This Almarai Meadow project collects the original seeds

BLM funds the partnership along with private donations and the Society for Environmental Recovery, a conservation organization. The agency prioritizes native plants in restoration projects through the National Seed Collection Program; Seeds from the area in question usually germinate better than seeds brought from afar. But the seed supply is limited. “With the federal government wanting to put more native plants there, better tell us what is supposed to be on Earth than the ones that have been here forever?” says Fellman.

Last year, the Grassland Restoration Project collected only seeds from federal lands, but this year, the board invited the program for tribal land use as well. There were clear differences in the seeds collected from the two regions, possibly due to past grazing or fire. BLM plots next to the reserve have been struggling during what turned out to be the worst drought in at least 30 years. “Everything was pretty much dead by the second week of July,” Eisenberg says. But many tribal plots flourished in the summer, and eventually made up the majority of the seeds collected.

Twenty-three pounds of seeds were collected this year, stored in carefully labeled paper bags, and shipped to a US Forest Service clean-up facility in Oregon. The BLM owns the seeds collected from public lands, while the seeds collected from tribal lands mostly belong to the tribe, which has agreed to keep the first 10,000 seeds of each type at federal facilities in Washington and Colorado as part of a national effort to collect local seeds.

However, the vast majority of the seeds—there are 181,000 in just one pound of green needle—will return to Fort Belknap. The tribal council could sell the seeds to the BLM, use them to restore degraded land, or perhaps start its own seed planting business. Project leaders hope to plant some seeds in the tribal lands within a few years, once the restoration plan is approved by the tribal council and the lands are ready for planting. The BLM eventually plans to sow the seeds in the area as well.

The slit horn darted away From a dirt road, white hind legs flashed, as he led a group of field technicians to their first location of the day, a meadow field in the southeast corner of the reserve. It was August, the end of the season, and they needed to collect the game cameras they had set up there to study the impact of wildlife on the site’s plants.

The air was damp and smoky, with the smell of bug spray and sage, and filled with the early morning rain. Tyrus Brockie, a junior field technician, wore gaiters over his shoes to protect against rattlesnake bites. He pointed to his uncle’s farm, where he helps raise livestock. Brooke became newly fascinated by the landscape: “Now I’ve been feeling my head all morning [looking at the grasses]”This job makes me want to go and learn,” he says. He’s considering studying natural resources at Anya Nakoda College.

Young, paid participants in the Recovery Program can advance from fellows from the community to entry-level, and then senior field technicians. Communitymates spent a week with the team this summer, like 22-year-old Sakura Main, who worked alongside her little sister and cousin. Top technicians like Brooke run the full eight-week field season. “I didn’t know that grassland restoration was so important,” says Maine, a registered member of Ania. “When you’re in your own backyard, you don’t always notice.”

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