In the Northwest Territories, there has been a long-recognized need for a source of native plant species for revegetation purposes. The territory's lack of commercially available native seed has been a significant barrier to the use of ecologically sound methods in reclamation projects. In contrast, the use of indigenous plant species for revegetation work has been increasingly promoted in other jurisdictions across Canada, the US, and overseas because of the recognized need to maintain ecological integrity, natural successional processes, wildlife habitat, and environmental aesthetics.
Native plant species have the potential to be particularly successful in the reclamation of northern habitats because they are well adapted to local climatic conditions. This allows for better long-term survival and fewer maintenance and fertilizer requirements in establishing plant cover than seed from more temperate regions. The use of native plants also helps to sustain the natural dynamics between the plant life and other organisms which rely on them in a given ecosystem.
There is still no commercial source of plant materials native to the NWT, which is surprising given the recognized ecological benefits carried by native plant seeds, improvements made in revegetation practices in other jurisdictions, and the increased industrial development within the territory. The absence of a reliable, affordable native seed source has prevented advances in revegetation and reclamation activities in the Northwest Territories and, as such, environmental mitigation strategies and land revegetation requirements are lagging compared to other regions of Canada.
To address this gap, the Aurora Research Institute (ARI) initiated the project titled Northern Native Plant Development for Reclamation and Revegetation in the Northwest Territories. This program has two main objectives:
- The collection, testing, and development of technology for propagating native plant species that would be suitable for use in reclamation and revegetation in the Northwest Territories.
- The eventual commercial release of native seed varieties appropriate for the biophysical regions of the Northwest Territories.
A source of native seed for the NWT will provide government and industry with an opportunity to develop and implement best management policies which rival other jurisdictions and will allow large-scale industrial developments to expand their environmental mitigation strategies and decrease their impacts upon the land.
Seed Collections and Germination Trials
From 2005 through 2008, 401 seed collections were made across the Northwest Territories (NWT) for this project:
- 65 seed collections from the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR) and Gwich'in Settlement Area (GSA) in 2005, concentrated around the Inuvik area;
- 226 seed collections from the ISR, GSA, Sahtu Region, and North Slave Region in 2006;
- 98 seed collections from the Deh Cho Region and South Slave Region in 2007; and
- 12 seed collections from the coastal region of the ISR in 2008.
Species collected were chosen from a list developed by ARI in 2005 which identifies plant species suitable for revegetation purposes in the NWT. The majority of the species in these collections were grasses, legumes, and forbs. Seed samples were collected by hand and sample size varied with seed type and ease of collection. Once the seeds were dried and cleaned, they underwent germination trials.
Those seed collections with germination counts higher than 50% are considered to have moderate to high seed viability and will be further assessed and developed. Some species, however, are considered important for their specialized habitat selection (e.g. salt tolerant species) or their active role in disturbed sites (e.g. legumes which help fix nitrogen into the soil). In these species, development may continue even when germination counts are below 50%.
Many of the collections with high seed viability are being cultivated in field plots at the Alberta Research Council in order to build up the base seed supply. Other seed collections are being used in field trials to assess their performance on disturbed sites.
Please contact the Special Projects Coordinator at ARI for more details on this project.