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National Native Seed Conference

In late March, staff from the Native Plant and Watershed Restoration Programs had the opportunity to attend the National Native Seed Conference in Washington DC presented by the Native Seed Network, a program of the Institute for Applied Ecology, which takes place every five years or so. The conference filled to capacity with registration closing early due to the demand, so we were fortunate to be able to attend. BRN staff in attendance included myself, Francesca Claverie, Native Plant Program Director, Travis Gerckens, Native Seed Farm Manager, and Tess Wagner, Watershed Restoration Program Manager.


Ashley Wolf from the Institute for Applied Ecology with BRN Staff Tess Wagner, Francesca Claverie, Perin McNelis and Travis Gerckens.
Ashley Wolf from the Institute for Applied Ecology with BRN staff Tess Wagner, Francesca Claverie, Perin McNelis and Travis Gerckens.

The theme of this year's conference was "Cultivating the Restoration Supply Chain" focusing on connecting researchers, restoration practitioners, land managing agencies, and professionals from the seed production industry to bridge gaps in the plant materials supply chain that ecological restoration depends. The conference was also specifically inspired and informed by the America the Beautiful Executive Order, the National Native Seed Strategy for Rehabilitation and Restoration, and the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.


Outlook of the National Native Seed Conference in Washington, D.C.
View of the National Native Seed Conference in Washington DC

The timing and theme of the conference couldn't be more appropriate with the 10 year anniversary of the BLM's National Seed Strategy publication approaching and the recent publication of the The National Academies Assessment of Native Seed Needs and the Capacity for their Supply: Final Report. Participants were excited to check in on the progress, successes, and next steps for seed-based restoration and the plant materials industry that supports it.


There is also a sense of urgency as land managers are acutely aware of climate-related habitat loss and the effects of increasingly frequent and intense wildfires all over the nation, but especially in the western US. The consensus is that the need for native seeds of local ecotypes is growing as fast as, if not faster than, our ability to supply them. We must come together collaboratively to strategize how to source and use seed effectively and at a growing scale to combat the loss of plant populations and the ecosystem services they provide.


Perin McNelis during her presentation on the success and challenges of wild seed collection.
Perin McNelis during her presentation on the success and challenges of wild seed collection.

At the conference, I gave a presentation about the successes and challenges of our wild seed collection efforts to date, the status of our experimental seed increase field at the farm, and our program goals for expanding our farmed native seed production. Francesca also gave a presentation on our binational partnerships with NGOs in the US and Mexico and the importance of habitat connectivity across physical borders that plants don't recognize.


Francesca and Tess at the conference reception in the National Botanic Gardens.
Francesca and Tess at the conference reception at the National Botanic Gardens.

For us, the conference came at the perfect time as we are planning for the expansion of our farmed native seed initiative in order to fill our region's need for appropriate native seeds for use in landscape-scale restoration. We were able to catch up with old colleagues and friends, like those at the Southwest Seed Partnership, see our photos on posters from the Agricultural Research Service work on crop wild relatives, learn about new approaches to seed-based restoration and conservation from researchers, and network with other producers at various scales.


We left the conference with so much fodder for inspiration as we enter this new seedy chapter of our programming. We also took fun field trips to the National Herbarium, the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, and the National Botanic Gardens, where we attended the conference reception among blooming orchids!


Stay tuned to learn more about our seed efforts, and as always, you can shop our seeds online at our store, www.borderlandsplants.org.


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