Here’s another factor to consider: native grass seed is more expensive to purchase.
There are good reasons for this. First WHF harvests some of the seed from the same ecosystem it is to be planted in because it needs to grow and compete with endemic invasive species. Each season WHF sends locally harvested seed to Bamert Seed Company where it is cleaned, analyzed and bagged. These seeds are then mixed with germplasm, other seeds selected at USDA/NCRS Plant Material Centers which have been grown by commercial seed growers like Bamert. Most of the grass seeds planted in the mix at Billig were commercial varieties from early successional plants (those that germinate the first growing season), medium and late successional varieties. Willis says, “Some of the late successional seeds (including the local ecotypes) may take five years to germinate—which is nature’s way of dealing with factors like droughts or floods.”
Despite the higher cost, consumers need to focus on value per unit of cost.
Buyers should insist that native grass seed have a seed tag showing it was tested just before being shipped and buy it on the basis of PLS (pure live seed) pounds. This is a calculation which insures the highest purity is matched with the highest germination rate and is expressed as a percentage. PLS pounds may only be 40% of clean seed bulk pounds, therefore halving the quantity of quality seed needed, according to Mr. Willis. He goes on to state, “WHF always tells its customers to buy from reputable seed companies that sell on a PLS basis.”
While this is PPLT’s first major attempt at conversion to native prairie grasses, WHF has been at it since 2004. The original motivation for WHF was (and still is) restoration of habitat for upland game birds. After receipt of a federal grant to do just that, WHF established the first quail corridor in the state. Texas A&M University researchers discovered 31 species on the original 200 acre test plot after 5 years of proper follow-up management. In the beginning, the quail corridor resulted in WHF collaboration with landowners controlling 2,000 acres over two counties. Today the organization is working with landowners who control 40,000 acres in a dozen counties. Jim says, “No one wants you to be successful more than we do. We like to work with people who also have a passion for restoring prairies.”
But this is not a “slam dunk.”
Ample rains received at Billig this season are a questionable blessing. Invasive species will be difficult to control if not sprayed precisely when these plants are growing most actively. Some invasives (which have lain dormant for years) may germinate after competition is reduced by the first herbicide treatment and then jump-started by recent rains. Early successional natives may not be able to compete with the early successional invasive species. If that happens, the game plan changes: selective herbicides, controlled grazing and prescribed burns would need to be used at just the right times to give natives the needed edge over invasives. Because some natives take five or more years to germinate, this becomes an endurance contest, or outright war. Several battles may be required to win the war!
As for PPLT, there are several goals in mind here.
As our first major restoration effort, the Billig experience will serve as an experimental clinic for our other rehabilitation projects. Another major goal is to create a healthy savannah to support a diversity of insects, birds, herps and mammals—to include enhancing survivability of the endangered Houston toad. We intend to monitor the impact on local wildlife populations. Finally, we envision a meaningful educational tool for both organizations and individuals interested in studying our model for environmental sustainability. Stay tuned for occasional updates about our journey. . .we mean to do Mr. Billig proud!