Thomas A. Jones
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Plant Materials for Sagebrush Steppe Restoration
Thomas A. Jones, Utah State University, Logan, UT
An increasing number and diversity of plant materials are becoming available for restoration of sagebrush steppe lands. Some species that have previously been available only from wildland harvest are now more economically produced with better seed quality in cultivated fields. Others are now available at much reduced expense following breakthroughs in seedling establishment, seed yield, and/or seed retention. Some of these materials are increases of natural populations, while others are genetically selected and/or hybridized from natural populations according to standard plant breeding procedures. Some intentionally possess enhanced genetic variation, while others are intentionally more limited. Most of these plant materials are of the more common grass species, but forb materials are becoming more available as well. On the other hand, impacts of developed shrub plant materials have been minimal, and seed supplies are limited to wildland harvests.
The severity of sagebrush steppe environments, their concomitant modification by increased wildfire frequency and invasive weeds, and the specter of climate change combine to create a daunting task for plant materials developers. Given these challenges, rangeland plant materials’ ability to establish, to compete with invasive weeds, and to overcome environmental stresses is paramount for on-the-ground success. Yet equally important, but often overlooked, is the need for these materials to be acceptable in terms of seed production, which entails a whole suite of traits important in a cultivated setting. The issues of genetic diversity within plant materials, matching of material to site, and selection and hybridization in plant material development continue to be controversial in some quarters. Nevertheless, natural materials, i.e., non-genetically manipulated, that would have been acceptable products in the past, may no longer be suitable. Thus, there is merit in the development of both natural and genetically manipulated materials, and this choice should depend on the intended objectives of the restoration effort.