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

An Action Plan to Conserve the Native Plants of Florida


PART III: THE FLORIDA PLANT CONSERVATION PROCESS

C. Conservation functions in Florida


The following section describes the conservation functions as they apply to the Florida plant conservation process. For each function, the major programs, their roles in the conservation process, and the problems and challenges they encounter are summarized.

1. Research. Given the decline in the native plant resource as described above, the long term viability, indeed in some instances, the very survival of many Florida plant species and ecosystems requires that the following questions be addressed: (1) What species or ecosystems must be protected or managed differently than is presently the case? and (2) What form should this modified protection or management take? Answers to both of these questions require research. In the first instance, detailed inventories of the native plant base are needed at intervals that will permit assessment of temporal trends, to be followed by cause-and-effect analysis. Research should be similarly employed to identify the threats to the declining resource, and to determine those threats that most seriously jeopardize existing, healthy ecosystems and plant populations, or the restoration of degraded ecosystems. Information derived from research should lead to recommendations for specific actions to reduce or eliminate the threats. However, while research can provide information in problem identification and management prioritization, thereby contributing a great deal to the design and implementation of in situ and ex situ conservation actions or recovery plans, final determinations must result from publicly supported consensus among policy makers, planners, and land managers.

The tasks of inventorying, assessing, and prioritizing "at-risk" Florida species and ecosystems have been taken on by several agencies and organizations. The Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have made substantial progress in documenting the distribution and habitat affinity of Florida's rarest plants, and state and federal agencies have initiated programs to categorize, map, and evaluate the terrestrial ecosystems of the peninsula. The Florida Endangered Plant Advisory Council now makes recommendations for modifications to the State list of threatened and endangered species. The Center for Plant Conservation has collected, adapted, and circulated expert opinions regarding species endangerment status via one statewide and two regional Task Forces composed of plant biologists and ecologists.

However, as important as many of these various inventory and conservation prioritization data are to helping preserve plant biodiversity in Florida, they have thus far been developed and used in only a handful of rare plant conservation efforts. Similarly, the ecology and population biology of very few rare Florida plants have been studied in the depth and detail needed to identify key bottlenecks in their life cycles. Moreover, gradual population declines among species not yet recognized as threatened may ultimately be a more pervasive problem, and this has hardly been addressed. Indeed, given this continued lack of thorough understanding of plant life histories and population trends, the attribution of causes for short term declines and the determination of corrective measures remain today, in most instances, educated guesses.

Florida is a large and ecologically complex state, with great interregional and seasonal variability (see Part II). In developing research, conservation, and restoration programs, this natural complexity can be further complicated by jurisdiction sharing and institutional squabbling among government agencies involved in development and water issues (see Part III, Sections 3 and 5b(3)) above). While the best guarantee of a research base in Florida capable of determining species- and ecosystem-level conservation priorities is the maintenance of experienced plant biologists pursuing long term monitoring programs across a range of habitat types, a substantial investment of time is also required to maneuver through the bureaucratic environment and to integrate one's research into the larger conservation process, hopefully ensuring its application.

Among the successful research programs that have maintained a focus on plant conservation issues over several decades are those of several state universities, the Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences, Everglades National Park, Fairchild Botanical Garden, Archbold and Tall Timbers Biological Stations, and National Audubon Society's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.

These institutions undertake programs at sites that are actively managed for products and services, including natural area values. Such programs encourage the exchange of information between researchers and land or resource managers. This interchange provides a key mechanism for the scientist to continually refine research goals and for the manager to adapt vegetation management practices to the most current and best scientific evidence. Though the benefits of such interaction are unquestionable, interaction frequently fails to occur for many reasons. The newly-created Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recognizes this need for exchange among its own staff, and is developing a separate unit to provide liaison between scientists and managers of state parks and natural areas.

