In the 20th Century, we preserved the land. In the 21st, let’s restore it.

Ensuring Native Landscapes Thrive for Generations: Establishing a Seed Policy

By Chip O’Leary
Deputy Director of Resource Management
Forest Preserves of Cook County

The Next Century Conservation Plan calls for the restoration of 30,000 acres of our forest preserves to high quality. The Prairie Research Institute (PRI) and the Forest Preserves of Cook County (FPCC) spent much of 2014 and 2015 identifying those 30,000 acres. Through that identification process it became clear that some acres have an excellent prognosis for recovery; remove invasives and allow nature to do the rest. Some areas are not so lucky; they will require more help to recover. These lower quality areas will need invasive removal, prescribed fire, and additional seeding of native plant species.

Where do we get the seed? It sounds like a simple question, but for a scientist, it creates many more questions. What species should we include? How far can we go to get seed? Do soils matter, both for seed source and seed planting? What happens to the plant gene pool when new seed is added? How do we insure the new seed strengthens the preserve? If seed is purchased from a nursery, what are the considerations? These questions are just some of many.

This past April, a panel of local experts was assembled by PRI to sort through these questions and make recommendations. The panel included geneticists, botanists, local land managers, and ecological management volunteers from organizations such as the Illinois Natural History Survey, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Illinois Nature Preserves Commission, Chicago Botanic Garden, Morton Arboretum, and the Lake, Will, and Cook County Forest Preserve Districts. The panel reviewed a draft seed policy assembled by PRI, discussed open issues, asked questions and made recommendations. The policy is currently in the draft stage, and we anticipate its completion by the end of August 2016.

The seed policy will give guidance for collection and use of seed material, and ensure that the science underlying the use of seed is sound. When complete, this policy can then be used as the foundational document for devising seed-sourcing and seed amplification strategies to deliver seed where needed to reach our NCCP goals.