Few people realize the importance of plants to ecosystems, societies, and economies, yet they are their very foundation. In Washington governmental agencies, non-profit groups, and environmental organizations are working to protect native plants and restore native plant habitats. These conservation efforts are more critical than ever with accelerating habitat destruction from increased population growth, spread of invasive species, and destructive resource use.
The Bureau of Land Management is a multiple use agency that strives to conserve Washington's rare plants and unique plant communities located on BLM lands. In Washington, there are about 400,000 acres of BLM lands throughout the state, but primarily located east of the Cascade mountains. These lands are scattered throughout a tremendous diversity of plant communities from sagebrush steppe to sub-alpine forests. To date, over 70 species have documented occurrences on BLM lands in 600 locations and 12 Areas of Critical Environmental Concern have been designated for conservation of rare plant resources. There are a variety of conservation and management planning tools available to assist in the identification and management of these resources. Public education and involvement plays a key role in conservation as well.
Cascade Land Conservancy
Cascade Land Conservancy protects important natural spaces in urban neighborhoods and rural communities, along precious rivers and streams, and across the foothills of the Cascades. These natural lands provide stunning views, numerous opportunities for outdoor recreation as well as critical habitat for endangered fish and wildlife. CLC is also working hard to conserve working farms and forests. Altogether CLC has protected 140,000 acres within western and coastal Washington.
CLC’s Stewardship Program manages CLC properties to maximize ecological function in order to contribute to the region’s biodiversity and sustainability. CLC works to protect native plant species and remove the threat of invasive plant species on CLC lands as well as in partnership with other landowners. CLC’s Green City Partnerships program works within urban forested parklands to restore native forest habitat to protect biodiversity, contribute to our urban quality of life and for the benefit of future generations.
Garry Oak (Quercus garryana) photographed by Rod Gilbert. Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
The Nature Conservancy works throughout Washington and around the world to preserve our incredible diversity of native plant communities, the habitats they thrive in and the many organisms that depend on them. The Conservancy has protected more than 550,000 acres in Washington and owns more than 45,000 acres across the state. And the Conservancy continues to work with public and private partners to determine where we can do the most good for our rich natural heritage.
We are protecting and restoring vital forest, prairie and sagelands habitat. This includes avoiding, monitoring and removing aggressive non-native plants that invade native habitat and crowd out local species. By supporting and participating in these efforts, the Conservancy's members, volunteers and partners are making a real difference today for future generations.
The University of Washington Herbarium comprises the Botany Division of the Burke Museum's Natural Sciences Collections. Founded in 1882, the Herbarium is an international resource for research into the diversity, distribution and ecology of Pacific Northwest vascular plants, non-vascular plants, fungi, lichen, and algae. With over 600,000 specimens currently in the collections, and between 5,000 - 10,000 specimens added annually, the Herbarium is one of the largest such collections in the region.
A specimen is composed of the collected material plus a label providing the scientific name, the collector name, date of collection and locality. The Herbarium's collections serve as an invaluable record of Washington's flora over the past 150 years. Academic researchers, local, state, and federal agencies, non-profit conservation organizations and amateur enthusiasts use the specimens in support of their research, education, and land-management activities.
Herbarium faculty and staff are involved with botanical survey projects throughout the Pacific Northwest. They work with the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and The Nature Conservancy to document plant diversity on their respective land holdings. Financial support from the National Science Foundation, the National Park Service, and collaborations with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the Washington Natural Heritage Program, and the Washington Native Plant Society have made the Herbarium's collections information available online through searchable databases, image galleries, and a flora checklist for Washington. An active volunteer program supports the Herbarium's activities in the field and in the collections.
The Washington Biodiversity Council (a public-private partnership active 2004– 2010) produced the Washington Biodiversity Conservation Strategy, a comprehensive guide to effectively conserving the state's biodiversity. Biodiversity, the full range of life in all its forms, underpins our health, our economy, and our quality of life.
The Council was established in 2004 after civic and environmental leaders recognized that the state's conservation strategies were largely reactive and crisis-driven and thus costlier and less effective than they should be. The Council's diverse membership included many sectors: agriculture, forestry, local, state and federal government, academia, tribes, private landowners, and conservation organizations.
The Council reached its sunset date June 30, 2010. Staff members are continuing to work with former Council members and advisors to integrate Council projects into the work of partner agencies. This important work will continue through June 2011.
The belief that public, private, and nonprofit entities need to work together to achieve a widely shared vision lies at the core of the Washington Biodiversity Conservation Strategy.
Printed copies of the Washington Biodiversity Conservation Strategy are still available, as are other documents and reports produced by the Washington Biodiversity Council. The Biodiversity Project Web site also contains digital versions of these resources, as well as a wealth of additional information on biodiversity in Washington State.
