The use of native plant material in conservation, restoration and land management results in healthy ecosystems countering the effects of invasive plant species, altered wildfire regimes, extreme weather events and human-caused events. The National Seed Strategy for Rehabilitation and Restoration 2015-2020 (PDF, 12MB) promotes the use of native plant materials to restore plant communities and support healthy ecosystems. The National Seed Strategy, a collaboration between 12 federal agencies and over 300 non-federal partners associated with the Plant Conservation Alliance and led by the Bureau of Land Management, facilitates coordination among tribal, state, federal, local and private entities, including commercial growers.
To enable the use of more native plant materials in conservation and restoration, the National Seed Strategy developed a network of native seed collectors, agricultural producers, nurseries and seed storage facilities. The National Seed Strategy is also developing a network of natural resource managers and restoration ecologist who know how to put the right seed in the right place at the right time.
In February, many of the participants involved in the National Seed Strategy met in Washington, D.C. at the National Native Seed Conference to share new and existing research and tools. Roundtable discussions focused on tasks to advance the aims of the National Seed Strategy. One task force explored opportunities to tap into USDA and Farm Bill programs to support native seed producers and fund native plant research and development for conservation and ecological restoration.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and many of its agencies: Agricultural Research Service, Forest Service, National Institute for Food and Agriculture, and Natural Resources Conservation Service are some of the federal partners working on the National Native Seed Strategy. The USDA Climate Hubs work in partnership with USDA Agencies and partners to ensure land managers have the science-based information and tools they need to maintain and build resilient landscapes. The USDA has a number of programs that support conservation efforts on our working landscapes –I note a few of these below:
Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) allows Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to partner with producers to enhance the restoration and sustainable use of soil, water, wildlife and related natural resources on regional or watershed scales. NOTE: Pre-proposals for RCPP are due 21 April 2017.
The Regional Conservation Partnership Programs are implemented through easement agreements and voluntary programs. Easement programs are the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) and the Healthy Forests Reserve Program (HFRP). The ACEP provides financial and technical support to assist conservation of agricultural lands and wetlands. The HFRP aids forest landowners restore, enhance and protect forestland resources on private lands through easements and financial assistance. Through HRFP, landowners promote the recovery of endangered or threatened species, improve plant and animal biodiversity and enhance carbon sequestration. Two voluntary programs to plan and implement conservation practices are: the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). EQIP provides financial and technical aid to agricultural producers, ranchers or forestry managers to assist in developing conservation practices that improve soil, water, plant, animal, air and related natural resources on agricultural land and non-industrial private forestland. CSP builds on existing conservation efforts while strengthening an operation on working landscapes. CSP will assist in building your business while implementing conservation practices that help ensure the sustainability of your entire operation.
Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) is another NRCS program that funds competitive grants that inspire the development and adoption of innovative approaches and technologies for conservation. These grants are awarded at the national and state competitions. Currently, a few states have posted announcements that are taking applications.
Good land stewardship conserves natural resources on your farm, ranch or forest, it also provides multiple benefits to local communities, including better water and air quality, wildlife habitat, and food.
Native seed producers should reach out to their local Farm Agency Service (FSA) office for Farm Loan Programs to get loans for operation costs, real estate, equipment, and/or improvements. Also producers can contact their local FSA to determine if they qualify for Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP), a financial assistance program of noninsurable crops when low yields, loss of inventory, or prevented planting occur due to natural disasters.