Unfortunately, not all Florida habitats house experiment stations or ongoing research programs that employ plant conservation scientists with knowledge of the flora and easy access to long term data sets. With approximately two percent of Endangered Species Act funding devoted to plants nationally, there are few opportunities for federally-funded, applied rare plant research in Florida. The very limited availability of financial support, and year-to-year fluctuations even when funds are present, are preventing scientists from dealing with many important, integrative problems that require multi-year observations. Moreover, little research attention has been given to the societal dimensions of native plant issues: i.e., the comparative use of water by native versus exotic plants, the potential buffering effects of forest canopies on winds that can cause extensive property damage, the psychological benefits of maintaining significant green spaces, and so on. Florida boasts many plant scientists doing exceptional work, but their numbers are dwarfed by the enormity and the rate of loss within the native plant resource.

Florida plant researchers, as elsewhere, communicate effectively among themselves through technical journals. Florida Scientist provides a much-needed outlet for technical, conservation-related information of statewide or regional interest. The Palmetto, magazine of the Florida Native Plant Society, publishes short, informative articles in a more popular format. While peer-reviewed journal articles are the proper venue for a full airing of scientific issues, the pace of such interchange is slow. There is currently a need for a regular, well-organized statewide forum in which the leading Florida plant researchers can engage in public debate on issues of immediate plant conservation significance (e.g., fire and water management prescriptions, protocols for ex situ resource management, guidelines for reintroduction and restoration projects, etc.). By strengthening emerging scientific consensus on important applied research topics, such symposia would be exceedingly useful for resource managers as well as researchers.

In the important related area of data access, exchange, and compatibility there have been some important successes. For instance, FNAI has succeeded in inducing plant scientists to contribute to and utilize its Element Occurrence data base. On the other hand, the many attempts to achieve a common habitat classification in the state have yet to lead to that result. In the first case, FNAI presented researchers with a fully-developed system that met most of their needs. In the second instance, federal and state organizations (USEPA, USFWS, FNAI) independently developed classification systems to meet limited agency objectives in such areas as vegetation mapping and assessment, gap analysis, and documentation of species-habitat relationships (Scott et al. 1993). Widespread use of one or the other of these systems will only occur after they are integrated into a more general framework that combines broad applicability with sufficient regional detail to satisfy the requirements of diverse users. On this and other computerization and data exchange issues, a statewide coordinating committee would be very helpful in resolving conflicts between the needs of the individual organizations and the requirement for a common classification of statewide plant resource management and conservation applicability and acceptability.

Within the last decade, the traditional reticence of scientists to enter non-technical forums has been dissolving in the face of a public hungry for hard information and a news media eager to feed that appetite, and this is to be applauded and encouraged. With the increasing environmental regulations that have resulted from the deterioration of our natural world (see Section II), environmental issues have touched the lives of many people, creating a large, involved audience for a range of plant and habitat-related issues. The demand on plant scientists to provide basic and applied research results for land and resource managers and decision makers can only grow as the causes for biodiversity decline remain unchecked. Also likely to increase, and rightly so, is the involvement of researchers in enhancing public awareness of species and habitat conservation, toward the goal of improving the quality of the public policy debate.

2. Education. The role of education in the plant conservation process is to in form the general public, their legislative representatives, and private donors about the vulnerability of Florida's native plants and habitats, and the importance of their conservation. For the most part, information about native plant problems has been embedded in a more comprehensive message promoting a diffuse environmental ethic. While this broader message has been expressed in many imaginative ways, it has not induced its audience to take strong action on native plant issues.

Public education is a multi-faceted function performed in many ways, at several levels, and by numerous players. Government agencies and private organizations that manage natural areas typically provide users with materials and programs varying from labeled trees, to interpretive signage and brochures, to education/interpretive centers. Organizations such as the Florida Native Plant Society, The Nature Conservancy and other environmental organizations, garden clubs, and botanical gardens and museums publish magazines and newsletters, sponsor speakers, and conduct field trips. Many newspapers now have regular columns devoted to environmental issues, including the problems of habitat loss and plant rarity. Schools often include environmental education within their curricula, and many colleges and universities offer Environmental Studies programs. Legislators are in close touch with government agencies responsible for environmental matters as well as with lobbyists representing national and local environmental organizations.

