Because locally adapted native seed can be difficult to find in commercial markets, public and private partnerships have arisen to develop local and regional native seed supplies for restoration, remediation, and other applications, including to provide stock seed to commercial growers. The committee learned of several notable activities taking place at municipal, state, and regional levels, which are described in this chapter. These include state and municipal-level programs, regional programs for seed development, national partnerships for strategies and seed collections, and partnerships for more effective usage of native seed.
The longest-lived of these projects is Iowa Tallgrass Prairie Center, operating in some form for more than 30 years. The newest, the Nevada Seed Strategy, was established in 2020. Some of the partnerships are focused on collection and seed banking, others include plant development, while still others are research-oriented activities to better understand seed zones, soil, and genetics, technologies to improve seed survival, and tools to anticipate how climate change will affect plant communities. Many local partnerships have individual ties to different federal agencies which also collaborate with each other in major regional efforts. They offer models of the building blocks needed for a collective nationwide effort for native seed and plant development and restoration.
Iowa Tallgrass Prairie Center1
The Native Roadside Vegetation Center, later renamed the Iowa Tallgrass Prairie Center, was established at the University of Northern Iowa in the late 1970s. The aim of the Center is to restore resilient diverse tallgrass prairies, which have virtually disappeared from Iowa (99.9% lost). The remaining stands of tallgrass prairie are mostly located along gravel roadsides in rural areas of the state, which combined equal about 1.73 million acres. The Center has worked to develop a supply of diverse, local natives to bring back these once ubiquitous landscapes.
According to Laura Jackson, the Center Director who spoke to the committee, it was the Integrated Roadside Vegetation Management (IRVM) legislation passed by the Iowa legislature in 1987 that was a turning point for the Center. State Code 314.22 directed the state to adopt roadside management for state and federal roads and
emphasized the establishment of long-lived vegetation matched to the unique environment found on roadsides, with an emphasis on native plant species. The Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) was assigned responsibilities for roadside management, and county participation was encouraged. Specific instructions were given related to mowing, spot spraying, prescribed burning for brush control, and the planting of diverse perennial vegetation. At the time the law was passed, the only plant materials available were western plant cultivars. The Living Roadway Trust Fund, established under State Code 314.22, used tax revenue to support a competitive grants program that provides support for the IRVM work at the county, municipal, and state level and the plant materials development work of the Iowa Tallgrass Prairie Center. The Center now helps counties in adopting and implementing voluntary Roadside Management Plans for their roads by developing seeds and other plant materials through an annual grant from the Federal Highway Administration which enables their free distribution to county roadside projects.
The Center developed a map with three seed zones, has accessioned 100 species through collections, and developed 180 ecotypes (called Iowa Ecotypes) of 88 species. Of those, 155 ecotypes of 82 species have been provided to growers with a total of 531 distributions. Species over time have expanded from warm season to cool season grasses, forbs, and legumes. More recently sedges and shrubs were added to expand functional group diversity. About 1,000 acres of county roadsides are planted annually with seeds from the Center. Iowa Ecotype seed is certified as Source-Identified (see Box 8-2 in Chapter 8 for more information on certified seed), which receives a preference in bids submitted to the IDOT for its roadside maintenance projects. The Center’s work has also stimulated the development of similar plant materials by the private sector.
Jackson told the committee that the lessons learned are that public support is needed to help decision makers understand and endorse change. Seed quality, communication, monitoring, adequate funding, and maintaining good records are critical to success. She added that applied research is needed to refine methods and tools for practitioners and managers.
Texas Native Seeds Program2
The Texas Native Seeds Program is a not-for-profit native plant seed development program that began as South Texas Natives in 2001, when the revegetation activities associated with the construction of the Interstate 69 highway project attracted the attention of local landowners concerned about non-native invasive plants. The Texas Department of Transportation provided a grant to establish the program, which has since been supported by public and private funders. Keith Pawelek, Associate Director of Texas Native Seeds, told the committee that the program collects, develops, and produces locally adapted seeds of native grasses, forbs, legumes, and woody plants for different regions in Texas. The seeds are released as natural-track certified, Selected (S) (see Box 8-2 in Chapter 8) Texas Native Germplasm and offered to commercial suppliers for large-scale increase, sometimes in blends of selected accessions to broaden the diversity and utility of the seed for locations in different ecoregions or with different soil types. Texas Native Seeds has supported the commercialization of 17 native seed lines and now has projects to provide regionally adapted seed to six different regions in Texas. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) E. “Kika” De La Garza Plant Materials Center has been a partner in the Texas Native Seeds Program, along with the Texas AgriLife Research Station, representing a partnership of a nonprofit organization, a state university, the federal government, and the private sector.
