29 November 2010

Carolinian zone native plant seed collectors & growers: this one's about *you*

The Role of Native Plant Seed Collectors and Growers in Protecting Floral Diversity
by David N. Morris
A thesis presented to the University of Waterloo in fulfillment of the thesis requirement for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Geography Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, 2010. Supervisor: Prof. Stephen D. Murphy.

"...The planting of native species is a common strategy for the conservation of biodiversity ...there has been very little research done about the diversity within plantings by non-state actors. This research was undertaken to address this knowledge gap by studying the provenances of planted rare species and the activities of those who collect and grow these plants. This research was undertaken in the Carolinian zone of southern Ontario, a region with a large number of rare plant species and a large human population."
To the author, David: awesome thesis topic. Thanks for the insight, the recommendations, and for developing research that can be credibly cited. And thanks for an interesting read too: it's the closest I've seen yet to a southern Ontario version of Susan Orlean's "The Orchid Thief" ;)


Southern Ontario stewards, gardeners and seed collectors can find practical and ethical advice here:

1. The Society For Ecological Restoration
- Ontario Chapter updated their Growers Guidelines and Buyers Guidelines w/in the past year.
(BTW: SERO also widely publicized these guidelines to their partners and across academic, private, public and enthusiast newsletters. They also inventoried commercial native plant growers across the province -- & not just those who sell restoration quality plants-- and then sent each one of them these guidelines, along with an invitation to contact SERO for further information or assistance. Thank Megan and the Steve's! Not bad for an entirely volunteer effort. Did I mention SERO could use some volunteers, Board Members, and someone w/ desktop publishing skills for the new guide? It's a rare opportunity really: the current active members have so much experience they're a fascinating privilege to volunteer alongside).

2. Forest Gene Conservation Association. The FGCA site answers a lot of questions about how to ethically seed collect and purchase our native woodies from a ecological literate, biodiversity & Species-at-Risk conservation perspective. Also, along w/ partner organizations, they've delivered several publicly accessible "Certified Seed Collector" workshops in the past few years throughout south, central and eastern Ontario.
Also related: in the past few years, when it comes to gardens, I've become a conservative proponent of seed collecting from only common native plants (even in urban Toronto that's at least 200+ species that adapt well in gardens). And I advise folks to report rare species to their local Conservation Authority or OMNR for their records, and otherwise leaving the rare species to their habitats and the pros: the Species-at-Risk recovery teams, conservation biologists and ecologists, and ecological restorationists -- all of whom I've only seen welcome participation from locally knowledgeable people.

But I had to get past my initial ignorance. While it's easy to find lists of Ontario's and its Ecoregions Species-at-Risk, it's very difficult for most people to access local conservation "L ranks" for plant species-at-risk. I've thought about this last point often, and I still don't understand why our local Conservation Authorities don't make those L ranks publicly accessible. I don't see what risks it would pose. But I do see the benefits.

Also, even among some of the better non-profits orgs who buy, plant, grow and sell natives, most aren't even aware that several popular native plant species were added to the Ontario Endangered Species Act w/in the past couple of years, although Graham Buck (Nith River Native Plant & Seeds owner and OMNR staff) did provide public workshops. And so I still see these species commonly collected, sold and purchased, by folks who aren't even aware of the status of these species, let alone the required permits for exemption from our provincial SAR legislation (e.g. for growers who use these seeds to supply eco-restoration and conservation practitioners). In those cases, I believe I have better luck by starting up a conversation about it and then following up by sending folks information (hey, most of us are ecological illiterate and trying to learn) than I would if I tried to play some imaginary hard-headed 'plant nazi' (Do you know I've never met one? I don't think they actually exist. I think it's a mythical derisive term created by people who are trying to appease their own conscience and insecurities). But make no mistake, I want our Species-at-Risk to survive in their habitats for another generation, and a few more after that.


Aniruddha H D said...

Thank you for posting this research, native plant girl! It is really an interesting thesis to refer to, especially to those who are directly into the field of conservation, as well as for gardeners. Thanks again!

native plant girl said...

Hi Aniruddha, thanks for the encouragement! and i agree, it's so valuable and useful to have credible (and local, and up-to-date no less) research to learn from and to cite.

and, about this being useful to gardeners: i sent the thesis to a few gardeners, and they tell me they want more information from their growers. not a detailed map too the seed source, but at least a county->township and a description of the soil and plant community where the seed was collected from -- otherwise, they cannot keep record of what they have in their own gardens (and the seeds that result from their own plants).

Steve S said...

Should I make up a hat that says 'Plant Police" ;)

You're right, all of us may have strong beliefs of what should be planted or not but have to adjust to each site and situation, so don't ever get into a plant nazi mode. Those that complain have too much of the too-independent-for-your-own-good gene coming out!

We need more people to be familiar with what plants grow in our area naturally and work to grow more of those, not just gardens. What if we left gardens (places where we get to plant whatever we want except invasive exotics) to our house yards and focus on establishing diverse communities of local native plants everywhere else? I think a lot of people haven't seen an un-degraded natural area, and how outstandlingly beautiful they are. Most of what we see today is degraded in one way or another.

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen any 'plant nazis', but I certainly have seen more than a few 'tree nazis'. To the detriment of our natural areas, tragically.

We need to stop 'talking the talk' and start 'walking the walk' environmentally and ecologically (and most importantly legislatively) when it comes to invasive species - especially invasive tree species which are, illogically - protected through most municipal 'tree protection' legislation and urban forestry practice. We're heading for our own Southern Ontario version of this: http://www.seattlepi.com/default/article/Report-7-out-of-10-Seattle-forest-trees-dead-in-1329093.php
and no-ones even talking about it.

(note that that highest "value" of carbon sequestration comes from the large coverage by Manitoba Maple, and the 95% woodland shrub coverage of common buckthorn)
And here: http://www.torontozoo.com/adoptapond/urbanoutback/part35.html

Instead of leadership and vision, from the Municipalities, Cities and various Tree 'Protection' groups we get this (is 'threat' the only language that Urban Foresters speak?): http://www.thestar.com/living/food/article/769956--trees-in-city-parks-off-limits-for-tapping
and this: http://www.torontolife.com/daily/daily-dish/rumours-rumblings/2010/02/23/toronto-group-wants-to-tap-trees-to-make-maple-syrup-city-of-toronto-not-impressed/

Nativeplantgirl - thanks for all you do here. I hope you'll start raising awareness of this issue whenever the topics of "Urban Canopy" and "Tree Protection" come up, before we're in the same boat as Seattle (if we're not already).

Speaking from an auditor's perspective, you can only audit to 'the documented agreements/legislation/etc...'. But you're taught to watch out for what *isn't* there as much as what is, even though you can't do much about it if the law is unreasonable. The best corporate predators go after the 'controls' to ensure that what they're doing is not illegal. Legislation such as the Tree Protection by-laws which purport to do one thing (protect our natural areas and local ecologies and promote carbon sequestration over the long term) but in actual practice does another (allow the wholesale degradation of natural woodland areas and ravines through unchecked growth of invasives - especially when combined with threats of massive fines for harming them) is very similar to the type of legislative 'controls' used by the financial services industry prior to the recent Wall Street fiascos. At its best it is naive or incompetent. At its worst it is rent-seeking (i.e. corruption, graft, etc...) by the people who've influenced the lawmakers to write the legislation that way.

So far the evidence all seems to point only one way. I really hope I'm wrong here - let's all hope. But just in case I'm not, I hope you'll help raise awareness so we can get this changed.

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