As a rule, environmental education programs sponsored by state and local government agencies are broadly focused. Within the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the Office of Ecosystem Management (OEM) is responsible for Florida's environmental education efforts. The OEM develops educational materials, operates DEP's Environmental Education computer bulletin board, maintains an extensive collection of educational and public informational publications, and coordinates the agency's speakers bureau which provides speakers on environmental issues at schools and other venues.

Another state-sponsored environmental education program is "Project Wild" which is offered by the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. "Project Wild" trains teachers from all grade levels in the presentation of environmental materials, and provides them with hundreds of short lesson plans relevant to Florida's environment. Notably, while broad ecosystem concepts are included prominently among these many lessons, topics specific to native plant conservation or threats to rare native plants are absent.

Schools are especially important to the development of a conservation ethic among the younger members of society. But in Florida there is no state-wide mandate for environmental education in the classroom. Local school boards that believe this to be an important educational item are left to design environmental education programs of their own. Several counties have developed outstanding programs that include material on native plants. For example, Dade County has developed a program addressing a variety of environmental issues. One resource used in the program is The Dade County Environmental Story, a compilation of essays on the natural history of the county, written by local biologists, naturalists and educators, and targeted at school children from kindergarten through high school. Perhaps an even more effective means of teaching children about their natural environment is to involve them in it directly, e.g., through the restoration of natural areas near schoolyards or the creation of artificial habitats, such as native plant gardens, on school grounds. Butterfly gardens are currently a popular way of conveying to primary school children the interdependency of our natural flora and fauna.

In general, the educational programs that focus most directly on native plant issues are extra-governmental. With 23 local chapters and 3,000 members, the Florida Native Plant Society (FNPS) plays a major role in Florida plant conservation and associated education. The membership of FNPS ranges from homeowners looking for environmentally-responsible ways of landscaping their yards, to university professors. The Society publishes The Palmetto, a newsletter that includes informative articles on native plants and ecosystems, provides tips on landscaping with natives, and serves as a forum for native plant conservation advocacy. FNPS also publishes pamphlets and books on native plants and is planning state-wide efforts to provide local chapters with Fact Sheets on local native plants to be distributed to the public at large.

A recent survey conducted by FNPS indicates that a majority of members initially joined the Society in hopes of resolving practical landscaping problems that they faced as homeowners, and only later did they become interested in plant conservation. This suggests that programs with goals of broadening public awareness in native plant conservation issues must first focus on items of immediate relevance to people's every day lives. Such problems as exotic weeds in the garden, the voracious appetite of non indigenous ornamentals for water and fertilizer, the beneficial effects of native shade trees and landscapes on electric bills, the success of native plant canopies in buffering nearby dwellings from hurricane winds, are all good examples. Having achieved a greater appreciation of the role of native plants in one's own backyard, the average citicitizen is much more likely to see personal and societal benefit in applying the same concepts to the Florida environment as a whole.

By using volunteerism as an educational tool, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has played a major role in increasing public awareness of Florida native plant issues.TNC conducts many volunteer programs at regional levels that involve hundreds of participants. Volunteers staff TNC offices, are involved in exotic plant removal and control, monitor populations of endangered species, and so on. These innovative programs not only contribute to the work of TNC in managing its own properties, they also provide direct hands-on experience for the volunteers and instill in them a sense of pride and ownership in Florida's native plant communities. The involvement of committed volunteers also presumably filters out to friends and families, increasing the overall support for species and ecosystem conservation. While TNC volunteers are generally young urban professionals, Florida's large population of retirees is becoming more-and- more active in plant conservation efforts, and this should be encouraged and developed. According to the latest polls, Floridians are aware of and are concerned about environmental issues. But all too often this awareness and concern lack focus and practical outlets. It is the responsibility of educators and conservation biologists to develop and then provide compelling and accessible programs that explain clearly and without condescension why biodiversity matters and, more specifically, why the preservation of Florida's natural habitats and species is so important.