Endangered golden paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta) photographed by Ted Thomas. Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.
The biologists at US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) work cooperatively with the Washington Department of Natural Resources, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Department of Defense, National Park Service, several Indian tribes, nongovernmental organizations such as The Nature Conservancy and the Institute for Applied Ecology, many land trusts and private landowners to assess the status of Washington's rare and threatened species. FWS funds and carries out many on-the-ground recovery actions to benefit plant and animal species.
They implement active restoration efforts including slowing the encroachment of trees onto prairies, controlling invasive, nonnative plants, re-establishing natural fire regimes, and reintroducing rare, threatened plants, or translocating animals as diverse as butterflies and Columbian white-tailed deer.
If a plant species is rare and its existence may be threatened, the FWS is responsible for proposing the species for protection by "listing species" under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and within one year, making a final determination whether the species is warranted as a "threatened," or "endangered" species. They also designate "candidate" species through an internal assessment process or from warranted petition findings. Using a vetted assessment process they also track "species of concern" that may become candidate or listed species in the future if threats to the species can not be reduced. In the past decade, the ESA list of threatened or endangered plants in Washington State has increased considerably, with some species having critical habitat designated to improve conservation for those species. And, while the ESA provides protection for these species through the consultation process; it is the on-the-ground conservation actions by our partners that assist in protecting and reducing threats to these species.
Plants that are currently federally listed in Washington include:
Bradshaw's desert parsley (Lomatium bradshawii); Golden Paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta); showy stickseed (Hackelia venusta), Water howellia (Howellia aquatilis); Kincaid's lupine (Lupinus sulphureus var. kincaidii); Nelson's checker-mallow (Sidalcea nelsoniana); Wenatchee Mountains checker-mallow (Sidalcea oregana var. calva); Spalding's catchfly (Silene spaldingii); Ute ladies' tresses (Spiranthes diluvialis); and the long extirpated Marsh sandwort (Arenaria paludicola).
The loss of habitat, through the encroachment of human population, invasion by forest species (trees) onto prairies or invasive nonnative species are the primary threats to our native plants. The effect of air and water pollution on other ecosystem processes (such as pollinators, disease and nonbeneficial insects, and fungi), break down the ability of plants and plant communities to be resilient. And, when plants are over-utilized by people harvesting them for commerce, such as mushrooms and orchids, their chances for survival are decreased.
As an example, with the increased loss of grasslands and threats to prairie species, the prairie as an ecosystem is threatened, and other species, such as prairie dependent butterflies also become threatened. Currently, there are two butterfly species, the Taylor's checkerspot and Mardon skipper, whose populations have declined because they are dependent on the composition (the complement of plants) and structure (their arrangement and size) of prairie habitat, which is rapidly being lost.
After a plant or any species is listed, the FWS and their partners develop a recovery plan for the species that includes objectives and tasks that--if carried out--will protect the species and contribute to the species recovery.
Since these recovery plans are not policy or law, that is, the proposed actions are voluntary, they require the will and initiative of individuals and organizations to implement recovery efforts. FWS recommendations for plant recovery actions include developing a site management plan, restoring degraded habitat, collecting seed for long-term storage and nursery production in order to reintroduce the species to historic and new areas and protecting the remaining plants in their current habitat. FWS also administers several programs that can assist with funding recovery efforts. Recovery efforts have had remarkable positive impacts at many local, native prairies, such as Mima Mounds, Glacial Heritage Preserve, Scatter Creek Wildlife Area, Fort Lewis, Tenalquot prairie, West Rocky Prairie and Rocky Prairie Natural Area Preserve, to name a few.
In the words of FWS Senior Ecologist, Ted Thomas, "We're not trying to save the whole world, just important pieces of it."
Last year in Washington, the FWS provided over $1,400,000 in funding toward local conservation actions.
The U.S. Forest Service manages over 9 million acres in the state of Washington within 5 National Forests, one National Scenic Area and one National Volcanic Monument. There are 24 Wilderness Areas totaling over 2.5 million acres and nearly 9,000 miles of recreation trails. Habitats vary from the dry forests east of the Cascades to the alpine peaks of the Cascades and the rain forests of the Olympic Mountains. The flora supported by this wide variety of habitat is rich and diverse. The U.S. Forest Service Botany Program is dedicated to the conservation of this diversity through:
- Establishment and management of Research Natural Areas and Botanical Areas.
- Development of various conservation strategies to maintain the sustainability of sensitive fungi, lichen, bryophyte, and vascular plant species and preclude the need for further listings under the national Endangered Species Act.
- Control and management of invasive species.
- Management of special forest products to ensure resource sustainability and protect rare species and habitats.
- Public education.
