Overcoming the effects of plant blindness with education and outreach
A session at the 2017 National Native Seed Conference focused on plant blindness, or the inability to recognize the importance of plants in the biosphere and in human affairs. The effects of plant blindness on the botanical community and its efforts to conserve, restore, and sustainably use plants are wide-ranging. Yet research also shows that plant blindness is not inevitable. This session included four speakers covering: 1) the causes of plant blindness, 2) how plant blindness may be impacting you and the work you do to conserve and manage native plants, and 3) tools you can use to help overcome plant blindness through education and outreach. PDFs of their presentations are available here:
1) Seventeen years of plant blindness: Is our vision improving? The tendency for people not to notice plants in their everyday lives has been termed “plant blindness.” Beth Schussler from the University of Tennessee reviewed the root causes of plant blindness and the research plant educators have done over the last seventeen years to determine whether there may be hope for a cure.
2) Visibility of plants under the Endangered Species Act: Causes and Implications Plants are the most listed taxon under the Endangered Species Act, but receive less funding. Vivian Negrón-Ortiz from the USFWS discussed the causes of underestimating the value of plants and its implications for recovery, Fish and Wildlife Service resources for plant conservation, and current initiatives to overcome these limitations.
3) Influencing the Federal Budget Process: How to Advocate for Conservation Funding An overview of the federal budget and appropriations process, focusing on conservation funding. Cameron Witten (The Wilderness Society) discussed opportunities for engagement throughout the annual budget and appropriations cycle, key committees and targets, and how to advocate for increased conservation funding.
4) Federal policies and funding for plants Learn the specifics of how federal policies and funding for plant-based research, restoration, and conservation programs work and how decisions are made. Rob Bradner (Holland & Knight) discussed recent proposed federal legislation that hopes remedy some of the impacts of plant blindness on these processes.
National Seed Strategy for Landscape Scale Rehabilitation and Restoration
On August 17, 2015, the final National Seed Strategy document was released by the Department of Interior. You can find more information on the strategy here, download the final Strategy here, and see the August 17th press release here.
Native plants and pollinators: On June 20, 2014, the White House issued a Presidential Memorandum on Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators. Native plants or vegetation are mentioned in Section 2 (iv) and Section 3(s) of the Memorandum:
“Sec. 2. Mission and Function of the Task Force. Within 180 days of the date of this memorandum, the Task Force shall develop a National Pollinator Health Strategy (Strategy), which shall include explicit goals, milestones, and metrics to measure progress. The Strategy shall include the following components:
(iv) strategies for developing affordable seed mixes, including native pollinator-friendly plants, for maintenance of honey bees and other pollinators, and guidelines for and evaluations of the effectiveness of using pollinator-friendly seed mixes for restoration and reclamation projects;
Sec. 3. Increasing and Improving Pollinator Habitat. Unless otherwise specified, within 180 days of the date of this memorandum:
(a) Task Force member agencies shall develop and provide to the Task Force plans to enhance pollinator habitat, and subsequently implement, as appropriate, such plans on their managed lands and facilities, consistent with their missions and public safety. These plans may include: facility landscaping, including easements; land management; policies with respect to road and other rights-of-way; educational gardens; use of integrated vegetation and pest management; increased native vegetation; and application of pollinator-friendly best management practices and seed mixes. Task Force member agencies shall also review any new or renewing land management contracts and grants for the opportunity to include requirements for enhancing pollinator habitat.
(f) The Departments of Agriculture and the Interior shall establish a reserve of native seed mixes, including pollinator-friendly plants, for use on post-fire rehabilitation projects and other restoration activities."
Pattern of expenditures for plant conservation under the Endangered Species Act (journal article in Biological Conservation written by Vivian Negrón-Ortiz). An estimated 31% of the native plant species in the United States are considered at risk of extinction, and 11% receive protection under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA). But with current and projected threats, many at risk non-listed plant species will need protection under the ESA. Recovery priority guidelines based on a ranking system exist to help identify the most cost-effective use of limited resources to recover listed species. I analyzed how expenditures on listed plants from 2007 to 2011 corresponded to this system, the species’ status, and the year first listed. While the majority of species listed under the ESA are plants, they received <5% of the funding for species recovery from federal and state agencies; thus they have the lowest per-species funding. Among plants, spending per species was greater for threatened than for endangered species and positively associated with recentness of listing date. Expenditure allocation was consistent with the ranking system, as higher priority species received more spending. Recovery progress could be significantly increased if more resources are allocated according to this system. In addition, I recommend: avoidance of biases that support specific projects or a few charismatic species; augmentation of the ESA budget to finance projects for the species in conflict with development and growth; cost-benefit analyses of increasing recovery funds for plants (since the cost estimated to recover a plant species average much less than a vertebrate species); and a broadened plant conservation message at local, regional and global scales.
The Global Strategy for Plant Conservation was published in 2012 by Botanic Gardens Conservation International. It provides strategies and goals for preventing loss of plant species diversity. A companion publication, the North American Botanic Garden Strategy For Plant Conservation, details how the strategy can be used by conservation organizations in North America.
Botanical Capacity Assessment Project (BCAP): completed in 2010, this project assessed current and future botanical capacity in the United States with the goal of understanding the resources we currently have to conserve and manage native plant species and habitat, identifying gaps in capacity, and highlighting opportunities to fill gaps in the future. Learn more and download a free final report at the BCAP website.
Seeds of Success Program (SOS): Seeds of Success (SOS): Seeds of Success is the national native seed collection program, led by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in partnership with a variety of federal agencies and non-federal organizations, including many PCA Non-Federal Cooperators. SOS’s mission is to collect wildland native seed for research, development, germplasm conservation, and ecosystem restoration. The long-term conservation outcome of the SOS program is to support BLM's Native Plant Materials Development Program, whose mission is to increase the quality and quantity of native plant materials available for restoring and supporting resilient ecosystems. Learn more at the SOS website.