Originally published for WIRED on April 6th, 2021.
Dean Swift has gotten really good at spotting where squirrels hide their seeds. In the forests of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and South Dakota, he looks for a moist shaded area with a small grove of trees, sometimes near a ravine. Here, he will find a cache of chewed cones a few meters deep. On his hands and knees, he will dig through the mound searching for where the squirrels have hid full cones for the coming winter—the jackpot.
Swift is a seed collector. He takes the best cones and seeds he can find and sells them to nurseries. (Swift makes a point to mention that the squirrels don’t suffer because he never finds all the cones—and they have many other food sources.) This is the inception point for the United States’ reforestation efforts.
“Over the years, I’ve built up a network of people in the different collecting areas who helped me with seed collection,” Swift said. “I show them how to get started. Once they understand, it’s a lot of fun.”
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