“Natives First” Initiative

Historically, the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) technical and financial assistance has relied heavily on non-native plant materials for soil and water conservation. While somewhat effective for those purposes, introduced plants generally provide poor habitat for many declining species of grassland wildlife. Native plants not only provide equal or superior benefits for soil conservation, soil health, water quality, carbon sequestration and forage, but can also provide excellent habitat for many declining birds and pollinators.

In an effort to encourage the use of native vegetation, NBCI drew up a proposal in 2011 to adopt a native vegetation standard across all USDA agriculture agency programs, the “Natives First” initiative. The Natives First Coalition, consisting of a wide range of individuals and organizations, was formed in 2016 to support the “Natives First” proposal.

After years of persistent education and advocacy, congressional leaders took note of the growing native vegetation movement. While the proposal language wasn’t adopted, specific language promoting the use of native vegetation was included in the 2018 Farm Bill Managers’ Report:

“The Managers recognize the benefits of native vegetation to improve water and air quality and enhance soil health. By encouraging the adoption of native vegetation seed blends, USDA programs are supporting habitat restoration for the northern bobwhite, lesser prairie-chicken, greater sage-grouse, other upland game birds, songbirds, monarch butterflies, and pollinators. The Managers encourage the use of native vegetation where practicable.”

In the policy world, successes are measured in increments. This language is an improvement of federal policy and a victory for grassland wildlife and pollinators in agricultural landscapes, but it is just the beginning.

Native Grasslands Alliance

The Native Grasslands Alliance (NGA) was formed in 2019 to advance the adoption and utilization of native vegetation in working landscapes. Membership in the Alliance is open to any group, organization, or agency that supports and advocates for the increased use of native vegetation on public and private lands.

Working groups have been created within the Alliance to identify and propose solutions to the specific challenges facing the adoption of native vegetation:

  • Policy Working Group – This group will work with state and federal agencies and lawmakers to create and implement native grass-friendly policies.
  • Research Working Group – This group will review and share existing science and identify gaps in knowledge to stimulate additional research.
  • Technical Education Working Group – This group will work to better educate agricultural advisors (USDA, extension agencies, agricultural retailers, etc.).
  • Awareness Working Group – This group will work to generate awareness, understanding, and ultimately demand for native grasses among landowners and other target groups.

Individual member organizations will maintain their own primary area of interest and messaging, but work collectively to expand the awareness, acceptance, and adoption of native grasslands vegetation. The NGA will not speak for the group as a whole on issues and positions, but will coordinate opt-in opportunities with each individual member.

NBCI is in the process of creating a separate website to provide more information and a form to apply for membership in the Alliance. In the meantime, any inquiries should be directed to Jef Hodges, NBCI Grasslands Coordinator, at jhodge34@utk.edu.