3. Government. Federal, state, and local governments play major roles in the conservation of species and ecosystems through their ability to acquire and manage the large tracts of land necessary to preserve functioning ecosystems. Furthermore, government is uniquely mandated to make and enforce conservation-related laws and regulations.

Including all three levels of government (national, state, local) and private land trusts, Florida has the largest environmentally-sensitive land acquisition program in the U.S. The biggest of these are sponsored by the state. Through three state programs Preservation-2000, Conservation and Recreation Lands (CARL), and the Land Acquisition Trust Fund -- the Division of State Lands in the Department of Environmental Protection has allocated in recent years on average $300 million annually for land purchases. Under Preservation-2000, this level of funding may be available through the year 2000. At the federal level, current highlights are the additions to National Park Service holdings in the Big Cypress National Preserve, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's planned acquisition (in cooperation with the state, TNC, and Archbold Biological Station) of some 8,000 ha of Lake Wales Ridge scrub habitat. Several county and municipal governments also have dynamic land acquisition programs. One of these is Dade County's Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL) program, with acquisitions supported by a $90 million bond issue. Many smaller tracts are being acquired and preserved by land trusts, the largest being The Nature Conservancy.

Federal, state, and local governments also share responsibility for regulating the use of native plants and their habitats. In comparison to the relatively straightforward business of acquiring land, the array of laws, regulations, and enforcement mechanisms created to govern use of the native plant resource is exceedingly complex and difficult to implement.

The federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) is one of the cornerstones of American environmental law. It regulates the "taking" of animal or plant species considered at risk of extinction, provides a procedure for determining which species are critically threatened, and establishes a mechanism to provide for their recovery. ESA has been amended a number of times since its passage in 1973. The current version has several weaknesses with respect to plant protection, including the lack of prohibition for "takings" of endangered plants on non-federal lands, and for indirect "takings" of rare plants through such actions as habitat destruction on private property. Because habitat loss is the primary threat to Florida native plant populations (see Part II, Section C2b, above), providing endangered plants with a higher degree of habitat protection appears to be necessary if declines in their populations are to be slowed and then reversed.

Under Section 6 of the ESA, federal funds are available for cooperative efforts with state agencies for implementation of "Recovery Plans." The Florida Plant Conservation Program, under the direction of the State Division of Forestry, was created to utilize these funds. For example, several research projects on rare native plants are now being funded in Florida with Section 6 monies, as is the hiring of a population biologist at Lake Arbuckle State Forest to monitor endangered plant populations there.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is the lead agency in the implementation of the Endangered Species Act. USFWS has long been a committed advocate of rare plant protection in Florida. However, over the last decade or so, USFWS has administered a process that has been slow to add new listings in Florida despite strong evidence of endangerment. Of the 54 Florida plant taxa currently listed as Endangered or Threatened, final or draft Recovery Plans have been developed for 39. But until recently these have been formulaic documents that provided little guidance for resource managers. Monies for the implementation of the Plans have been particularly difficult to identify.

The Protection of Native Flora of Florida Act (1978) is the analog of the Endangered Species Act at the state level. To some extent the former compensates for the limitations of the latter with regard to plants. The state law is based on broader definitions of "endangered" and "threatened" than those adopted by the ESA. For example, its inclusion of "commercially exploited" as a category has lead to regulation of some plants that are not yet threatened but which might become so in the future. Most importantly, the Florida law affords wider plant protection generally by extending its pur view to plants growing on non-federal lands. For example, the law prohibits destruction or harvesting of any state-listed endangered plant from any private or public lands without permission of the landowner and a permit from the state.