Nevada Native Seed Strategy3
The Nevada Seed Strategy is a product of the Nevada Native Seed Partnership,4 whose initial members include the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), US Forest Service (USFS), US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), US Geological Survey (USGS), NRCS, University of Nevada, Reno, Nevada Department of Agriculture, Nevada
2 See https://www.ckwri.tamuk.edu/research-programs/texas-native-seeds-program-tns (accessed February 10, 2023).
3 See https://agri.nv.gov/uploadedFiles/agrinvgov/Content/Plant/Seed_Certification/FINALStrategy_with%20memo_4_24_20_small.pdf (accessed February 10, 2023).
4 See https://www.nature.org/en-us/about-us/where-we-work/united-states/nevada/stories-in-nevada/native-seed-restoration/ (accessed February 10, 2023).
Department of Wildlife, Great Basin Institute, the Nature Conservancy, and the Walker Basin Conservancy. Modeled on the National Seed Strategy, its overall aim is “to increase the quantity and quality of [native] seed available for large-scale rehabilitation, reclamation, and restoration (i.e., post-fire seeding) as well as for smaller-scale projects (i.e., wildlife corridors)” (NNSP, 2020, p. 4). The group was formed in 2017, and the first iteration of the Strategy was released in April 2020, putting forward four goals:
- Identify seed needs, and ensure reliable availability of genetically appropriate seed.
- Identify research needs to improve technology for native seed production and ecosystem restoration.
- Develop and implement tools that enable managers and producers to make decisions about collecting, increasing, and using genetically appropriate seed.
- Develop and implement strategies for internal and external communications.
Each of these goals is being pursued through activities related to several subgoals and objectives that engage different stakeholders and partners. Each year the Nevada Department of Agriculture hosts a Nevada Native Seed Forum to bring producers, research, and land managers and other members of the Nevada Native Seed Partnership together to discuss restoration goals, technologies, and native seed production, fostering both unity and flexibility in the collective approach to the conservation of Nevada’s natural heritage. Members work together to identify the most promising seeds for restoration (e.g., Leger et al., 2021), and many of these collections are being agriculturally produced for use in restoration, though seeds are being grown by established seed growers outside the state. To further support the seed industry in Nevada, in 2022, the group began a foundation seed program, providing free seeds of desirable collections to qualified growers within Nevada.5 Further, partners have multiple field experiments ongoing across the state, designed to test the performance of locally collected seeds in restoration settings.
Utah Great Basin Research Center6
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) Great Basin Research Center and Seed Warehouse (GBRC) in Ephraim, Utah, has operated as the technical and logistical hub for revegetation efforts in Utah since 2004. The GBRC’s seed warehouse, with capacity for ambient storage of 1.2 million pounds of native and non-native seed and cold (34 degrees F) humidity-controlled (5%) space for 150,000 pounds, makes it one of the largest climate-conditioned restoration seed warehouses in the United States. Utah’s Watershed Restoration Initiative7 (WRI) provides programmatic and administrative support for the GBRC, which purchases seed from wild-seed collectors and agricultural growers in the western United States through a consolidated seed buy of the DWR, and, along with some of its own produced seed, has been building a seed supply for the WRI’s proactive restoration efforts that amounts to about 100,000 acres annually as well as fluctuating reactive wildfire revegetation demands. The GBRC coordinates the contracting and implementation of seeding projects, as part of an effort to maintain a strong private industry in Utah and surrounding states. BLM and USFS store limited quantities of seed at the warehouse, and the GBRC also makes seed available to the agencies for purchase through the DWR (Kevin Gunnell, personal communication).
Greenbelt Native Plant Center and Mid-Atlantic Regional Seed Bank8
The Greenbelt Native Plant Center (GNPC) is the municipal native plant nursery of New York City’s (NYC’s) Department of Parks and Recreation and is the nation’s largest and longest running city-operated native plant nursery. Since the early 1990s, the Center has provided over 13 million live plants of over 500 species, produced from local plant populations in support of restoration and management of the city’s parks and other valuable
5 See https://agri.nv.gov/uploadedFiles/agrinvgov/Content/Plant/Seed_Certification/Foundation%20Seed%20Program%20Application.pdf (accessed February 10, 2023).
