This Prairie Grassland Project collects native seeds

BLM funds the partnership with private donations and the Society for Ecological Restoration, a conservation organization. The Agency prioritises native plants in restoration projects through its National Indigenous Seed Collection Program; seeds from that region typically germinate better than seeds brought from far away. But the seed supply is limited. “With the federal government wanting to put more native plants out there,” Velman says, “who better to tell us what’s going to be on earth than those who’ve been here forever?”

Last year, the grassland project only collected seeds from federal lands, but this year the council invited the program to use tribal lands as well. There were clear differences in the seeds collected from the two areas, possibly due to previous grazing or fire. The BLM plots next to the reservation battled what turned out to be the worst drought in at least 30 years. “Everything was pretty much dead in the second week of July,” Eisenberg says. However, many of the stem grounds bloomed into the summer and eventually made up the majority of the seeds collected.

23 pounds of seeds were collected this year, stored in nicely labeled paper bags and sent to a cleaning facility in Oregon, USA. BLM owns seeds collected in public areas, while seeds collected in tribal areas mainly belong to the tribe that has agreed to keep the first 10,000 seeds of each species at federal facilities in Washington and Colorado as part of a national native seed collection effort.

Still, the vast majority of the seeds – there are 181,000 in just a kilo of green conifer grass – will go back to Fort Belknap. The tribal council can sell the seeds to BLM, use them to restore degraded soil or perhaps start its own native seed cultivation. Project managers hope to plant some of the seeds on tribal lands in a few years, when the tribal council approves a restoration plan and the plots are ready for planting. BLM ultimately also plans to sow seeds in the region.

Pronghorn darted away from a gravel road, white backs flashing while a villain of field technicians drove to their first spot of the day, a prairie field in the southeast corner of the reservation. It was August, the end of the season, and they needed to collect the game cameras they had set up there to investigate the impact wildlife has on the site’s plants.

The air was humid and smoky, excessive of insect spray and sage, primed by an early morning rain. Tyrus Brockie, the junior field technician, wore gaiters over his boots to protect against rattlesnake bites. He pointed to his uncle’s ranch, where he helps drive cattle. Brockie had recently been fascinated by the landscape: “Now I’ve got my head down all morning [looking at the grasses], “he says. He is considering studying natural resources at Aaniiih Nakoda College:” This job makes me go and learn. “

Young participants in the paid restoration program can move on from community fellows to become entry-level, and then senior, field technicians. Fellows spent a week with the team this summer, as did 22-year-old Sakura Main, who worked with her little sister and cousin. Senior technicians like Brockie work the entire eight-week field season. “I did not know that it was so important to restore grassland,” says Main, a registered Aaniiih member. “When it’s in your backyard, you do not always notice it.”


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