By Leah Douglas
(Reuters) - The United States is facing a shortage of the native seeds it uses to restore natural habitats damaged by wildfire and other weather events made worse by climate change, according to a report released on Thursday by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM).
Extreme weather events, especially wildfires, are causing increasingly severe damage, something the Biden administration recognized last July when it tripled funding for U.S. Forest Service (USFS) reforestation efforts.
But the country's supply of native seeds, plants, and trees is insufficient to meet the needs of agencies like USFS or the Bureau of Land Management, the top user of native seeds, which commissioned the NASEM report.
"The federal land-management agencies are not prepared to provide the native seed necessary to respond to the increasing frequency and severity of wildfire and impacts of climate change," the report said.
A BLM spokesperson said the agency was still reviewing the report and could not comment on specific findings, but director Tracy Stone-Manning said NASEM's recommendations "represent an important opportunity for us to make our collective efforts more effective."
A USFS spokesperson said the agency is looking at ways to increase its replanting and seed procurement capacity.
Native plants are best for habitat restoration and often preferred by agencies, states, and tribes because they are well adapted and beneficial to local animals and insects, said Susan P. Harrison, an environmental science and policy professor at the University of California-Davis and the chair of the committee that wrote the report.
"Native plants have been there for thousands of years," she said. "Their potential to keep persisting into the longer term has been fairly well tested."
But native seed suppliers have been strained in part because major buyers like BLM tend to make purchases in the wake of emergencies, making demand inconsistent, Harrison said.
Agencies should take a more proactive approach to restoration and collaborate on native seed policies, the authors recommended.
"Time is of the essence to bank the seeds and the genetic diversity our lands hold," the report said.
(Reporting by Leah Douglas; editing by Caroline Stauffer and Tomasz Janowski)