Southeast Environmental Research Program, Florida International University
Center for Plant Conservation

An Action Plan to Conserve the Native Plants of Florida


B. The conservation process

Figure 2 presents a model of the plant conservation process in Florida, categorizes the activities of the conservation community, and summarizes the relationships among organizations, different conservation actors, the public, and the native plant resource. The model includes five conservation functions: research, education, philanthropy, government, and resource management. The Native Plant Resource is, in effect, the output of the model. It has been described in its current and historical forms in Part II above.

The position of the General Public at the top of our model of the conservation process indicates how critical public attitudes are to the overall success of the conservation effort, and this for several reasons. Through its tax contributions, the public is the origin of most of the financial resources applied to conservation functions. It is also the ultimate source of laws and regulations that provide the legal foundation for plant conservation in Florida. As one might expect of the fourth most populous state in the U.S., Florida is home to a highly diverse mix of people, and great regional cultural differences exist within the state's borders. This cultural diversity parallels that of environmental attitudes, which range from passionate advocacy to careless disdain.

Within the plant conservation process itself, the Research function provides technical information concerning the biogeography of Florida plants, their population biology, the ecological relationships affecting these populations, and their role in ecosystem function, including humanized ecosystems. Resource managers, other scientists, educators, media professionals, and decision makers all require such information in order to carry out their functions effectively. Primary information-providers include academic and museum researchers and agency biologists, but contributions are also made by scientists associated with environmental organizations, research institutes, and botanical gardens, as well as by independent consultants.

The Education function translates scientific information for diverse audiences, puts it into appropriate perspective, and transmits it to the public and to policy makers. In order to educate the greatest number of people about the importance of plant resources, accurate information must be presented in a compelling manner. Primary purveyors of the message are schools, the news media, state and federal agencies, museums, botanical gardens, environmental clubs (including garden clubs and plant societies), and activist organizations.

By developing and enforcing policy, and providing funds, the Government function encourages research, education, and management that benefit the plant resource. This is done by increasing our understanding of the resource and its associated ecosystems, educating the public about its value and the threats to it, developing policy to manage the resource, and enforcing laws and regulation to prevent activities that may harm it. Increasingly necessitated by the failure of most economically-driven relation ships to provide minimally adequate environmental protection, government has become more-and-more involved in efforts at all levels to stem the loss of plant diversity in the state.

The Philanthropy function is particularly important in filling gaps in the plant conservation process, especially those that can occur when quick action is needed. Donors may be individuals or entities such as trusts or foundations. Free of many regulations that can slow government action, philanthropy provides funds for some of the most innovative and productive plant conservation programs in Florida.

The Resource Management function involves two distinct but interdependent types of activity: those that focus on on-site (in situ) conservation of existing plant populations, and those that focus on the off-site (ex situ) protection of genetic material in order to augment existing populations, reestablish extirpated ones, or ensure against outright extinction of species. In situ resource management activities geared toward plant conservation are provided mostly by government agencies and non-profit environmental organizations, but also increasingly by private landowners for whom the promotion of healthy native plant communities is an important objective. Center for Plant Conservation (CPC) botanical gardens (CPC Participating Institutions) are usually the providers of ex situ activities for a subset of the rarest Florida plants, while commercial and government nurseries provide planting stock for some of the more common native species.

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