6 See https://cpnpp-natureserve.hub.arcgis.com/documents/Natureserve::utah-division-of-wildlife-resources-great-basin-research-center/about (accessed February 10, 2023).
8 See https://www.nycgovparks.org/greening/greenbelt-native-plant-center and http://www.marsb.org/ (accessed February 10, 2023).
natural areas. Materials from the GNPC have been used in projects staged by multiple city agencies as well as on state and federal projects in the city. When Hurricane Sandy destroyed critical coastal habitat from Maine to the Carolinas in 2012, and including areas of New York City itself, the Center, as a Seeds of Success partner, was able to provide seed and plant material for regional restoration projects.
Ed Toth, a member of the study committee and former director of the GNPC, notes that NYC, not unlike some federal and state agencies, does not employ policies for advanced planning and the City does not pre-fund production of those materials to ensure a supply at the time projects are staged, leaving purchase from the seed supply available “on-hand.” Other budgeting and procurement rules and practices, perhaps unique to NYC, prevented fuller use of the facility, despite the tremendous investment the City has made in the nursery.
The GNPC banks about 2,000 collections to meet the production needs of the nursery. These must be replenished on an ongoing basis. Over the last 20 years, almost 13,000 collections have been made toward that end. The City of New York has 27 extant ecosystems and the GNPC has played a role in reintroducing common native species to those habitat niches. The Center’s expertise in the production of two-thirds of the extant flora of NYC guarantees that a high level of biodiversity is built into projects. Commercial producers, bound by market constraints and realities, most often are unable to meet these biodiversity needs. This points to the importance of public-sector production of native plant materials as part of the supply chain, in concert with the commercial sector.
The GNPC created the Mid-Atlantic Regional Seed Bank (MARSB)9 as a programmatic extension of its seed banking resources out into the larger region. To date, the regional seed bank contains 750 accessions and cooperatively banks seed for other native seed programs in the mid-Atlantic region. It has collected seed from the region for BLM’s Seeds of Success program, USFS, National Park Service, US National Arboretum, and New York State Department of Parks. MARSB sees itself as a natural partner to any future seed networking efforts in the mid-Atlantic.
Other State-Level Partnerships
The committee learned of other state-level or nonfederal regional partnerships that have formed or are forming. These include the Northeast Seed and Plant Supply Chain Network;10 the Willamette Valley Native Plant Partnership;11 the Coastal Native Plant Partnership;12 the Southwest Seed Partnership;13 Rhody Native (Reseeding Rhode Island);14 and the California Native Seed Supply Collaborative.15
Pacific Northwest Region
The Pacific Northwest Region of the USFS (Region 6 of the service’s nine regions) is situated across Oregon and Washington and includes 17 national forests, a national grassland, and other scenic lands.16 Within the region, the Service has developed programs to address all aspects of the seed supply chain. This includes research, seed needs projections under climate change, the refinement of the Seed Selection Tool for decision making in reforestation, as well as the collection, production, cleaning, and storage of seeds of native grasses, forbs, conifers, willows, and other tree species. The program also encompasses infrastructure development, partnerships, funding, and training.
The aim has been to integrate projects among disciplines, with botanists writing plans and coordinating efforts. Projecting seed needs for unplanned disturbances is done by looking at seeding records, fire risk modeling,
10 See https://ecohealthglobal.org/network-sites/seed-plant-supply-chain-program/ (accessed February 10, 2023).
11 See https://www.roguenativeplants.org/willamette-valley-native-plant-materials-partnership-strategic-plan-2013-2017/ (accessed February 10, 2023).
12 See https://appliedeco.org/restoration/native-seed-partnership/coastal-native-seed-partnership/ (accessed February 10, 2023).
16 See https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/r6/learning/nature-science (accessed February 10, 2023).
and use of other tools. For major seed zones, workhorse species have been selected that have broad ecological applicability, establish well on disturbed sites, are easy to collect and propagate, reliably produce seed, and can be stored for reasonable periods.