While the intent of the Protection of Native Flora of Florida Act was to prevent the destruction or over exploitation of native plant populations, it does not specifically address conservation of habitat. Instead, it regulates the movement of plant materials for commercial purposes (e.g., through nursery inspections). Thus, despite the useful features of the Act described above, it provides no mechanisms for the recovery of plant species that have seriously declined or are near extirpation or extinction. The Division of Plant Industry is the lead state agency for enforcement of the Act.

Thus, much of the frustration surrounding rare plant legislation as it is applied in Florida relates to the unevenness of the protection as it moves from federal to local. Federal law, which defines "endangered" as vulnerable to imminent extinction worldwide, does not prohibit the destruction of endangered plants on non-federal lands, and it does not take into account plant rarity within the specific Florida context per se. On the other hand, state law provides a greater measure of overall protection by extending its purview to all lands public and private. Because it focuses on rarity in Florida, it doubles the list of endangered species by defining endangerment as the likelihood of extirpation within the state. However, state law does not restrict the prerogatives of individual property owners to destroy rare plants on their own lands for non-commercial purposes. In some instances, local ordinances provide more comprehensive protection by limiting the rights of landowners to use property in ways detrimental to endangered plants, or by prohibiting removal of certain native species, endangered or not.

Many local ordinances that affect plant and habitat conservation were developed under the impetus of a state law (Florida Administrative Code Sec. 9J-5) that requires counties and municipalities to prepare Comprehensive Growth Management Plans every five years, and to include in these plans prescriptions for management of natural re sources. As a result, local ordinances frequently provide additional protection for native plants, especially state-listed endangered or threatened species, and this is to be applauded and encouraged. For instance, Monroe County has adopted a policy whereby the buildable portion of a previously undeveloped lot is determined by the character and condition of the existing vegetation. A smaller percentage of the lot can be developed when endangered or threatened plants are present in intact native plant communities. Conversely, when exotic plants are a prominent component of the vegetation, a larger part of the lot is deemed to be buildable. When native vegetation is present on the undeveloped portion of the lot, the law further requires that it be maintained as such.

While the adoption of such local regulations can be contentious and emotional, the resulting compromises often enhance community pride among people on both sides of the issue and foster much greater citizen involvement in government.

4. Philanthropy. Total donations toward plant conservation efforts in Florida from private sources such as foundations and individuals are difficult to quantify, but unquestionably they are substantial. For instance, in 1994 alone, contributions from corporations, foundations, and citizens toward the habitat conservation activities of The Nature Conservancy in Florida exceeded $2 million. In addition to supporting TNC's highly effective program (see below), private funds have maintained the Archbold and Tall Timbers Biological Stations, and National Audubon Society's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. The focus of these facilities varies from basic ecological research, to applied research, to education, each built upon a strong conservation background. Thus, all are multi-functional programs that study, preserve, and showcase ecologically-significant remnants of diverse habitats, providing models for good management of similar lands elsewhere. Private funds similarly support plant conservation, research, and education functions at botanical gardens and museums in Florida, lobbying efforts on behalf of habitat preservation by groups like National Audubon Society, Florida Audubon, and the Wilderness Society, and the coordination and facilitation efforts of the Center for Plant Conservation.

Foundations have focused their attention on especially beleaguered ecosystems. The MacArthur Foundation's recent program in the Florida Keys is an outstanding example. When the program began in 1988, the terrestrial ecosystems of the Keys were not well understood and were protected by a disconnected series of small state and federal refuges. There was relatively little public appreciation of the Keys as an important natural area within the state. A $3 million grant from the Foundation was divided equally among The Nature Conservancy, the Florida Keys Land and Sea Trust, and National Audubon Society. In its Keys program, TNC focused on lobbying for government land acquisition and improved public land management. The Land Trust's efforts turned to land acquisition and public education. Audubon contributed through an enhanced Keys research program. By the time the MacArthur Foundation reduced its involvement in 1991, acreage in conservation management had increased dramatically, the scientific basis for decision making and management was much improved, and greater statewide support for habitat conservation in the Keys was evident. By focusing its resources on a mixture of ecosystems within a well-defined region, and by supporting organizations with complementary programs, the MacArthur Foundation employed a model that might be very effectively reproduced in other parts of Florida.

