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Coastal ecosystems are among the rarest and most impacted ecosystems in the Pacific Northwest. As a result, threatened species like the Oregon silverspot butterfly (Speyeria zerene hippolyta) (OSB), Coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch), western snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus nivosus), streaked horned lark (Eremophila alpestris strigata), and other plant and animal species that make their home in these habitats are greatly imperiled. The coastal meadows that were once prevalent in coastal dunes and headlands (where Oregon silverspot butterflies, western snowy plovers, and streaked horned larks are found) have been lost to commercial and residential development and to the invasion of European and American beachgrass (Ammophila arenaria and A. breviligulata). As much as 90 percent of coastal dune habitat has been altered in the last 100 years (Oregon Conservation Strategy 2016). Roughly 85 percent of estuarine habitats have been lost in this same period, impacted by development and changes to hydrologic flow from dredging and the construction of dikes and water-diversion structures (Brophy et. al. 2019). Oregon estuaries and wetlands provide critical habitat for at-risk species such as Oregon Coast Coho salmon, Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), and migratory birds along the Pacific Flyway. Beyond current and historic land use impacts, the anticipated effects on coastlines from global climate change such as sea level rise, catastrophic flooding, coastal erosion, and rising stream temperatures pose added risks to these ecosystems.
A large and diverse group of partners, including public land managers, restorationists, and private landowners, are working to restore these sensitive and imperiled coastal habitats. However, the return of ecosystem function and recovery of at-risk species that depend on coastal meadows and wetlands is only possible with the restoration of diverse, native plant communities found in those systems. Large-scale habitat restoration in coastal meadows and wetlands on the Oregon Coast is limited by the lack of diverse, genetically appropriate, native seed. Demand for genetically appropriate, native seed for coastal restoration projects exceeds availability. Efforts to produce high-quality coastal native plant materials have largely focused on woody material, typically container trees and shrubs. To date, much of the native seed has been collected by hand in small quantities, a costly and labor-intensive process. While coastal land managers and restoration partners have individually collected wild seed and put some species into small-scale seed production, there has not been a coordinated effort to produce native seed for restoration efforts on the coast.
The purpose of the Coastal Native Seed Partnership (CNSP) is to bring together land managers, conservationists, restoration practitioners, and growers to increase the availability and affordability of native seed in order to restore Pacific Northwest coastal habitats. The CNSP is developing a seed strategy for establishing a dependable and sustainable supply of native seed that is genetically and ecologically appropriate in sufficient quantities needed to accomplish restoration goals on a landscape scale and to provide a stable marketplace for both growers and land managers.
In January 2020, partners reviewed the EPA Level IV Ecoregions for the Oregon coast to assist in delineating a geographic boundary for the Partnership. This boundary informs seed collection, seed transfer zones, and membership. The map below (Figure 1) indicates the three ecoregions selected: 1a Coastal Lowlands; 1b Coastal Uplands; and 1d Volcanics. There is potential to extend the boundary into northern California if the group decides this would benefit the CNSP. The scope may be adjusted for specific species and elevation considerations, as well.
The Oregon coast is home to a wide variety of habitats that host a diversity of plant and animal species. Three target habitats were identified as the top priorities for the CNSP. These habitats are also designated as strategy habitats in the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Oregon Conservation Strategy (2016). Strategy habitats are habitats of conservation concern within Oregon that provide important benefits to strategy species.
Much of the historic coastal grassland habitat on the Oregon coast has been lost or degraded because of land development, invasive species, and climate change. Coastal grassland ecosystems play an important role in the life cycle of the federally threatened Oregon silverspot butterfly and have therefore been the focus of restoration efforts by federal and state agencies and local non-profit organizations. Planting a diverse mix of native forbs and grasses will help outcompete invasive species and allow slower growing perennials to establish over time. A functioning coastal grassland provides wildlife habitat, supports the food web, controls erosion of coastal bluffs, and helps mitigate the effects of climate change.
Over the course of the last century, Oregon dunes have been altered dramatically due to the introduction of European and American beachgrass (Ammophila spp.) and other non-native and invasive species. The beachgrass has altered the movement of sand and has forced dune plant communities towards shrubland and forest, decreasing native forbs and grasses that provide habitat for threatened and endangered species like the snowy plover and streaked horned lark. Restoration of native plant communities in the dunes will also improve habitat for other native plant species including pink sandverbena (Abronia umbellata), silver phacelia (Phacelia argentea), and Wolf’s evening primrose (Oenothera wolfii). A diverse dune plant community can help restore natural functions such as windbreak and storm surge protection by restoring the naturally dynamic system of moving sand.
Estuaries are highly complex, productive habitats found along the Oregon coast, many of which have been altered through tidegates, channelization, diking, and dredging. Estuaries support a wide variety of plant and animal species including the federally threatened Coho salmon. Many estuary restoration projects seek to restore this habitat with channel modification, large woody debris, and revegetation after ground disturbance. The use of native seed, as well as bareroot, container, and plug plantings, is a strong component of these revegetation activities. A diverse estuarine plant community contributes to a functioning estuary that mitigates coastal flooding, filters runoff, cycles nutrients, and provides essential habitat for salmonids.
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