The Use of Seedbed Modifications and Wood Chips to Accelerate Restoration of Well Pad Sites in Western Colorado, U.S.A.


J. D. Eldridge, email


Semiarid ecosystems of Western North America are experiencing a boom in natural gas development. However, these systems are slow to recover from the disturbances created. The purpose of this study was to develop improved restoration techniques on natural gas well pads in Western Colorado. This study examined effects and interactions of seedbed modifications, soil amendments, seed mixtures, and seeding methods. The experiment was conducted in pinyon-juniper and semidesert shrub plant communities on five natural gas well pads beginning in 2006. Soil and plant cover data were collected to assess the effectiveness of 16 different treatment combinations. After two growing seasons, we found that patches of soil salinity (>4 dS/m) reduced plant cover to less than 20% on 55 of our 240 experimental plots. These patches of salinity, such as where reserve pits were buried, may need to be treated to completely restore cover on the total gas pad area, although causes of salinity patches needs further investigation. After removing the 55 saline plots from our data analyses, we found that wood chips (WC) as a soil amendment increased organic matter content and reduced non-native species. Rough seedbed modifications increased the establishment of native species, especially during years of below average precipitation. Island broadcasting resulted in an increase of noxious plant cover during the second growing season. From these findings we recommend that disturbed well pads in a similar environment be restored by seeding native species on sites that are amended with WC and physically modified to create a roughened seedbed.