Mojave Desert Land Trust Gets $3.19M Grant To Enlarge Native Seed Bank

A $3.19 million state grant awarded to a San Bernardino County-based environmental group will be used to expand the warehouse of seeds it is safeguarding to head off the extinction of plants native to Southern California’s deserts.
On May 25, the California Wildlife Conservation Board set aside $3.19 million as part of California’s 30 X 30 Initiative to fund the expansion of the Mojave Desert Seed Bank.
The grant will be put to use, a spokeswoman for the Mojave Desert Land Trust said, “to help conservationists tackle the urgent need for native seed to conserve the California deserts’ unique biodiversity.”
Desert ecosystems make up approximately one quarter of the state. Those ecosystems are threatened by significant drought, severe weather, and precipitous loss of habitat and wildlife. Biologists and botanists have identified seed banking as crucial to ensuring the survival of California’s ecosystems by making seed available for the restoration and enhancement of rare, threatened and culturally important species and those species’ habitats. Seed banking also plays an important role in long-term conservation as the state aims to protect 30 percent of California’s land and water by 2030.
Environmentalists say the region needs more resources to build capacity and collaboration among those with ecological preservation priorities.“Seed banks are a crucial tool for the conservation and management of ecosystems and the preservation of regional biodiversity, helping us safeguard our flora against species extinction and restore habitats and ecosystems with genetically-appropriate, source-identified seed,” said Madena Asbell, director of plant conservation programs at the Mojave Desert Land Trust. “This project will expand the Mojave Desert Land Trust’s seed bank program and allow us, along with our partners, to better address the region’s seed needs and the growing threats caused by climate change and habitat loss.”
The Mojave Desert Seed Bank is managed by the Mojave Desert Land Trust from its Joshua Tree headquarters. The new funding from the Wildlife Conservation Board will enable the seed bank to collect, process and store seed representing 300 taxa over the next four years. This will expand the facility’s current capacity to 500 taxa – approximately 20 percent of desert flora. Over the next four years, the seed bank aims to collect over 2,000 pounds of seed and make it available for restoration across the region.
The four-year expansion effort will include creating an inventory of California desert seed for use in restoration projects throughout the region, ensuring tribal engagement in seed collecting methods and protocols, conducting research and developing protocols that can be shared with the larger conservation community, and developing and implementing outreach and education materials to further the public’s knowledge about the importance of California’s native plants and the role of seed banking.
The Mojave Desert Seed Bank’s purpose is to create a long-term, sustainable resource of native seeds that can be made available for research and restoration during times of increasing and uncertain threats to ecosystems, and to conserve rare, threatened, and endangered plant species through partnerships with organizations like California Plant Rescue, known by its acronym, CaPR. As the effects of climate change lash out unpredictably across the desert region, the seed bank, with larger and more diverse stores of seeds, will be better equipped to fulfill conservation and restoration needs when and where such assistance is deemed most needed.
In January 2023, the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released “An Assessment of Native Seed Needs and the Capacity for their Supply: Final Report,” which concluded that there is a severe shortage of source-identified, genetically-appropriate native seed available for restoration, and that the need for such seed is urgent. The report recommended supporting regional programs and partnerships with seed banks and nurseries, supporting responsible seed collection and long-term seed banking, supporting basic research, and collaborating with private and non-profit partners on expanding seed storage and seed-cleaning infrastructure.
“This new project comes at an auspicious time and provides hopeful and significant new solutions to one of the pressing issues facing the California desert,” said Kelly Herbinson, joint executive director of the Mojave Desert Land Trust. “This expansion of the Mojave Desert Seed Bank will help us in this work to protect biodiversity, improve climate change resiliency, and support the State Wildlife Action Plan priority habitats. We will help stabilize vulnerable native plant populations, make seed available for the restoration of natural landscapes that are carbon sinks, and provide an inventory of California desert seed for use in habitat restoration projects throughout the region. We are deeply grateful to the Wildlife Conservation Board for awarding this grant funding and look forward to carrying out this crucial work.”
The long-term expansion of the Mojave Desert Seed Bank also includes construction of a 2,500 square-foot facility made possible by an anonymous donor. The new facility will house a seed lab, climate-controlled storage, a processing room, and workspace for staff and volunteers.
The Seed Bank has made over 700 collections representing over 210 species since its establishment six years ago. The seed collection priorities include species with high restoration value, species that support state and federally threatened and endangered wildlife such as desert tortoise, and California Native Plant Society ranked taxa.
The collections, data, and knowledge gained are of value to scientists studying climate change in other regions. Desert plants have unique adaptations to allow them to survive harsh conditions, and genetic information on these adaptations is of particular interest to scientists as other regions of the world are becoming increasingly arid due to climate change, with factors such as drought, extreme temperatures, and salt in water and soil posing a significant threat to native fauna.
In 2020, Mojave Desert Land Trust’s Seed Bank hit two major milestones: The seed bank joined California Plant Rescue, a collaborative of not-for-profit botanical institutions working under the auspices of the Center for Plant Conservation to conserve the flora of California and the California Floristic Province. That same year, the Mojave Desert Land Trust entered a collaboration with the Bureau of Land Management to develop seed increase grow-outs for source-identified, native Mojave Desert seed to develop and document these protocols.
California’s 30×30 Initiative is an effort under the aegis of the California Natural Resources Agency to take part in an international movement to conserve natural areas across the planet, to protect and restore biodiversity, expand access to nature, and mitigate and build resilience to climate change. In October 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order directing state agencies to catalogue, study and protect the state’s diversity of wildlife species with the stated goal of protecting 30 percent of California’s lands and coastal waters by 2030.
-Mark Gutglueck

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