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HES 597 / BIOL 497 / BIOL 597 / ENVSTD 498 – Native Plant Restoration in the Boise Foothills

Meg Dolman, Micaela Gonzalez, Hannah McNamee, Fiona Noonan, Karl Prokop
Dr. Megan Cattau – HES 597/BIOL 497/BIOL 597/ENVSTD 498
Foothills Restoration – Boise Parks and Recreation

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Learning Goals:

  • To gain spatial analysis skills and theoretical understanding of ecological restoration in the context of disturbance ecology
  • To describe how land managers make decisions around spatial prioritization
  • To explain the importance of and contribute to active restoration efforts in our home of Boise
  • To work collaboratively with the City of Boise to design a spatial prioritization plan for sagebrush and bitterbrush seedling planting in the Military Reserve.
  • To implement the prioritization plan through volunteering and hands-on planting of seedlings.
  • To apply teamwork concepts and communication



For me I learned how a public education/institution can communicate and work with local governments. I also learned how to *actually*  form an experiment (and execute it) and not just talk about how experiments are formed or what they look like on paper. I learned how to utilize and apply GIS skills to “the real world.” I also learned that what I do now (and in the future) can positively impact the community. I learned that I shouldn’t give up so easily, especially on something I think is so fun/cool/important. I hadn’t learned anything about ecology or restoration before, and through this class I learned so much about how our own community can be impacted by ecological disturbances and management practices.


I took away from this course how vital it is to meticulously plan when trying to conduct ecological restoration, and it opened my eyes to the numerous challenges that must be considered when trying to implement such a plan, for example, the workings of developing a spatial prioritization plan, the efforts into generating seedlings for plantings, the efforts of physically planting seedlings in the field. Learning from the City of Boise’s Martha Brabec also reinforced for me how developing a plan in the classroom doesn’t always easily translate into the field, and therefore requires flexibility. Engaging in sagebrush and bitterbrush restoration on two trails in the Military Reserve made me more aware of the challenges facing the Boise Foothills, particularly increasing pressures from recreational uses (e.g., mountain biking and hiking) driven by the growing Boise population.


This course clarified for me just how much dedication, planning, and organization goes into maintaining the functionality and biodiversity of Boise’s public lands. I also learned how exciting it is to collaboratively and iteratively produce a plan that brings together science and community to enhance the places so many people love. I am excited to hopefully be part of monitoring the outcomes of the work produced by this course, and to also be a better trail steward as I run and bike around the Foothills.


I learned that formulating a restoration plan is a fluid process, as what looks good in the classroom and on generated GIS data does not necessarily translate directly to the field.  Not only do you need to consider the needs of the target area, but you must also look at the benefit to the community and the applicability of the solution to the specific environment.  The upside to all this is that you stand a greater chance of implementing a long-lasting solution that not only addresses the immediate needs of the environment, but also one that contributes to and helps maintain a public landscape for the beauty and enjoyment of all community members. It is also critically important that you know and understand the environment you are attempting to restore to ensure that you are reintroducing native species as opposed to others that may be more expedient, which could cause greater, perhaps, irreparable harm.


The most important thing I gained from this experience was understanding that a plan created in the classroom will not be followed exactly in the field. There are so many variables that pop up unexpectedly, such as people pulling up the flags that mark where we plant, or the weather conditions being less than optimal. This experience reminded me that while we can plan and control growth and trail widening as much as possible, nature will do what it wants. I also learned that it’s okay if the restoration plan doesn’t work out. Even if things go awry, that is still a learning experience and will help develop better restoration plans in the future.

Community Partner: Foothills Restoration – Boise Parks and Recreation

Mission Statement:

To enhance Boise’s quality of life by working in partnership with the community to foster and support citizen well being and healthy community environments.

Project Purpose:

We partnered with Martha Brabec to create a restoration plan that identified locations to plant seedlings at the Military Reserve. This plan promotes wildlife habitat enhancement and native species recovery and addresses issues of trail-widening occurring there. The restoration plan is an adaptive management strategy that will assist Parks and Recreation in future restoration efforts by identifying what planting strategies best benefit seedling survival and prevent trail widening. 

Course Concepts

Patterns and histories of ecological disturbance—events that alter the structure and resource availability of a physical environment—dictate the need for restoration. This is true in the Boise Foothills, where heavy trail use and invasive annual grasses pose a threat to native sagebrush shrublands. We sought to understand how these disturbances, along with the general resilience of sagebrush systems, might interact with broader challenges in restoration to inform the process of planning and executing a restoration planting in the Military Reserve. Ultimately, we collaboratively produced a restoration plan using GIS in order to enhance the area’s resilience and recovery.


We worked on restoring native species plant populations in the Military Reserve. We worked iteratively with Martha Brabec to create a plan using the spatial analysis software QGIS in order to determine where to plant 500 seedlings (250 bitterbrush and 250 sagebrush) that would be most effective in enhancing wildlife habitat and reducing trail widening. The plan followed an experimental design, allowing evaluation of native seedling survival and trail widening mitigation as a function of a variety of factors at a later date. Those factors include proximity to trail, trail use type, aspect, species, and treatment type. Each planting point we identified in our plan represented two (2) sagebrush and two (2) bitterbrush seedlings. We also applied one of three (3) distinct treatments – no treatment, mulch, and protectors – at each point. The order in which the species were planted and the treatment applied at each point were randomly determined.


The culmination of our laboratory work and preparation resulted in a volunteer planting day at the Military Reserve located within the Boise Foothills on Oct 17th. We used our GIS data that pinpointed planting locations (identified by colored flags on site) to plant seedlings with a distance of ~6’ between seedlings and to apply treatments. In total, we planted 250 sagebrush seedlings and 250 bitterbrush seedlings, for a grand total of 500 seedlings. Our  hope is that this endeavor will serve multiple purposes; among them the reintroduction of native species to their original habitat, as well as lessening erosion and trail widening and improving restoration of public lands to enable their continued use by the community. The targeted area is home to heavily used pedestrian and bike trails, and the plantings should contribute to the continued survival and usage of the Military Reserve/Boise Foothills as a recreational  destination.

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