What we did was we took some intact crust from the unburned area, ground it up into a slurry, and put it onto the soil. Lo and behold, six months later we had lichens and algae and they were significantly more abundant on treated sites. That was the first reclamation study that was done. Some other people, including Jayne Belnap, have also done some soil crust work. The problem with this approach is that you disrupt a nice intact crust in one place in order to restore another. So it's okay for a little square plot but it's not going to be something that you can use in a real reclamation effort. You have to grow these in culture and then you have to take them out and put them on the ground.
What Do Reclamation Studies Show?
So we get to the reclamation study. About six years ago a man by the name of Steve Warren who also studies microbiotic crusts, and actually comes out of Brigham Young University as well, called me up and said, "we know you did some work about 10 years ago with Larry St. Clair. The Army is really interested in developing this technology. We would like to do some reclamation." The U.S. military has desert bases all over the west and they do a lot of pretty serious damage to the landscape. They have been mandated by Congress to fix it. It's really pretty interesting to me but I'm here to tell you that the Army is much more concerned about the environment than many of the other governmental agencies, like the Bureau of Land Management, or some of these other groups. They really take it seriously. The government says clean it up, fix it, and they say "Okay." That's their response. So, Steve contacted me and said they had some money, they wanted me to do the work and I said, "I'll do it. I'd love to do it. I've been wanting to do it."
We decided on a pelletized cyanobacterial amendment. I'm now going to show you how we manufactured this amendment. We take the cyanobacteria, grow it up in mass culture, and then pelletize it in alginate. We wanted a dried innoculum because almost all of these places you're going to reclaim are very remote. They are not near water. So, you're probably going to grow the algae in a facility distant from your site. There are a number of companies that grow cyanobacteria, but they're not out in the middle of the desert. So, you'd probably grow the cyanobacteria in one of these facilities and make a product of some sort that's dried that you can take out and put on the desert floor. You want it dried so it stores better. So we decided to go with this alginate technology. It seemed like a good idea and so that's the way we went.