Home to the USFS J. Herbert Stone Nursery, the Clarno Propagation Center, the Dorena Genetic Resources Center, the Bend Seed Extractory, and in conjunction with private nurseries and growers, Region 6 has the infrastructure to provide plant materials and restoration advice to its National Forest managers as well as to other federal, state, tribal, and county partners in the region, including Canada. With the passage of the REPLANT Act of 2021,17 Region 6 will have the resources to do much more restoration work, which is needed to address post-wildfire needs, if it can obtain the personnel needed to carry it out.
Colorado Plateau Native Plant Program18
The Colorado Plateau, lying at the intersection of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico, is an arid, challenging environment for plant restoration. BLM established the Colorado Plateau Native Plant Program (CPNPP) in 2007 in partnership with the USFS, Northern Arizona University, and state wildlife agencies in the region. In 2010, an interagency agreement established the USGS Southwest Biological Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona, as the lead scientific agency for plant material research in the program. There are numerous partners involved in a wide range of activities in the program, including federal, state, and local government agencies; tribal nations; nongovernmental conservation organizations; university researchers and curators; commercial plant materials industry (seed and seedling growers and sellers); and seed testing and certification entities.
The lead scientific agency for plant materials research for the Colorado Plateau project is the USGS. As the science agency for the Department of the Interior, the USGS scientist plays an active role in uncovering the interactions of plant genetics and biophysical aspects of ecological systems, in the context, for example, of the need to identify native plant materials for restoration in the dryland environment of the Colorado Plateau Native Plant Program (Massatti et al., 2022). (See Box 8-1 for a brief description of the research activities of the USGS for the CPNPP.)
Great Basin Native Plant Project19
The Great Basin Native Plant Project (GBNPP) was established in 2002 as a cooperative program of the BLM Plant Conservation and Restoration Program and the Grassland, Shrubland, and Desert Ecosystem Research Program of the USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station. Its initiation was part of an interagency response to a 2000 congressional directive asking for a plan to develop a native seed supply for emergency stabilization and restoration. The Great Basin is an expansive swath of land that encompasses large portions of Nevada and Utah, and pieces of California, Idaho, Wyoming, and Oregon. It is called the Great Basin because it is hydrographically contained, with no drainage to the oceans, and ecologically diverse.
The goal of the GBNPP is to develop useful information for land managers faced with decisions about the selection of plant materials for vegetation restoration. The project website boasts of “more than 30 major cooperators in 9 states” working on wide variety of native plant research, development, and restoration projects. At any given time, a dozen or more projects are ongoing. These include understanding the genetic diversity of Great Basin plant species, looking at seed zones considering climate change, investigating cultivation practices for increasing Great Basin seed, species interactions, restoration strategies and equipment, and others. The research activities in the Project have produced a great number of published studies that document such things as variation in local adaptation of Great Basin natives (Baughman et al., 2019); climate niches among forbs in the sagebrush steppe
17 The REPLANT (Repairing Existing Public Land by Adding Necessary Trees) Act will support the reforestation of 4.1 million acres over the next year. It is an element of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act) that became law in 2021.
(Barga et al., 2018); and using the genetic structure and history of blue-bunch wheatgrass populations as foundational knowledge for developing plant materials for restoration (Massatti et al., 2018).
Mojave Desert Native Plant Program20
The Mojave Desert ecoregion is situated across Nevada, California, and parts of Arizona and Utah in some of the most diverse and arid landscapes in the nation. The region is challenged by the impacts of invasive species, recreational activities, and a megadrought—the driest decade in 1,200 years (Williams et al., 2022). Initiated by BLM in 2017, it has developed into a partnership with the USGS, the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, NRCS Tucson Plant Materials Center, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Texas State University, Victor Valley College, and others, to collect and bank seeds, develop germplasm releases for commercialization, conduct landscape genetic studies, and develop empirical seed transfer zones. The program also conducts research on restoration techniques and strategies. It has identified priority plant species for collection (Esque et al., 2021), and developed a “Mojave seed menu” (Shyrock et al., 2022) as a decision-making tool for restorationists, incorporating climate change projections.