Additional information on each National Forest in Washington State, including local botany public education opportunities, can be obtained through links to the U.S. Forest Service Region 6 and Celebrating Wildflowers websites.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) strives to maintain healthy, diverse and self-sustaining fish and wildlife populations and their habitats. WDFW manages over 800,000 acres of land to provide habitat for fish and wildlife populations and access for fishing, hunting and wildlife viewing. WDFW also works collaboratively with other land managers and landowners through incentive programs, easements, agreements, and technical assistance on best management practices and habitat restoration. WDFW has the authority to regulate activities within fish-bearing waters, and the importation and release of aquatic and terrestrial animal species and aquatic plants. WDFW attempts to prevent introduction and control invasive species through cooperative education and enforcement programs with other agencies and organizations. Website links:
The Department of Natural Resources manages more than 5.6 million acres of land in Washington on behalf of the citizens of the state. Forests, farms, and grazing lands, natural areas, commercial properties and aquatic lands are managed.
In 1972, the Washington State Legislature recognized that our natural heritage (i.e., the native species and ecosystems of the state) could be adversely affected by human activities. The Legislature also recognized that there were many benefits to retaining unaltered ecosystems and the plants and animals living within them. These benefits included, among others, having places for scientific research and education and providing habitat for rare and vanishing species.
The passage of the Natural Area Preserves Act in 1972 set the stage for the development of a statewide system of natural areas. The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) was authorized to establish and manage this system. DNR was directed to cooperate with federal state and local agencies, private organizations and individuals to ensure a truly statewide system. Today, the statewide natural areas system consists of lands managed by numerous federal and state agencies and private conservation organizations.
In 1981, the Legislature amended the natural Areas Preserves Act to establish a Natural Heritage Program within DNR in addition to the Natural Areas Program. The Natural Heritage Program was developed to provide a scientific approach to the process of identifying candidate sites for the natural areas system.
On March 20, 2006, Governor Gregoire signed the bill creating the Washington State Invasive Species Council. The Council’s mission is to sustain Washington’s human, plant, and animal communities and our thriving economy, by preventing the introduction and spread of harmful invasive species. To do this, the Council is developing policy level direction, planning, and coordination that will:
- empower those engaged in the prevention, detection, and eradication of invasive species
- include a strategic plan designed to build upon local, state, and regional efforts
- serve as a forum for invasive species education and communication.
In 2008, the Council developed a 20-year strategic plan and ranked five recommendations as the highest priorities for immediate action. Implementation of the recommendations has begun, and the Council has created and used a tool to objectively set priorities for action, has nearly completed baseline assessment of invasive species to determine gaps in information and management and a clearinghouse to improve access to invasive species information, and is initiating several education and outreach projects.
Scarlet Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja miniata) photographed by James Ellingboe. Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Members of the Washington Native Plant Society share a common interest in Washington's unique flora. The Washington Native Plant Society has more than 25 years of activity and involvement in protecting native plants. The small group of individuals who assembled at the Pacific Science Center in 1976 has now grown to nearly 1800 members with thirteen active chapters throughout Washington. The charter members envisioned an organization dedicated to the appreciation, conservation and study of Washington's native plants and their habitats. Dr. Art Kruckeberg, professor emeritus of botany at the University of Washington, author of numerous papers and books on horticulture and native plants and initial and continuing force behind the Society says "We knew it would be successful because the flora of Washington is so extraordinarily rich there would always be people dedicated to its preservation and conservation.
The Society is an important voice for Washington's native plants. It has long supported the protection of rare plant species. Numerous research projects and educational activities have been supported by Society funds. The Native Plant Stewardship Program of the Society offers training on the importance and use of native plants in restoration and landscaping. In return for the training, Native Plant Stewards contribute volunteer service in community education, habitat protection and habitat restoration. More than 30,000 conservation hours of volunteer service on has been logged by these energetic Stewards. Ivy OUT and Growing Wild are other conservation programs initiated by the Washington Native Plant Society.
Field trips, workshops, study weekends and regular program meetings are offered to Society members. Activities such as these are a source of continuing education and fellowship.
Washington Rare Plant Care and Conservation (Rare Care) is dedicated to conserving Washington’s native rare plants through both on-site and off-site (ex-situ) conservation methods such as rare plant monitoring, research, seed banking, plant propagation and reintroduction, and education. Established in 1998 as a program at the University of Washington Botanic Gardens, Rare Care fulfills its missions through the combined efforts of a dedicated corps of volunteers, University of Washington graduate students, and a small plant conservation staff. We work with numerous federal, state and local agencies including the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service, National Park Service, US Department of Defense, Washington State Parks, Washington Department of Natural Resources, and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. University of Washington Botanic Gardens is a member institution of the Center for Plant Conservation.
