It was a moment of serendipity that led to a partnership between NMLC and the Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE). Melanie Gisler, IAE Southwest program director, and Beth Mills, NMLC conservation director, were chatting outside when Gisler mentioned that her staff was scouring Santa Fe to rent a location to clean, sort and store seeds. “Why don’t you just use our garage?” Mills said. The garage turned out to have an excellent temperature and humidity for seed storage.
The Institute for Applied Ecology is a conservation nonprofit that began in Corvallis, Ore. 15 years ago and expanded to the Southwest about a year ago. “They are playing an advisory role in the development of a national seed strategy released last year by the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Federal Plant Conservation Alliance,” said Cameron Weber, conservation planner and seed crew coordinator for IAE. “It is addressing the needs for climate resilient landscapes and harnessing the availability of locally adapted seeds for restoration on public lands.”
The Southwest program works in New Mexico and Arizona with the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and other parties including NMLC on Southwest seed partnerships. The first step of pursuing that goal is collecting wild seed, followed by cleaning and storing. “How well the seed is cleaned determines how well it stores,” Weber said. “Storage time depends on the seed. Generally, the larger the seed, the shorter the storage time. But some large seeds have been around for centuries, like corn and beans.”
Wildfire, overgrazing, roads, mining, erosion, and intensifying heat are taking a toll on the plant community. More bare ground leads to more climate warming, and seeds include both grasses and forbs to support native pollinators.
“We’re grateful for the partnership,” Weber said. “If people in the NMLC community want to make their land available for seed collection and learn more about the program, we are looking for more places to find seed.”