Case Study: State Nursery and State Seed Bank
I learned through an AP news brief that the state nursery and state seed bank, run by Cal Fire, were scheduled for closure due to budget cuts. I contacted a forestry source I’d worked with on a previous article, and asked if this was significant. He said it was of major significance, and these operations protected the genetic legacy of the state’s forestlands. The state nursery grows forest tree seedlings suited to specific elevations and latitudes, such that the trees are genetically suited to the area in which they’ll be planted, in terms of average rainfall, temperatures, etc. Without that trees may die prematurely, weakening forest health and creating more fire hazards. No commercial nursery handles this type of function, as seedlings are also grown on “speculation” a year or two ahead of time, based on anticipated needs due to fire risk and drought.
The seed bank provides the seeds necessary to run the operation, and employs seed gatherers who head out annually to replenish supplies. The seed bank was created by the state in 1887, and foresters describe it as an invaluable asset.
The first article I wrote on this, for the Sacramento Bee, caught the attention of then-US Agriculture Secretary Ann Venemon. After reading it, she arranged for a $150,000 grant to rescue both operations.
Less than two years later, the state seed bank was again threatened when state and federal officials – in a quest to save money – announced the merger of the state and federal (USDA-run) seed bank. Foresters again decried this move, saying it would significantly affect the quality of the state operation. I wrote about this proposed merger for both the Sacramento Bee and the San Francisco Chronicle. After that, the merger idea was scrapped and both seed banks remain independent.
In 2010, however, the state finally shut down the state nursery to save funds, a move that had no support among professional foresters. But Cal Fire said it had no choice but to do.