juan National Forest Additional seedlings were sent to Conservation Districts in South Dakota and North Dakota and 1 million went to the Natural Resource Districts of Nebraska.  Large trees were shipped to the Memorial Grove near Monument, Colorado.

“It was exciting to have so many students,” said Tim Buskirk, Bessey District ranger. “It was an honor to introduce them to the rich history of Bessey and the unique hand-planted forest. I hope many of them come back with their families soon.”

The event also celebrated the kick-off of a new, accessible Discovery Loup Trail to loop through the Bessey Arboretum, conveniently located near the Bessey Visitor Center and Nursery. The three-quarter mile trail will be completed by Friends of the Nebraska National Forests, working together with the Bessey staff.

According to volunteer Pam Reed, Nebraska master naturalist, the project involves renovation to a portion of the Bessey Arboretum, new tree identification markers for the 65 tree species located there, interpretive exhibits and a kiosk. Educational materials will showcase this unique Nebraska ecosystem, and the experimental, hand-planted forest and federal nursery.

Smokey Bear gets a hug from a child from Sandhills Public School in Nebraska. More than 100 people turned out to tour the Bessey Nursery. (U.S. Forest Service/Tim Buskirk)

Smokey Bear gets a hug from a child from Sandhills Public School in Nebraska. More than 100 people turned out to tour the Bessey Nursery. (U.S. Forest Service/Tim Buskirk)

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