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Native Seed Program grows DAF readiness  

  • Published
  • By Mollie Miller
  • AFIMSC Public Affairs

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas – For Air Force Civil Engineer Center natural resource specialists helping installations build force readiness, their best tools are often no larger than a speck of dust.  

The Department of the Air Force Native Seed Program, part of the National Seed Strategy, is a Bureau of Land Management initiative that brings together 12 federal agencies and more than 300 non-federal partners to champion ecological restoration nationwide. Under the strategy, the Air Force is using native seeds and plants to reduce the impact of invasive plants, maintain threatened and endangered species habitats, and decrease the risk of wild fires in training areas that support mission success, said Dr. Paul Jurena, AFCEC program lead.

Often the local habitat is key for training, testing or other missions, said Jurena, a plant ecologist. 

“We want to be able to give commanders the flexibility to train and test effectively,” he said, “and ecosystem management that includes the Native Seed Program gives them more room to move.” 

Room to move is exactly what was missing for special forces Airmen training on the Melrose Air Force Range in eastern New Mexico. The training-friendly native grassland that once covered the range was being overrun by a variety of invasive species that made training difficult and, in some cases, impossible, said Dr. Charles Dixon, 27th Special Operations Wing Natural Resources Program manager at Cannon AFB, New Mexico.

“Much of the training area just wasn’t useable because of the density of the invasive species growth,” Dixon said. “Honey Mesquite, in particular, was actually so dense that you couldn’t drive through it and, in some areas, you couldn’t even walk through it.”   

Standing at just three-feet tall and covered in woody thorn-rich branches, the Honey Mesquite shrub looks like it emerged from an old western movie.  Natural resource specialists like Dixon don’t let the small size fool them, however. The Honey Mesquite and other similar species can stop Air Force training in its tracks. 

“Training was limited because it had to be concentrated into very small areas,” Dixon said. “Before we began our plan, Airmen were only using about 10,000 acres of the 70,000-acre range.”   
 
Dixon’s plan to mitigate the species that were turning the pure grassland into a shrub grassland began with aerial spraying to kill the shrubs and allow dormant native seeds to emerge and thrive. Jurena and his AFCEC team assisted with the early phases of the mitigation plan by initiating the contract for invasive species spraying. 
 
“Spraying is the initial step in restoring the site to native grassland and further supporting the greater mission,” Jurena said. 

The Melrose plan also called for spraying and burning dense areas of invasive grasses that encouraged wildfires before seeding with native, training-friendly grasses including Blue Grama and Buffalo Grass.  

“We want to open more of the range up so Airmen can train over a larger area and have a smaller impact on any one single area,” Dixon said. “This plan will help us better utilize all the land we have out here.”      

Although the use of native seeds is very installation and project specific, Jurena and his AFCEC team can and do assist and make recommendations when needed.

Additionally, Jurena said lessons learned from projects like the Melrose Range invasive species control effort are shared with natural resource managers across the Department of the Air Force to continue to create environments where Airman and Guardian readiness will grow and flourish. 
  
“Our ecosystem management gives installations a lot of flexibility to help get them to mission success,” he said.