Natural Heritage Program earns ‘Best in the Americas’ award

rare care volunteers

Rare Care volunteers assist the Washington Natural Heritage Program in gathering rare plant information in Klickitat County, Washington. Photo: Joe Arnett/DNR.

John Gamon, Washington Natural Heritage Program manager, accepted the ‘Best in the Americas’ award on behalf of the Program for its outstanding achievements in science and technology during a ceremony at the annual Biodiversity Without Boundaries conference in Portland Oregon last week.

Gamon received the  NatureServe network’s ‘2012 Scientific and Technical Advancement Impact Award’ from Mary Klein, president and CEO of NatureServe. A jury representing the network of public and private biodiversity information centers granted the Natural Heritage Program the commendation for its accomplishments in:

  • Managing and delivering information on Washington’s rare plants
  • Classifying the state’s ecological systems
  • Advancing both approaches and applications of ecological integrity assessments

All of these efforts  increased access to reliable, scientific information for use in natural resource planning, policy, and management.

Projects boost effectiveness
Two recent projects have boosted the Natural Heritage Program’s effectiveness in maintaining and delivering information about Washington’s rare plants. A ten-year partnership with the University of Washington’s Rare Care & Conservation Program used citizen science to update and improve the rare plant records that land managers use to make informed decisions. Working with public land-management agencies, the partners trained volunteers to revisit sites where populations of rare species were observed. Last year, program volunteers updated 186 aging population records for 91 species.    

The work by our Heritage Program ecologists Rex Crawford and Joe Rocchio is a major influence in how ecosystem-scale conservation is conducted in Washington, building upon the 2009 publication of the Field Guide to Washington’s Ecological Systems, which classified and described the ecological systems that occur in the state. These medium-scale classification units, developed by NatureServe, are useful for mapping, assessing, and prioritizing habitat-level conservation.

“The Washington Natural Heritage Program is a leader among our network,” said Mary Klein. “By developing reliable scientific knowledge that practitioners, policymakers, and public citizens can learn from and use, they contribute to a broader understanding and appreciation about both the need and the process of conserving rare plants and ecosystems in Washington State and beyond.”

Rare Care volunteers
Rare Care volunteers gather rare plant information in a meadow southeast of Mount Adams to bring to the Washington Natural Heritage Program. Photo: Joe Arnett/DNR.

Collaboration of public, private, and education

2011 also saw the publication of the Field Guide to the Rare Plants of Washington, the result of a decade-long collaboration between Washington State  Natural Heritage, U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land ManagementWashington Native Plant SocietyUniversity of Washington Herbarium at the Burke Museum, and University of Washington Press, along with the U.S. Forest Service. In addition to helping biologists identify Washington’s rare flora, the Field Guide and an associated computer application currently in development also increase knowledge and awareness of these plants across a broader, more general audience.

More recently, our Natural Heritage Program ecologists have expanded on work done by NatureServe and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to assess wetlands, developing Ecological Integrity Assessments (EIAs) for 67 of Washington’s terrestrial ecosystems. In collaboration with and support from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, this rigorous standardized method was developed for evaluating these individual ecological conditions. WDFW has started using these EIAs as the basic framework for managing their lands to reach ecological objectives. This framework has also been adopted by the Arid Lands Initiative, a public-private conservation effort in eastern Washington involving more than 40 federal and state agencies and non- governmental organizations.

Other work includes an update of data on the state’s high-quality wetlands, which the Washington Department of Ecology relies on for their wetland rating system (used in turn by counties to guide review and approval of development projects) and a collaboration with the state’s leading botanists to complete a state-wide Floristic Quality Assessment that judges the condition of individual sites based on plant composition.

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