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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.

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