Seeds of Success
The BLM Seeds of Success (SOS) program, which collects and banks seed to preserve the genetic diversity of native plant populations for future use in restoration, was developed in 2001 as a partnership with the Kew Gardens Millennium Seed Bank project. It was also one of the first steps taken that addressed the congressional mandate of 2002 for the development of a supply of native seeds for emergency stabilization and restoration. Federal partners include the USFS Bend Seed Extractory, the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Research Service, and the USFWS. In 2008, BLM signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with six nonfederal partners to perform collections under a common protocol and to store seed for research and working collections. The agreement formalized SOS as the national native seed collection program for conservation and restoration across the United States, with BLM’s Plant Conservation and Restoration Program as the lead. The MOU states, in part:
While the Federal land managing agencies purchase large quantities of native seed to meet their needs, the demand for native seed is also felt by state and local land managing agencies and other non-governmental organizations engaged in land management and conservation. A reliable, sustainable, and ecologically appropriate source of seeds is needed to meet all these needs and can best be met within a national framework for management and conservation of the nation’s seed resources. Such a framework should seek to equitably address the demand for regional and local seed by assuring a ready supply through appropriate planning, coordinating, collection and storage, while protecting the resources. It is vitally important for the BLM to work with partners such as the Botanic Gardens, to achieve nationwide restoration goals.21
The SOS program has continued to add nonfederal partners over the years, and by the end of 2021 had made over 27,000 accessions of 5,800 unique taxa. From 2014 through 2016, BLM funded an eastern collection program, Seeds of Success East. This effort successfully made 2,124 seed collections and has made that seed available to 27 federal, state, and municipal agencies for post-Hurricane Sandy recovery and resiliency projects.
Most recently the SOS has supported two new partnerships, one between BLM Montana and the Fort Belknap Indian Community to use SOS seed collection protocols and traditional ecological knowledge for collecting and restoring tribal lands, and a second, to establish a Seeds of Success Southeast program. With BLM support, the
20 See https://gis.blm.gov/DETODownload/Docs/The_Mojave_Desert_Native_Plant_Program.pdf (accessed February 10, 2023).
21 See https://www.blm.gov/sites/blm.gov/files/program_nativeplants_collection_homepage_SOS%20MOU.pdf, p.2 (accessed February 10, 2023).
USFWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program and the Southeastern Grasslands Initiative will coordinate with the national SOS to develop a collection strategy over 10 states in the southeastern United States.
Agricultural Research Service and SOS
The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) provides research in many areas, and presentations by Brian Irish and Stephanie Greene provided the Committee with information about two programs that are particularly germane to this report.22 The National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS) has 25 gene banks, many partnering with land grant universities, with the goal of conserving plant germplasm for agricultural and other uses. About 600,000 accessions are in storage; most are available in small quantities to private and public users for research, plant breeding, evaluation, and education. Currently, the NPGS provides long-term storage for small accessions of collections from the Seeds of Success program. The Germplasm Resources Information Network includes data for about 16,000 species stored at the NPGS.
Irish and Green expressed a need for a dedicated curatorial program for natives within the NPGS because most have no curatorial support and often lack production and germination protocols, making their conservation and curation difficult. Such a program might require resources of $2 million annually for a subset of natives; native species that are wild-crop relatives would have greater relevance to a larger group of stakeholders and would be more attractive targets for curation at the NPGS.
Seed Cleaning for SOS
The USFS Bend Seed Extractory in Bend, Oregon, currently cleans all the seed collected by the western SOS seed collection program with fees paid by BLM through an agreement with the USFS and cleans seed for other government clients on a fee-based system. However, it is not of unlimited capacity, and maybe increasingly focused on cleaning conifer seed as forest restoration efforts under the REPLANT Act begin to increase. It could serve, at least in part, as a useful template for establishing cooperative seed-cleaning efforts across the United States.
There are limited examples of cooperative efforts to provide seed cleaning and seed warehousing. Yet they are needed for a national supply chain based on ecoregional seed of many different species. Many seed producers of sufficient size can clean their own seed crops. However, the more species that are grown, especially if they are forbs, the more specialized cleaning equipment is needed. This can be cost prohibitive, especially to smaller producers, and creates a significant disincentive for such producers to consider entering the restrictive markets that ecoregional seed production imposes.
Seed Warehousing and SOS
Apart from the long-term frozen storage of SOS accessions in the seed banks of the ARS National Plant Germplasm System, seed collected through SOS is stored in seed banks of partner organizations. Seed banking of wild seed, both for conservation purposes and to meet restoration and other land-management needs, can be effectively managed at regional seed banks that have appropriate storage capacity for wild collections and appropriate technical staff to curate wild collections and ensure their long-term quality and viability.
