Bay Nature magazineFall 2019

Botany

California Funds Seed-Banking as Hedge Against Climate Change

September 16, 2019

California is a world biodiversity hot spot. Full stop. Roughly 32 percent of the nation’s native plants are found in California, and those 6,500 species provide habitat that supports the state’s multitude of wildlife. 

To protect that biodiversity as the effects of climate change intensify, the 2019-2020 state budget allocates more than $18 million through the general fund toward implementing the California Biodiversity Initiative, launched last year and embraced by the Newsom administration. 

“California will not stand by and just watch our world grow more ecologically impoverished by the moment,” says Wade Crowfoot, state secretary for natural resources. “California is one of the most diverse places on Earth. We have both the choice and the ability to preserve that legacy.” 

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Three million dollars of the money will go toward a process called seed banking, an effort to prevent permanent loss of species and of genetic diversity by gathering seeds and plant cuttings for long-term storage. “Seed banking is a first fundamental step in implementing the larger road map of the Biodiversity Initiative,” says Greg Suba, conservation program director for the California Native Plant Society. 

The CNPS is one of 11 institutions and organizations that make up California Plant Rescue, a partnership leading the seed-banking effort. Among the Bay Area participants are the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley, UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden, and the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum & Botanic Garden. 

The collaboration’s first priority is to collect seeds for 75 percent of the state’s rare, threatened, and endangered plant species by 2020, mirroring the UN Convention for Biological Diversity goals for maintaining plant biodiversity globally. “California has a history of leading in these areas,” Suba says. “We want to show that this kind of goal can be achieved.” 

California Plant Rescue so far has reached 50 percent of its goal, he adds. “The funding is really critical.”

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