In northeast Washington, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation have experienced three major wildfires over the past seven years. In July of 2021, during the state’s hottest and driest year ever, the Chuweah Creek Fire burned more than 10,000 acres on the reservation, destroying homes, as well as burning more than 34,000 acres of tribal timberland.
“In the summer of 2021, as in previous seasons, the Colville reservation was ravaged by wildfire,” said Linda McLean, director and 4-H educator with Washington State University Colville Reservation Extension. “The difference was that the 2021 fires threatened more residential areas, and many families, including youth, were impacted by smoke, flames, and the need to evacuate.”
With funding provided by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Federally Recognized Tribes Extension Program (FRTEP) grant, Extension and tribal partners developed a citizen science project to help youth learn about wildfires and contribute to recovery.
In nselxcin, one of the three native languages used by the confederated tribes, the project is called xʷlxʷlstixʷ iʔ‿tmxʷúlaʔxʷ, or “Heal the Land.” For the “Seed Bombs – Healing the Earth” project, Colville Reservation Extension’s FRTEP 4-H Positive Youth Development Program collaborated with the natural resources departments of Colville Confederated Tribes, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the tribal Mount Tolman Fire Center to teach youth how to make seed bombs.
The ‘bombs’ are clay balls of soil and seeds of native plants chosen to attract pollinators, benefiting natural plant communities and agricultural crops. In nature, the seed bombs are broken down by the elements, allowing the seeds to sprout.
Tribal and Extension educators partnered with 630 children from Lake Roosevelt, Nespelem, Keller Schools, the Pascal Sherman Indian School, the Nespelem and Keller Boys & Girls Club, Inchelium Behavioral Health, Nespelem Headstart, and the SHARP Kids Afterschool program. Visiting classrooms, the educators shared ideas about fire, pollinators, and soil health, and worked with students and teachers to create the seed bombs.
In June of 2022, groups of students traveled to Chuweah Creek Fire burn sites and rangeland areas, dispersing seeds bombs to control erosion and increase plant diversity and wild habitat. Other youths placed their seed bombs near the Colville Tribal Agency campus’ Smokey Bear sign, to provide a lush visual for the public.
Return field trips to these sites are planned, allowing students to see the living results of their efforts.
“The Colville Reservation, like so many other places in the Pacific Northwest, experiences wildfire every year,” McLean said. “There are always places that need extra help with rehabilitation of plant communities and soil health.”