Winter in AK and The National Native Seed Conference

Winter has happily settled itself in Anchorage-area. 185 inches of snowfall have been recorded at Alyeska Resort in 2017, leaving no doubt a true winter has returned despite several years of absence.

Photo 1. Alaska’s Kenai Mountains / Photo Jacob DeKraai

My presence in Anchorage has been facilitated by acceptance into a second Conservation and Land Management (CLM) internship, and although both internships were based in Alaska, the experiences are not comparable. The dramatic move from Copper Center (pop. 328) to the busy hub of Anchorage (300,000+) was initially a shock, but I have finally acclimated to city life. I can get used to traffic, angry people, shopping malls and higher cost of living, but most difficult to stomach was the necessary change in work attire from rubber boots to dress shoes.

I was brought onto the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Alaska team to work on several projects this winter season and assist in numerous botany projects the subsequent summer. The following tasks were of highest priority upon joining the team:

  • Prepare poster presentation and write-up to illustrate Seeds of Success (SOS) accomplishments in AK and how they integrate into the overall execution of BLM-facilitated mine reclamations. The poster was to be displayed at the National Native Seed Conference in Washington DC.
  • Assist in the design of monitoring regimes on mine reclamations for maximum statistical strength
  • Digitize new polygons from survey points during previous season’s invasive plant surveys and move into National Invasive Species Information Management System (NISIMS) database.
  • Help describe state and transition models for mine sites.

Developing the presentation for the Native Seed Conference was my first task, and initiated my investigations into the workings of BLM AK botany projects. In execution of this project, I have acquired valuable knowledge regarding the agency, the extent of SOS efforts, policies on mine reclamation, reclamations underway, native plant material production, alignment of efforts with the National Seed Strategy, and most importantly, partnerships necessary to make all of this happen.

Having the opportunity to contribute at the conference had me eager about my future in the current movement of native plant material production. I was honored to join my mentor in DC and experience the collaboration of many passionate, dedicated people working together to execute the National Seed Strategy. From small-scale private collectors to large, commercial growers to PhD students studying comparative germination requirements of upland sedges, all walks of life were present at the conference. Despite this diverse group, the atmosphere reflected that of a community with vested interest in others’ triumphs/discoveries.

Photo 2. The National Native Seed Conference / Photo Jacob DeKraai

Photo 3. Alaska Seeds of Success Program poster presentation / Photo BLM

All this talk of native seed has led to increased thought on the subject matter. In an effort to improve my literacy on the plight of native seed, I have turned to contemporary literature. I recently began reading the book “Seedtime” by Scott Chaskey. A poet and proponent of plant biodiversity, in his book he has illustrated the following analogy:

“Encapsulated in each seed is a story, a story held in a state of rest until released. Only with significant patience and effort can we interpret this language, which gradually is revealed as the cotyledons, or first leaves, unfold from a seed’s invisible center. A plants coming into being, or maturation, is such a quiet progression that we tend instead to focus on the fruit, the colorful prize of production and the vessel of taste. To grasp the whole story, however, we will have to look at the structure of a flower, how plants have evolved to attract pollinators, and how a flowering plant produces seed. Our entire food supply is a gift of the angiosperm revolution – the magnificent event that introduced flowering plants to the world 140 million years ago – and our heath and food futures are entwined with the way in which we choose to nurture or manipulate the seeds of that natural revolution.” – Scott Chaskey

In the US, 17,000 plant species tell individual tales together composing a complete anthology of plant evolution. This anthology represents both the evolutionary history of flora and, if also containing spacial information, the guidelines of how each individual tale branched, changed and is now presented differently in varying environments. The tales remain the same, but slight variations have led to stories with local adaptions, unique and individual.

In a time of mass habitat destruction, we wonder how many unique stories we have permanently lost. Genetically appropriate seed is a key component to increased success in ecological restoration.

As the conference began to wind down, I started reflecting on my goals as a young conservationist. Beyond my work as a CLM intern, how do I positively impact the National Seed Strategy? Do I join the restoration community or pursue integration into the native seed industry? Finding a niche can be difficult, and it’s easy to feel without direction in a room full of accomplished professionals of diverse disciplines. I imagine this is a common thought of many up-and-comers in our field, but those of us working in these botany projects must find pride in our work. That invasive plant survey, that seed collection in Idaho or that week you spent doing inventories for a rare plant and didn’t find a thing. These are all small chunks of information and material that consolidate into large informational packets or accumulations. These informational packets are used to help make decisions that impact our cause, and every single accession is part of an overall accumulation, increasing the genetic diversity of our seedbanks.

What an exciting time to be alive. We have the opportunity to be engaged in a movement for science, conservation and ecosystem health. Protectors of the past and activists for the future. Pretty cool.  For now I remain focused on current efforts with the BLM and maintain excitement to support the National Native Plant Materials Development Program and the Native Seed Strategy through SOS and mine reclamation in the state of Alaska.

Thanks for reading!

Jacob

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