Assessing the Viability of Biochar as a Soil Amendment in Traditionally-Burned Puget Sound Prairies

BLAZINA, Ashley - University of Washington, School of Environmental and Forest Sciences

The prairies of Washington’s Puget Sound Lowlands were traditionally burned to help cultivate many edible and medicinal plants. In the mid-1800s, westward expansion and treaties made many prairies inaccessible to tribes. Lacking regular burns, some prairies were encroached by both native and invasive species, while others were reclaimed for agriculture.

Today, 3 percent of the original Puget Sound prairies remain. Although restoration through prescribed burn protocols have been developed, Clean Air Act regulations severely limit the days and seasons that burns can take place.

Biochar is a plant-based material similar to charcoal, and has been used in several Midwestern prairie restorations.  My study will conduct growth pattern analyses of Puget Sound native and non-native prairie species planted in biochar-amended soil. Biochar may demonstrate the potential to provide prairie soil with many chemical properties seen in burnt prairies, as well as a new option to restore a culturally- and ecologically-important ecosystem.