Seed warehousing is an extension of seed banking, but particularly focused on large quantities of increased seed typically held for relatively short periods of time because seeds are short-lived in ambient warehouse conditions. It is most relevant to the other end of the supply chain, where an adequate supply of increased seed must be maintained to ensure a timely source for end users. This is necessitated by the long timeline for development and production of increased seed, which in turn dictates the need for timely planning, production, and storage well in advance of need. Only a handful of federal native seed warehouses exist, and all are in the arid West.
22 See https://www.plantconservationalliance.org/sites/default/files/PCA%20NPGS%20-%20Native%20PGRs%20%2805-10-2021%29_1.pdf and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJVSwV3rym4 (accessed February 10, 2023).
Similarly, some states in the arid West maintain native seed warehouses to meet their needs. If the supply and demand for ecoregional native seed increases, as is anticipated, seed warehousing space will become an issue.
The essential storage requirements for seed are low temperatures and low levels of relative humidity. Although in the arid West seed warehouses naturally experience low relative humidity for most of the year, temperature and humidity both can vary over the year. Nonetheless, most storage is at ambient temperature without any controls and therefore seed typically does not last more than a few years. Outside of the arid West, both control of relative humidity and cold temperatures are essential for maintenance of seed viability during the extended storage periods that are needed to maintain adequate supplies in advance of need. To date, there are no federal seed warehouses in the East. In all cases, warehouses with dry and cold and/or frozen storage would greatly extend shelf-life of seeds.
Since 2018 BLM has used its Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity to contract for the increase of SOS seed of different species collected from across numerous seed zones. As of 2021, BLM had contracted for over 94,000 pounds of seed expected to arrive between now and 2025, which will be put into the BLM seed warehouses for use by BLM emergency stabilization, wildlife habitat, pollinator, oil and gas, and other programs.
National Seed Strategy
In 2015, the Plant Conservation Alliance, an association of more than 400 nonfederal cooperators and (initially) 12 federal agencies, produced the National Seed Strategy “to foster interagency collaboration to guide the development, availability, and use of seed needed for timely and effective restoration.”23 That document describes itself as a framework that puts forward four broad goals and objectives:
- Identifying and quantifying seed needs,
- Conducting research,
- Developing tools for land managers, and
- Ensuring communications.
Much like the 2002 plan requested by Congress, it offers a conceptual structure for activities of the agencies. The 4 Goals, divided into 14 Objectives, which are further divided into 51 Actions, are all directed at the overall goal of increasing the supply of “the right seed, in the right place, at the right time.” The National Seed Strategy is the call to action. In fiscal year (FY) 2021, that call generated a robust response of a combined investment of $271 million and the involvement of 17 federal agencies, 27 tribes, and 481 nonfederal partners in projects contributing to the 163 projects that were under way.
A summary of achievements in FY 2021 includes the collection of 1,434 native species, agricultural production of 1,118 native species, research on 692 species, production of 91,208 pounds of native seed, support for 118 farmers, 20 new facilities, 153 federal and 138 new nonfederal jobs, and the restoration of 30,466 acres (PCA, 2022).
New Funds for the National Seed Strategy
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has allocated $200 million ($70 million to the Department of the Interior, $130 million to the Department of Agriculture, the latter for significant increase in tree planting by the USFS) over the next 5 years for the implementation of the Strategy, which may present an opportunity to begin to scale up the efforts currently under way.
In addition to buying and using native seed directly, the federal government also affects native seed sales and usage through its support of programs that encourage, fund, and guide native seed usage in the private sector and with state and tribal governments. One of the largest of these is the USDA Conservation Reserve Program (CRP),
23 See https://www.usgs.gov/news/national-seed-strategy-progress-report, p.1 (accessed February 10, 2023).
which covers 21 million acres. Roughly half of that area is planted with native plant species. Other federal agencies provide awards and grants for seed purchases by states, or provide financial and technical assistance, such the USFS Cooperative Forestry program.
