By Alexis Larsen, Northwest Plant Materials Program Director
At the end of March 2023, 500 people gathered in Alexandria, Virginia to attend the 5th National Native Seed Conference (NNSC) hosted by the Institute for Applied Ecology and the Bureau of Land Management with the theme of “Cultivating the Restoration Supply Chain”.
This conference brought together people from across the nation as well as the world – attendees from 48 U.S. states and six different countries were present! This geographically diverse group also represented every link in the native seed supply chain – native seed producers, researchers, restoration practitioners, seed collectors, seed bankers, Tribal and First Nations representatives, and many more. The energy on the first morning was electric. It had been five years since this group last gathered and people were ready to connect.
This was a particularly timely meeting as it followed closely after the release of the Assessment of Native Seed Needs and Capacities, a National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) report that presented an overview of the native seed supply chain, preliminary observations of the challenges facing native seed use and supply, and a strategy for additional information gathering moving forward. The NNSC provided a venue for people to learn, network, and connect around native seed – as was strongly evidenced by the large quantities of coffee that were consumed on networking breaks!
Our plenary speakers this year included Tracy Stone-Manning, Director, Bureau of Land Management, Robert Bonnie, USDA Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation, and Deb Rocque, Assistant Director of Science Applications for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Each of them offered a glimpse behind-the-scenes at the federal level. Tom Kaye, Executive Director of the Institute for Applied Ecology, presented a call for action to address climate change within the native seed supply chain. Other plenary speakers highlighted a review of the Assessment of Native Seed Needs and Capacities (Kayri Havens, Director of Plant Science and Conservation, U.S. Botanic Garden), and stories from the field about seed establishment and some surprises found along the way (Elizabeth Leger, Professor, University of Nevada, Reno).
The rest of the program offered something for everyone, from breaking seed dormancy to breaking ground. Concurrent sessions focused on regional seed partnerships, seed-based restoration, native seed production, seed collection, pollinators, seed viability, dormancy, quality, and rare species conservation.
Each morning I watched attendees gather around the fruit bowls and steaming coffee carafes and discuss what they had learned the day before – and were looking forward to that day. This conference provided a space for people to connect and strategize tackling the biggest hurdles in the native seed supply chain. Our hope is that attendees will stay connected after the conference and come excited to learn more at the next NNSC – a two-day virtual event on February 7-8, 2024!
The Institute for Applied Ecology would like to extend a huge thanks to our sponsors: the Natural Areas Association, Hedgerow Farms, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Wildlife Federation, U.S. Forest Service, and the United Plant Savers; and a special thanks to the Bureau of Land Management for helping to make this event bigger and better than ever!