This past week has been a big step in rare plant conservation for New Mexico. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) New Mexico State Botany Department helped the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD) host the New Mexico Rare Plant Conservation Strategy Roll Out Meeting, held March 26 and 27 in Santa Fe. Esteemed conservationists and botanists from several federal and state agencies convened to discuss ways to protect and monitor rare and endemic species across New Mexico. As an intern with the BLM, my responsibilities at the meeting included: 1) arranging tables and chairs, 2) making gallons of coffee, and 3) shmoozing. My fellow intern, Laura, was responsible for note-taking, which totaled 29 pages after two days. I don’t envy her at all.
Laura poring over her detailed notes from the meeting.This meeting presented various aspects of the New Mexico Plants Conservation Strategy. The organization was formed in 1999 as the NM Rare Plant Technical Council, which does the taxonomic dirty work of reviewing reclassifications and adding or removing taxa from the Rare Species List. The Technical Council is still at the core of the Conservation Strategy, but this meeting added other subcommittees that work on outreach, intergovernmental agreements, research, data sharing, and partnerships. All of these projects are interrelated, so I’ll detail the ones that stood out to me.
Daniela Roth, the state botanist at the EMNRD, has worked with other partners to assemble a Conservation Scorecard and an Important Plant Area map. These tools can be used together by land managers to evaluate strategies for conservation and potential impacts of development. The scorecard, which is incredibly detailed and evaluates threats, knowns and unknowns, population trends, and management and monitoring needs, is available only to Rare Plant Conservation partners. The Important Plant Area map is free to all on the nmrareplants.unm.edu website, although it doesn’t specify which rare plants are where. Conservation of rare (and often beautiful) species can be delicate; not all botany aficionados are interested in preserving biodiversity, and some will collect endangered specimens. The conference has moved towards a more inclusive definition of ‘rare’ plants, part of which includes making the broad list available to the public on the NM Rare Plants site. Since this website is a one stop shop for land managers and citizens looking for information on the rare flora of New Mexico, it makes sense to include as many species as possible under all possible definitions of rare. This website will be a hub for outreach and education, and there are plans to collaborate with graduate students from UNM and NMSU to expand our baseline of knowledge on rare species.
Another big push from the meeting is to get rare plants included on the New Mexico Game and Fish Department (NMGFD) Wildlife Action Plan. Each state’s Fish and Wildlife Department submits these plans to the USFWS as a condition for receiving federal funding for conservation. These Action Plans are important because grant-giving NGOs such as IUCN and NatureServe give preferential treatment to the species they include. However, the NMGFD isn’t involved in plant conservation– traditionally, plants aren’t considered wildlife. That didn’t stop eight other states from including plant conservation in their Wildlife Action Plans, so there’s hope that the New Mexico Wildlife Action Plan will be updated. There’s also a favorable political atmosphere because the newly elected governor is more interested in natural resource conservation than her predecessor. Considering that the governor appoints the heads of various state departments, it’s looking hopeful that the newly-led NMGFD would be interested in joining forces with our coalition in order to better conserve rare plants.
Meetings like this can cause major headaches at times. A very respected and knowledgeable botanist objected to including a lichen on the list on the grounds that it’s not a true vascular plant. He also claimed that any lichen we have significant occurrence data for is too common for conserving, which is a strange Catch Twenty Two that wouldn’t leave much for the group to work on. The lichen was included in the end, because if the Rare Plants Conservation Strategy didn’t include it, no one would. This meeting was dominated by five or six strong personalities, and while their strength is needed to influence policy and secure funding, there were certainly tense moments. All this lowly intern had to worry about was keeping the coffee fresh and staying out of the way, so it was instructive to watch from the sidelines.