USDA Conservation Reserve Program24
The CRP is a 35-year-old Farm Bill program of the USDA that incentivizes landowners to place marginal farmland into conservation uses via a 10–15-year contract, which may be renewed. These uses may include improving soil health, water quality, wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, and pollinator support, although they do not include full ecosystem restoration or ecological integration into existing natural habitats. The program is voluntary, and landowners receive financial incentives and technical assistance. For larger areas, landowners competitively bid for inclusion in the CRP by indicating the conservation practice they will use on the land. For smaller areas, the program is non-competitive and funded on a first come, first served basis.
There are different practices for which landowners can subscribe, some using native plants and some using non-native plant species. In a presentation to the committee, Rich Iovanna of the NRCS and Bryan Pratt, Economic Research Service, estimated that 10 to 13 million acres of the CRP’s current 21 million acres are planted with native species, although some non-natives are included in some “native” mixes. The species mix used by a given CRP landowner is specified by a conservation plan prepared by the landowner and approved by the NRCS, following recommendations made by NRCS county and state staff. In competitive proposals submitted by landowners, the inclusion of natives can increase the points given to bidders. The native species that are recommended and used in these mixes are typically based on native seed developed by the NRCS Plant Materials Centers (PMCs). The majority of these natives are commercially viable and are derived from the 575 plant lines developed and maintained by the NRCS-PMCs and released to commercial growers for further increase. The seeds are purchased by landowners from private vendors, assisted by cost-sharing from the CRP.
The influence of CRP on the native seed market was noted by Laura Jackson (Director, Tallgrass Prairie Center, Iowa), who told the committee that the recent initiation of a pollinator-enhancing conservation practice in CRP created shortages of certain native seeds because of their popularity in many plans. Landowners receive about $200/acre reimbursement as a cost-share for adopting this pollinator practice. However, because the seed was not required to be of a local ecotype, there was an influx of less-expensive seed that caused certified seed to be comparatively expensive. Coincident with the arrival of the pollinator seed, growers reduced the use of certification services, which are optional for seed sellers. Certification validates the geographic origins of seed, but the service adds to the cost of seed (see Chapter 8, Box 8-2).
A report from the USDA Economic Research Service (Pratt and Wallender, 2022) concluded that landowners most often bid to install a “premium” native grass mix (which includes forbs), which is four times more expensive than a simpler “base” mix of non-native grasses ($107 versus $25 per acre). The paper observes that the cost of seed is a significant fraction of the total cost of installing the practice and that it is significantly more expensive in the Midwest to upgrade from base to premium ($65 to $112 per acre) than in the Plains and Mountain states ($21 to $43 per acre). The authors calculate that decreasing the cost of the seed by $10 per acre would move 0.6 percent of acreage to the higher-quality practice. Alternatively, they postulate that increasing the cost-share provided to landowners would also incentivize an upgrade to plant a higher-quality mix of natives.
John Englert (NRCS National Program Leader) observed that the diversity and ecosystem functionality of CRP lands, as well as other lands on which NRCS assists private landowners, could be improved if PMCs could devote more resources to developing native materials, including local ecotypes.
USFS Programs that Support Private Land
The USFS manages federal forested lands, but its mission reaches beyond federal lands through its State and Private Forestry outreach to states, tribes, communities, and non-industrial private landowners. Programs in this
24 See https://www.fsa.usda.gov/programs-and-services/conservation-programs/conservation-reserve-program/ (accessed February 10, 2023).
area provide technical and financial assistance to landowners and resource managers to help sustain forest and grasslands, protect communities from wildland fires, and restore fire-adapted ecosystems. In doing this, the federal investment leverages the capacity of its partners to manage state, tribal, and private lands. Examples include Forest Health Protection that provides technical assistance on such things as native and non-native insects, pathogens, and invasive plants. The Cooperative Forestry program provides financial and technical assistance to landowners, communities, and businesses to actively manage and sustain long-term investment in nonfederal forest land.
US Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration
The US Department of Transportation (USDOT) allots funds to the state departments of transportation (DOTs) through the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Since 1987, the use of native plants in roadside construction and maintenance has been incentivized by FHWA requirements for at least one-fourth of 1 percent of the cost of roadside landscaping to include native wildflowers.25 Many state DOTs have pursued the expansion of native plantings that support pollinators and the Monarch butterfly.26 As described in this chapter, the DOTs in both Iowa and Texas have played important roles in assisting efforts to develop local ecotypes of native plants.