Rare plant monitoring is conducted in partnership with the Washington Natural Heritage Program to assist with tracking plant biodiversity in Washington State and identifying conservation priorities. Rare Care volunteers trained in the monitoring protocols visit known populations of rare plants to check on their status and to collect basic data on the population and its habitat. Since 2001, nearly 300 volunteers from all over the state have been trained in the monitoring protocols, and have contributed over 20,000 hours to this effort. They have visited over 700 populations and discovered and reported on over 35 previously undocumented populations.
The seed bank of rare native plants is housed in the Miller Seed Vault, a state-of-art facility constructed in 2003. The 135-square-foot vault is the largest of its kind in the Pacific Northwest. It includes climate controlled work and storage rooms set at a relative humidity of 22% and temperature of 15°C. The storage room provides 70 square feet of space for short and medium-term seed storage. The vault also includes a -18°C freezer for long-term storage of the ex-situ collection. The collection holds seeds of 83 rare native species from Washington state representing 129 populations. Seed collections are made by Rare Care staff and volunteers as well as contributed by biologists from government agencies and non-governmental organizations.
Other projects and activities Rare Care is currently engaged include Seeds of Success, Celebrating Wildflowers and other outreach events, development of propagation protocols, and recovery projects for listed plants. The Seeds of Success project is a nationwide effort to collect and store seeds of ecologically important native plants for use in restoring public lands. Rare Care has contributed over 50 collections to this effort, including collections for the Millennium Seed Bank at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England. Information on Rare Care’s other projects, as well as information on volunteering, can be found at:
The Washington State Conservation Commission was established in 1939 to assist the State's 47 conservation districts. Together we help private landowners put conservation projects on the ground to protect water quality, conserve water and soil, and enhance wildlife habitat. Projects include livestock fencing, manure management, direct-seed tillage, efficient irrigation projects, low impact development practices, and stream restoration work. Many people come to their local conservation districts to purchase native plants in the spring and to learn how to incorporate native plants into their landscapes, rain gardens, and stream restoration projects. For more information, visit:
The Washington State Department of Agriculture works to protect Washington’s native plants and ecosystems from invasive exotic species through the work of our Pest and Nursery Programs. The Pest Program works, in conjunction with our federal and state partners, to detect and eradicate invasive insect, plant disease and noxious weed invaders such as citrus longhorned beetle, Gypsy moth, Japanese beetle, sudden oak death, and Spartina which, if established, could devastate native plant ecosystems. The Nursery Inspection Program assists in enforcement of state quarantines on plant movement where pests could be introduced.
The Washington State Department of Ecology provides technical assistance on native plant issues in several areas.
The Shorelands and Environmental Assistance (SEA) Program works to protect native plants through both the efforts of the Washington Conservation Corps and Wetlands Protection Unit. The Washington Conservation Corps mobilizes youth teams to work in watershed recovery and restoration. These teams engage in ecosystem restoration efforts that include native plant revegetation along riparian buffer zones and eradication of invading plant species.
The wetland and shoreline protection efforts of the SEA Program include both regulatory and non-regulatory technical assistance for protection of these ecosystems. Technical assistance is provided to local governments, watershed action teams, and citizens to inform them of the value of native plant communities and promote protection, preservation, and restoration of them.
Additionally, the Water Quality Program houses the Agency's aquatic weeds control efforts that serve to remove exotic invasive aquatic species from Washington's lakes and waterways. They work closely with the State Noxious Weed Control Board to both inform and assist the public with retaining and recovering native aquatic plant systems.
White Avalanche-lily (Erythronium montanum) photographed by James Ellingboe. Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Non-native invasive species are estimated to be the second greatest threat to native plant species following direct habitat conversion.
The mission of the Washington State Weed Board is to serve as responsible stewards of Washington by protecting and preserving the land and resources from the degrading impact of noxious weeds. The State Weed Board serves as the state’s noxious weed coordination center. Through its actions and policy decisions, the Board coordinates and supports the activities of 48 county noxious weed control boards and weed districts of Washington.
Using Washington’s state noxious weed laws, the Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board, county noxious weed control boards and weed districts strive to eradicate new invasions and prevent the spread of already established noxious non-native plant species.
The Washington Parks and Recreation Commission has a mission to preserve and protect a diverse park system of natural, cultural, historical and recreational resources. To this end, the agency manages 120 official state parks and other properties totaling approximately 120,000 acres. State Parks lands include marine and near-shore habitats in the west and shrub-steppe lands in the east. Much of the park system is classified as natural areas, natural forest areas and natural area preserves, land uses that afford a high degree of protection to native flora and fauna.
To safeguard the public lands in its trust, the State Parks resource stewardship program administers a broad range of conservation activities, including the inventory and assessment of natural and cultural resources, management planning, applied research, stewardship training and special topics of statewide significance such as salmon recovery. Highlights of the program’s conservation activities follow.