This story is taken from
State seed bank merger seen
Loss of logging revenue means CDF nursery could combine its operations
with a federal counterpart's.
By Suzanne Bohan -- Bee Correspondent
Published 2:15 am PST Saturday, January 1, 2005
When a judicial ruling silenced the chainsaws in a state-owned
Mendocino County forest, the death knell began sounding for a venerable
state program for protecting the genetic vigor of California's forests.
The state's 118-year-old tree seedling nursery operation and a seed
bank harboring the genetic legacy of the state's forests had relied since
1986 on logging revenues from Jackson Demonstration State Forest. After a
successful lawsuit ended the logging and the revenue stream, state
forestry officials struggled to fund the operation. It was even shut for
three months in 2003 until rescued by a federal grant.
"It was a mess," recalled Bill Snyder, the deputy director of resource
management for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection,
which runs the program.
The budget shortfalls appear to have finally felled a portion of the
beleaguered operation. Within a few weeks, the CDF expects to announce a
merger of its 40-acre facility in Davis, which houses the state's seed
bank and a 5-acre containerized seedling nursery, with a 157-acre U.S.
Forest Service nursery and seed bank in Placerville. The CDF will
independently operate a 20-acre nursery in Magalia, which provides
bare-root native tree seedlings.
The state's seed bank, which harbors 36,000 pounds of seeds gathered
from native trees throughout California, is widely regarded as a
"priceless" resource for perpetuating the vitality of the state's forests.
Each year, experts predict which areas of privately owned forests -
almost half of the state's forestland - are vulnerable to damage from
fires, landslides, insects, diseases and other natural disasters. Then "on
speculation" CDF staff grows more than 2 million seedlings of tree species
like Douglas fir, ponderosa pine, incense cedar, oak and Coulter pines to
sell to private landowners. It's too speculative for commercial
Seedlings are genetically adapted to 88 "seed zones" within the state
as well as to different elevations within a zone.
Planting genetically incompatible trees can lead to death in extremes
like drought or cold and also can reduce the vigor of new seedlings in the
woods, as pollen from the nonlocal trees drifts into the surrounding
forest. It's a cardinal rule among foresters to plant only trees
genetically adapted to a specific site.
The California Public Resources Code mandates that the state maintains
the seed bank and nursery.
It's the fate of the seed bank that most concerns Laurie Lippitt, who
managed the bank and the Davis nursery before she retired in 2002.
The seed bank, Lippitt said, ensures that even if an entire genetic
strain of a forest tree species is wiped out by a fire or other disaster,
there is seed from that region so that a forest can be regrown with
Merging seed banks and one of the nurseries "is just a much more
cost-effective way of streamlining operations that are so similar," said
Steve Bishop, the deputy director for natural resource management for the
U.S. Forest Service. The new operation would be jointly run, and CDF staff
would still direct those aspects that affect state forest owners. "The way
I view it is we would be partners," Snyder said.
The merged operation would shave about $100,000 in operating costs for
the state, he estimated. The seed bank and nursery program budget averaged
$1 million annually in the 1990s, although that was offset by roughly
$300,000 in income generated annually by seedling sales. If the merger
occurs, the valuable land in Davis may also be sold.
But Lippitt is skeptical that the merged operation can maintain the
same superiority of stock for the seed bank.
"Quality will suffer," said Lippitt, now a restoration ecologist in San
Diego County. In a year with a light cone crop, one facility could handle
the state's cone processing needs, Lippitt said. "But in the years that
count, which are the years of heavy crops, both facilities were extremely
busy. So having only one facility doing the work of two, I don't see that
it would happen."
The highly perishable seeds could begin decaying before they're
processed and placed in cold storage, she explained.
Bill Libby, a forest geneticist and emeritus professor at the
University of California, Berkeley, also questions the wisdom of storing
the forests' genetic insurance account in one facility. He recalled an
equipment failure at the Placerville nursery in the mid-1990s that damaged
The CDF's Snyder said discussions have addressed concerns about that
vulnerability, but he said the risk of damage is slight, particularly as
the site has a backup generator.
The California Licensed Foresters Association sounded the alarm about
the pending demise of the seed bank and nursery program in a February 2004
press release, describing it as a "biodiversity safety net." It also
criticized the 2000 lawsuit that halted logging at Jackson as another
example of "environmental overkill" that's hobbling efforts to sustainably
But Vince Taylor, the founder of the Campaign to Restore Jackson State
Redwood Forest, said, "It's great for them from a PR standpoint to blame
environmentalists for stopping timber harvesting that led to the closure
of the state nurseries. But nothing could be further from the truth."
It was the judge who stopped the timber harvesting after deeming the
forest management plan inadequate, said Taylor, who spearheaded the
lawsuit to end logging in Jackson until its management plan was revised.
"It's a public policy mistake, really wrongheaded," he added, "to tie
the funding of programs which are important and invaluable on their own
right with the ability to produce timber revenue in a publicly owned
Snyder responded that he thinks logging revenues are a more responsible
way to fund a state reforestation program than requesting yearly funding
from the state legislature.
The next cone crop for the state's official tree, the coast redwood, is
a particularly pressing concern for Lippitt. It's been 20 years since a
seed crop has come in from the slow-maturing conifer, and seed supplies
are perilously low. "I think there's a very high chance that the staffing,
funding and equipment in the merged operation would not be sufficient, and
the coast redwood crop, when it comes, would be compromised," Lippitt
"Clearly the concern, first and foremost, is the seed bank and our
ability to process cones," said Snyder. "We wouldn't have the same
capacity to process as much seed," he agreed, "but I think an effort would
be made to process as much as we could. It would be a nice problem to
This article is protected by copyright and should not be printed or
distributed for anything except personal use.
The Sacramento Bee, 2100 Q St., P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852
Phone: (916) 321-1000
Copyright © The Sacramento Bee