Environment / Nature

Volunteers gather seeds from native plants for post-burn restoration

The group’s goal is to restore ecosystems in San Benito County by reducing the amount of invasive plants.
Volunteers hiking through Nyland property. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Volunteers hiking through Nyland property. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Looking for seeds. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Looking for seeds. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Native grasses. Photo by Jared Childress.
Native grasses. Photo by Jared Childress.
Collected seeds. Photo by Jared Childress.
Collected seeds. Photo by Jared Childress.

Nearly 40 volunteers gathered at the Nyland property outside of San Juan Bautista on June 5 to take up the fight against the spread of invasive non-native plants, a foe of the local ecosystem. The mission was simple: collect native seeds. 

Led by Jared Childress, program manager of​ ​​Central Coast Prescribed Burn Association (CCPBA), and Lynn Overtree, executive director of the San Benito Agricultural Land Trust (SBALT), the volunteers spent three hours gathering seeds from indigenous plants throughout the property.

“You might ask, ‘why does a prescribed burn association care about seeds?’” said Childress. “We want to be able to do post-burn restoration. When you do any kind of burn, you have a new opportunity to promote native plants because you have taken away the thatch and dead, downed wood and you have also added a lot of nitrogen to the soil.”

Prescribed burns are “good fires”—carefully controlled fires intended to safely clear out dried grasses and dead brush in an effort to reduce the number of mega-fires that California has seen over the last few years. Some 8,619 wildfires burned almost 2.6 million acres in 2021 alone.

The CCPBA can assist local landowners with on-site evaluations, creating a burn plan, estimating costs, and arranging for firefighters and association volunteers to conduct the burn.

Childress said that after the seeds were gathered, they would be either grown as seedlings and planted in a burned area or would be broadcast over the area to grow naturally as part of the post-fire stewardship. 

“We are going to be ramping up a lot of our burning in the next year,” Childress said. “And this is a good chance to collaborate with the land trust on this project.”

The hope is that native plants will then begin to replace more invasive plant species, like scotch thistle and mustard, which are considered weeds and a threat to local ecosystems.

SBALT is also working with the Amah Mutsun Land Trust to preserve and restore native plants. Two members of the trust were present for the seed gathering.

The volunteers hiked about a mile into the property then split into groups and spread out looking for seeds, which were then collected and individually bagged. At the end of the day, Childress had seeds from plants such as purple needle grass, sanicle, fiesta flower, blue-eyed grass, California wild oats, native galium and native wild rye grass.

Anita Kane of the San Benito County Historical Society was among the volunteers and has a special interest in the restoration of native plants.

“I want to know more about seed collecting,” she said, “because we are starting our own monarch butterfly milkweed initiative at the historic park and also trying to restore parts of the park with native plants. I have known about the land trust and supported them for years. I have never been to this property so I am very excited.”

The Nyland property is a recent addition to the protected land under SBALT’s care. The trust works with landowners to preserve open space through either conservation easements, in which the landowner agrees to restrict the use of the land in exchange for tax benefits, or mitigation easements where a developer offers compensation for the loss of open space used to complete a project. 

“We are here for the benefit of the public and we help facilitate the conservation of land,” Overtree said. “It is very easy to appreciate the value of a piece of property with a structure on it as opposed to what we think about land that is just open space. But it is fairly obvious that it is valuable land, particularly since agriculture is a major driver for the local economy.”

 

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Robert Eliason

I got my start as a photographer when my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. He taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.  The editors at BenitoLink first approached me as a photographer. They were the ones to encourage me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  BenitoLink is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community and I have been pleased to be a part of it.