Thank you to Alexis Larsen, Native Seeds Partnership Coordinator at the Institute for Applied Ecology, for submitting this post.
It Starts with a Seed: Producing High Quality Native Seed for Restoration in the Willamette Valley
Historically, the Willamette Valley of Oregon was lush with fields of purple camas and rosy seablush in the spring and goldenrod highlighted by the last rays of sun in the fall. Today this prairie habitat is among the most endangered ecosystems in North America with over 90% of upland and wet prairie habitat converted to other uses. Consequently, there has been a drastic decline of native plant and wildlife species dependent on these habitats. Restoration practitioners have been actively restoring this critical habitat for decades but have been challenged to find high quality, diverse native seed for their projects.
In 2012 the Willamette Valley Native Plant Partnership (Partnership) was created to help solve this problem. The Partnership was formed by 21 restoration organizations and native plant producers who had a vision to create a partnership that would cooperatively fund and produce plant materials for use in restoration, revegetation, and mitigation throughout the region. The main goal was to create a supply of seed that was genetically diverse and ecologically appropriate. Research shows that using genetically diverse, locally sourced native plant materials increases establishment and overall success of restoration projects.
To achieve this goal, the approach taken was to collect seed from many source populations throughout the Willamette Valley to capture a broad genetic base for each species. This seed was then used to establish farm fields of high priority native species so partners could purchase seed for use in their restoration projects. Within its first year the Partnership built an organizational infrastructure, hired a seasonal seed collection crew, and entered its first two species into production - slender cinquefoil (Potentilla gracilis) and western goldenrod (Solidago lepida).
Since its beginnings nearly a decade ago, the Partnership has been striving to represent the vision of the Plant Conservation Alliance Native Seed Strategy – “the right seed in the right place at the right time”. Over six seasons, crews have collected 72 pounds of seed from 27 native species from hundreds of wild populations scattered throughout the Willamette Valley. Now, 21 species have been put into production which has resulted in a yield of over 3,100 pounds of native seed. Approximately two-thirds of this seed has been distributed to partners and spread in prairie habitats throughout the ecoregion. These native seeds will grow into mature plants and help in restoring function to these endangered ecosystems.
What does this mean for birds?
Dozens of native bird species use Willamette Valley prairies year-round for nesting, breeding, and feeding. (See eBird Northwest’s article: Grassland Birds in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.) Many of these birds require large swaths of contiguous grassland to accommodate their territorial needs. Several species are ground nesters and rely on grass and forb cover to protect their nests and young chicks. Additionally, prairie plants provide food for bird food which includes crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, and other insects, as well as rodents for owls and raptors. Prairie birds, like nearly all wildlife, rely deeply on native vegetation to provide the means to not only survive, but thrive. By producing high quality native seed for land managers restoring prairie habitat, the Partnership is assisting in the recovery of diverse native plant communities but also the wildlife that depend on those communities.