How much do you know about the Washington Natural Heritage Program? I’m always interested in learning more about the good work being done by plant-oriented folks.
Joe Arnett, Rare Plant Botanist for the Washington Natural Heritage Program, explains four of the top functions of the program.
The Washington Natural Heritage Program (WNHP) is a non-regulatory program established by the State Legislature to provide scientific support for conserving biological diversity, including plants and plant communities. WNHP collaborates with people and organizations around the state in these four ways:
- Classification: What plant species occur in Washington State?
WNHP supports and, in some cases, conducts efforts to clarify the identities and relationships among Washington plants, particularly rare species. The Washington Flora Checklist, now maintained by the University of Washington Herbarium at the Burke Museum is the best available catalogue of Washington plant species.
- Inventory: Where are the rare plant species in Washington, and how many are there?
WNHP compiles and maintains a database of rare species—their distribution and abundance—and makes it available to researchers and land managers. This information provides the basis for prioritizing conservation.
A printed version of the Field Guide to the Rare Plants of Washington was published in 2011 by the University of Washington Press and is available from them and other book sellers. An online version of the field guide is also available. Both feature identification tips, photos, occurrence maps, and more for over 300 species of rare plants.
Agency botanists, consultants, academics, and volunteers provide this information. Volunteers with the Rare Care Program at the University of Washington make a major contribution.
- Prioritization: What are scientifically sound conservation priorities?
WNHP develops the Natural Heritage Plan every two years, as required by state legislation. This involves reviewing each species on the state rare plant list.WNHP defines and assigns state status of endangered, threatened, or sensitive.
WNHP also assigns a state rank to each rare species, based on criteria developed by NatureServe, an international organization that works to standardize natural heritage methodology. WNHP works closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to inform federal listing under the Endangered Species Act.
- Conservation Recommendations: What areas meet criteria for state conservation?
WNHP proposes areas for the state system of Natural Area Preserves and Natural Resource Conservation Areas. WNHP also works closely with land managers such as landowners, conservation trusts, county and city planning departments, federal and state agencies, and Native American tribes to develop conservation strategies for rare plant species.