The committee’s investigation into cooperative partnerships further broadened its view of the national capacity to generate a supply of native seeds and revealed their potential in growing the native seed supply. First, federal agencies have developed, engaged in, and supported cooperative partnerships for over 20 years and these partnerships play a central role in helping them to meet their needs for seed. The large, regional native plant materials development and restoration programs initiated in the West by BLM and USFS are broadly cooperative, and involve government at all levels, the tribes, colleges, nongovernmental organizations, and native seed producers. BLM established a national native seed collection program, in partnership with six nonfederal seed banks as the stewards of those collections. And, along with more than 400 nonfederal cooperators, 12 federal agencies have committed to an expansive strategy with 51 Action Steps of the National Seed Strategy, each step a collaboration of different players, collectively aimed at bringing land managers the plant materials and decision tools they need to lead successful ecological restorations.
Second, time and again, independent efforts have arisen in states and regions across the United States in response to the need for native plant materials. New efforts continue to develop, some including federal partners, some without, but all involve cooperators, and several have developed business plans for expansion. These findings suggest that
- Regional cooperative efforts have shown to be successful approaches to tackle the native plant material supply issues.
- Seed resources and seed needs cross jurisdictional lines. With climate change and fragmented, shrinking habitat, it will increasingly be essential to develop cooperative arrangements that ensure that jurisdictional authorities are not barriers to securing a reliable supply of restoration materials for everyone.
- Existing regional efforts can benefit by expanding to include additional federal and nonfederal partners.
Despite these efforts, these partnerships have not yet been able to move the native seed supply chain over the threshold to achieve a level of reliability and predictability that is needed to offer a sustainable supply of a diverse native seed. Continued shortages of seed suggest that the supply chain is underdeveloped, and in some places lacking altogether, when what is required to meet the growing needs is an enterprise that is more robust and at a much larger scale. In the committee’s assessment, achieving that goal will not be possible without all the
25 See https://www.environment.fhwa.dot.gov/env_topics/ecosystems/roadside_use/vegmgmt_rdus3_2.aspx (accessed February 10, 2023).
26 See https://www.environment.fhwa.dot.gov/env_topics/ecosystems/roadside_use/vegmgmt_rdsduse4.aspx (accessed February 10, 2023).
key players that play a central role in the native seeds supply chain, including native seed suppliers. In the next chapter, the committee provides its findings from suppliers, who are central to solving the supply puzzle.
In addition, the committee sees a critical role for leadership at the federal level to complement, extend, and strengthen the work of regional partnerships. Some regions do not yet have seed partnerships, and federal agencies can take the lead in their establishment. Existing and future regional partnerships will function more effectively if there is a coordinated nationwide approach to policies, research, data collection, and information sharing.
Conclusion 6-1: There are several examples of successful seed development, seed production, and restoration programs initiated at the state level, sometimes begun with state support and sometimes with federal support.
Conclusion 6-2: Over the last 20 years, regional programs initiated by BLM and USFS to meet their native seed needs have included an array of partners from state and local governments, universities, and the private-sector native seed and restoration industries.
Conclusion 6-3: The Seeds of Success program should continue as a national effort and expand its collection activities across the United States and increase its cooperative relationships with regional seed banks. The availability of seed supplies for native shrubs will remain reliant on private-sector collectors, as to date, efforts to produce shrubs in seed fields have not proven economical.
Conclusion 6-4: An expansion of temperature- and humidity-controlled seed warehouses across all regions of the United States would support the ability to have seed available for when it is required.
Conclusion 6-5: The ready availability of cooperative seed-cleaning facilities is important to encourage smaller-scale producers to enter the native seed supply chain, especially in areas where commercial facilities do not exist, or are unwilling to clean native seed.
Conclusion 6-6: Although the Conservation Reserve Program is not an ecosystem restoration program, the use of native seeds on private lands contributes to functioning ecosystems and plays a role in supporting the native seed supply. Private landowners seem willing to implement conservation practices with higher ecological values on their land to enhance the competitiveness of their bids for inclusion in the program. Lowering the cost of native seeds to landowners, potentially through a subsidy or premium, would incentivize more landowners to plant native seeds.
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NNSP (Nevada Native Seed Partnership). 2020. Nevada Seed Strategy. https://agri.nv.gov/uploadedFiles/agrinvgov/Content/Plant/Seed_Certification/FINALStrategy_with%20memo_4_24_20_small.pdf (accessed February 10, 2023).
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