Lack of Seeds and Botanists Crimp National Seed Strategy

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Tuesday, March 12, 2024
Chandra Rosenthal (303) 898-0798

Lack of Seeds and Botanists Crimp National Seed Strategy

Botanist Ranks in Federal Land Management Agencies Fell 20% Since 2015


Washington, DC —As the Interior Department unveils a new National Interagency Seed and Restoration Center as the key to ecological restoration and maintaining biological diversity, the land management agencies charged with implementing that strategy suffer from diminished capacities and dysfunction, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Significantly, the agency critical to the success of a national seed strategy, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, suffers from shortages in both seeds and botanists, lacks needed infrastructure and supply chains, and approves mass herbicide applications that devastate native plant populations.

In a seminal report issued last year, the National Academy of Sciences concluded that inadequate native seed supplies are a major barrier to restoration of federal lands constituting one-third of U.S. land area.  In response, last month Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced a National Seed Initiative anchored by BLM’s new Interagency National Seed and Restoration Center.

This new emphasis, however, is hamstrung by several reinforcing factors:

  • The land management agencies face a crippling shortage of skilled botanists essential for proper identification, collection, and management of native seeds, and that shortage is getting worse with the number of botanists in the four major land management agencies dropping by 20.5% in the period between 2015 and 2022. Currently, BLM has just 39 botanists on staff or 1.59 botanists for every 10 million BLM acres;
  • BLM does not have sufficient infrastructure, including warehouses and supply chains to scale up native seed production. In 2020, more than three-quarters of the grasses and flowering plants (forbs) BLM purchased were not native source-identified seeds; and
  • There is no national program to support native seed growers and producers. Nor is there a centralized commercial seed permit program to support seed collection, ensure sustainable harvesting practices, and promote transparency in seed procurement.

“America’s native seed system has limped along untended in fallow bureaucratic soil for too long and sorely needs a comprehensive national commitment,” stated Rocky Mountain PEER Director Chandra Rosenthal.  “Botanists do not grow on trees.  Without enough trained botanists on staff in these agencies the Native Seed Initiative may be doomed to failure.”

Another challenge to native plants and grasses is indiscriminate use of herbicides.  For example, last December BLM approved the use of seven new herbicides on public lands, including Indaziflam, to fight the spread of cheat grass throughout the West and control invasive plants but it is devastating to many native plants.

“Unfortunately, when it comes to protecting native plants, BLM often undoes with one hand what it is trying to accomplish with the other,” Rosenthal added. “To be successful, a national native seeds strategy needs to be consistently applied.”


Read the PEER Native Seed Fact Sheet  

Look at the National Seed Strategy

View 2023 National Academies report

Examine threat posed by Indaziflam herbicide

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