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.

In 2023, I was able to report, for Sierra Magazine, the welcome news about the reopening of the nursery, after massive wildfires and warming climate conditions made the need for seedlings evident.

U.S. grant rescues state tree nursery; The Forest Service will provide $150,000 to cover seedlings’ care for one year, Sacramento Bee

State’s forest reseeding operation at risk / Budget cuts force state seed bank closure; merge with federal forestry agency planned, SFGATE

State seed bank merger seen, Jackson Forest

State nursery falls under budget ax, The Mercury News

A severe shortage of conifer seedlings, Sierra Magazine