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Hidden in Plain Sight: The Role of Plants in State Wildlife Action Plans
State wildlife action plans, completed in 2005 by all U.S. states and territories, are designed to guide wildlife conservation efforts and have been described as a nationwide strategy to prevent wildlife from becoming endangered. Developed by the individual states based on the best available scientific information and on broad public engagement, these plans are increasingly important in a wide variety of conservation and planning efforts. Yet the federal guidelines governing development of these plans specifically exclude plants from the definition of "wildlife."
How well, then, do wildlife action plans consider plant species and—whether by design or serendipity—address their conservation needs? With support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, NatureServe reviewed all 56 wildlife action plans in order to answer this question.
Our study found that only a modest number of wildlife action plans explicitly incorporated plant species of conservation concern into various aspects of their planning process. Just eight of 56 plans (14%) took the most direct approach of including plants on their list of species of greatest conservation need. Another way of addressing plants was through the process for identifying priority habitats. We did not find strong support for the assumption that the habitat component of these plans would effectively address plant-related conservation needs. Just six plans (11%) considered plant species of concern in their methods for setting habitat priorities.
Fewer than half the states identified specific geographic areas of particular conservation interest. Twelve plans (21%) included plant species of concern in their methods for defining these focal areas, generally relying on plant data maintained by state natural heritage programs. The final way that some plans addressed plants was through recommended conservation actions. We found that 17 plans, or about one-third (30%), included at least one action item that, if carried out, would benefit plant species of concern. In most plans, however, the number of plant-related actions was quite limited, and the proposed activities very general in nature.
The development of state wildlife action plans represents a tremendous opportunity for systematically and strategically advancing conservation in America, and the plans for Georgia, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oregon are notable for effectively addressing the needs of plant species of concern. Yet because consideration of plants was neither required nor funded through the federal State Wildlife Grants Program, the first generation of wildlife action plans collectively do not constitute a national strategy for stemming the decline of the nation’s plant life and preventing additional species of native flora from becoming endangered.
- Promote implementation of actions and strategies for wildlife that would also benefit
plant species of concern.
- Avoid implementation actions that could be detrimental to sensitive plant species.
- Add plant-specific components to existing wildlife action plans.
- Develop state-level plant conservation strategies to complement wildlife action
plans where necessary.
- Ensure that plants are fully represented in major new conservation funding opportunities,
including those related to climate change adaptation.
Plants have too long been hidden in plain sight. The prospect of continued threats to
the nation’s plant life, coupled with the large proportion of the flora already at risk, argues
that now is the time to bring plants out from the background, and to put the conservation
needs of our nation’s flora squarely into view.
Funding for this report was provided by a grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.