New England Wild Flower Society and two partner organizations have begun a $2.3M project to collect seeds of native plants for restoration of coastal habitats from Maine to Virginia that were damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
The two-year project is the first large-scale, coordinated seed banking effort in the eastern United States, and is part of the $360 million in federal Hurricane Sandy mitigation funding the Department of the Interior is using to restore and rebuild national parks, national wildlife refuges, and other federal assets on the Atlantic coast, and to increase the capacity of coastal habitats and infrastructure to withstand storms.
The Society and its partners, North Carolina Botanic Garden and Mid-Atlantic Regional Seed Bank (part of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation), will provide seed from native, locally adapted plants for restoration of sub-tidal habitats and dunes, wetlands, salt marshes, near-coastal freshwater habits, coastal forests, and inland rivers and streams. Much of the vegetation in these habitats was inundated by salt water, smothered in sand, or washed out to sea during Hurricane Sandy.
Managers of national wildlife refuges and parks are eager to have the native plant material. One of the first requests came from the Rhode Island National Wildlife Refuge complex, including the John H. Chafee NWR in Narragansett and Sachuest Point NWR in Middletown. These refuges alone need seed to produce 14,000 plants for their restoration projects.
Until now, restoration projects in the eastern United States have had to rely primarily on plant material from other parts of the country. This initiative will supply seeds sustainably collected from the local area. Plants native to a particular ecoregion are best adapted to the soil and climate, and they act as hosts for the local insects and wildlife, especially pollinators, with which they evolved over millennia.
The partners will target 50 species common throughout the project range, plus regional and site-specific species. They will collect from multiple populations to ensure genetic diversity, for a total of 1400 separate collections.
The project is also an important expansion to the East of the Bureau of Land Management's Seeds of Success program, which since 2001 has focused on collecting wild seed for restoration projects on federal lands in the western U.S.