Pale purple cornflowers, white false indigo and prairie sage bloom at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa. Photo by Karen Viste-Sparkman/USFWS
It’s not an accident that pale purple cornflowers, white false indigo and prairie sage bloom in the spring and summer at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa. For decades, refuge biologists have paid careful attention to collecting and planting the right native seeds to recreate native prairie.
The National Seed Strategy is doing the same thing on a national level, with the National Wildlife Refuge System leading the way for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. You can read many of the details in this week’s online feature from the Refuge System here.
The National Seed Strategy for Rehabilitation and Restoration is designed to encourage more effective, resilient habitat restoration. The strategy was issued in 2015 by the Plant Conservation Alliance, a coalition of 12 federal partners and more than 300 private organizations, companies, tribes, and state and local governments. The strategy provides a coordinated approach to ensure that genetically appropriate seed reserves are available when and where they are needed to restore healthy plant communities and sustainable ecosystems.
These photos show the same marsh at Montezuma Refuge five years apart. On the left, the dominant plant is cattail. The photo on the right shows water plantain interspersed with cattail. Photos by USFWS
In other words, it aims to ensure that the right seed is available in the right place at the right time.
Over the next year, a seed assessment will be conducted on all federal lands that provide or use native seeds, including refuges. The assessment will identify the types and quantities of seed each site needs for its restoration projects. Many national wildlife refuges – including Neal Smith Refuge - have already been figuring out what seeds they need and how to grow, collect and store these seeds even before there was a national strategy. Their experiences will help other refuges and partners just beginning the process.
In one of the largest aerial seeding efforts in an American salt marsh, grass seed from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Seed Bank was used to restore salt marsh at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware after Hurricane Sandy. Meanwhile, in 2012, more than 2 million acres of sagebrush habitat burned in four western states. Restoration of burned sagebrush is one of the most important land management issues federal land managers and private landowners face today (See what’s involved in this three-minute video here.)
Some refuges host family events or school field trips when volunteers collect seeds. Here two schoolgirls gather native prairie seed in Wisconsin at Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. Photo by Paula Ogden-Muse/USFWS
Well-trained volunteers and interns are key to collecting seed on many refuges. Many refuges have regular seed-collecting events and training programs geared to empowering volunteers to help enhance our public lands.
You can further the goals of the National Seed Strategy by volunteering to collect locally native seed, paying attention to the source of seeds you use at home, learning more about how your community manages its natural areas and encouraging local organizations to become Plant Conservation Alliance Cooperators.