In cooperation with Audubon Arkansas and with the assistance of volunteers, the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission (ANHC) has collected seeds from native plants in Downs Prairie Natural Area, Railroad Prairie Natural Area and other areas to be used in habitat restoration projects in the Grand Prairie region. These efforts mark the beginning of the Arkansas Native Seed Program, a program ANHC staff has been hoping to establish for many years.
Planting native seed is often part of a habitat restoration or improvement plan. However, local native plant seed sources are limited. Out-of-state sources are relied upon, and although these seeds may be the right species, they will not have the same genetic make-up as local populations. Local plants have unique adaptations to specific soils and climate conditions, giving them the best chance of survival. They are the plants that naturally occur within a particular ecosystem, which benefits wildlife and preserves an area’s natural heritage.
The Arkansas Native Seed Program reflects the ideals of the National Seed Strategy for Rehabilitation and Restoration. This national initiative, launched in August 2015 by the Bureau of Land Management, encourages preservation of native seed as a “critical national resource asset” for future generations. It began with the need for restoration after disasters such as wildfires and hurricanes caused extensive damage to large tracts of land. In such cases, reseeding with native plants is imperative to deter non-native invasive seeds from flourishing and displacing natives. The motto of the National Seed Strategy is “The right seed, in the right place, at the right time.” The initiative is not legislation, but it provides an organized, multi-partner plan to have ample supplies of genetically appropriate native seed available when needed.
Several states now have native seed programs. In June 2016, ANHC hosted the first Arkansas Native Seed Program meeting with partners from federal, state and local agencies, and non-profit and private organizations. Working together, the group has established a plan to provide appropriate seed for projects across Arkansas. Collected seed will be stored and planted in spring 2017 by individual farmers in single-species, agricultural-style plots. In that way, enough seed can be produced to meet the needs of agencies, organizations and individuals for restoration purposes. The seeds of individual species can be mixed to meet the needs of a particular site and project. Future potential benefits are new market opportunities for private growers, improved and expanded wildlife habitat, new partnerships and research opportunities.
To learn more, visit naturalheritage.com/blog/native-seedprogram-takes-root.