Idaho grows trees to reforest five western states

It all starts with a tiny seed
Posted at 5:27 PM, Nov 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-14 19:29:22-05

From Highway 21 it doesn't look like much, but in that grove of trees poking up above that guardrail, the seeds of millions of trees are processed and nurtured into trees that will grow in Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico.

The process starts with harvested pine cones that are dumped into a hopper that tumbles them and filters out the smaller pieces containing the seeds. Workers then move those pieces to the scalper that uses screens to  remove more material, leaving the winged seeds. From there the seeds go through the de-winger, which removes the fine wings and spits out clean pine seeds. But not every seed is worth planting.

"Insects will drill into the seed and pull out all of the good parts of the seed, leaving the seed hollow," said manager Sara Wilson. "So when we do an air separation the heavier seed that is full will go to the good side, and the hollow seed that is lighter will go up and out of our machines."

The good seeds are stored in a freezer at zero degrees Fahrenheit, carefully cataloged by specific species and geographic area, then stored, sometimes for decades.

"This nursery was established in 1959 and our oldest seed is from 1964," said Wilson.

When an agency needs trees for rehab or habitat improvement,  workers plant the proper seeds in a massive green house where they grow into the seedlings that help reforest the intermountain west, giving the workers at Lucky Peak a great sense of satisfaction.

"After a devastating fire comes through and we're able to replant those areas," said Wilson. "It's pretty satisfying that I know that I helped extract that seed from that cone and grow that tree and put it out into the world."