5. Resource management. The integrated management of native plant resources can be divided into in situ and ex situ activities. The former focus on the immediate protection and restoration of natural populations and ecosystems, while the latter look toward the development of off-site genetic storage capabilities in order to protect plant species from outright extinction, and to supplement or restore natural populations when and if this is required and becomes possible. Since the aim of both agendas is the conservation of healthy populations and communities in the wild through an integrated plant conservation model, their separation below is to a considerable extent a false dichotomy. Nevertheless, the distinction is retained here to facilitate and clarify the discussion that follows.

a.Ex situ activities

Ex situ resource management activities involve the maintenance of living, rare plant collections in gardens or greenhouses and the storage of seed and tissue culture material as insurance against extinction and for use in rare plant augmentation and restoration projects. Bok Tower Gardens (BTG) in Lake Wales and Fairchild Tropical Garden (FTG) in Miami are Participating Institutions (PIs) of the Center for Plant Conservation in Florida. BTG and FTG presently house important collections of rare native Florida plants. Bok holds 35 taxa as part of the Center's National Collection of Endangered Plants, while Fairchild holds 33. The Center's program is based on a threefold approach to U. S. plant conservation with the following objectives: 1) to build and maintain genetically diverse collections of rare native plant taxa as insurance against extinction and genetic erosion; 2) to contribute to the reestablishment of self-sustaining native plant populations in protected and monitored natural areas; and, 3) to provide rare U.S. plants for research purposes and to educate the public about the plant endangerment problem in this country.

In order for such activities to be carried out effectively, ex situ plant specialists in Florida should, and often do, share in the responsibility for in situ activities associated with the management and restoration of rare plants in native habitats. This involves such activities as genetic assessments of natural populations, identification of appropriate reintroduction sites, and monitoring and management of reintroduced populations.

As in other parts of the U.S. and the world with similar conditions, the development of genetically diverse ex situ collections in Florida is made difficult by several factors:

  1. Very small population sizes or sporadic seed set in some taxa of special concern;
  2. The high cost and time associated with establishing adequate propagation and cultivation protocols for tropical and subtropical species. Once these protocols are well-formulated, costs for maintenance of a taxon in the live collection remain significant (estimated to be about $1200 per year at BTG);
  3. Seed recalcitrance, often found in tropical species, is the characteristic of seeds to germinate immediately at maturity and to lose viability as a result of desiccation and exposure to cold. Recalcitrance makes seed storage by standard means impossible. Most long term seed storage for the Florida CPC Participating Institutions is currently being handled by the USDA National Seed Storage Laboratory (NSSL) at Fort Collins, CO, with an emphasis on rare Florida plants that produce orthodox seeds (those seeds that tolerate desiccation and cold storage). Development of specialized seed storage methods for Florida's recalcitrant seed-producing rare plants would require a greatly enhanced research effort into the long term storage capacity of recalcitrant seeds generally. This would be most appropriately undertaken at NSSL. Tissue culture is a high-tech alternative to seed storage that needs to be seriously considered for Florida's rare tropical plants. While it can be expensive, requires specialized training, and is not presently practiced on a significant scale in Florida native plant conservation, very successful rare plant tissue culture programs are now being operated fairly inexpensively in Hawai'i (Center for Plant Conservation 1994);
  4. Little is known about the genetic variability present in Florida rare plant species. Plant conservationists increasingly view such information as data crucial to both in situ and ex situ management programs for rare plants. Descriptions of genetic variation that result from protein electrophoretic work and other recently-developed techniques have been made at Fairchild Tropical Gardens and at a number of universities within the state. However, such studies have been applied to few rare Florida plants and need to be expanded with an emphasis on management applications.

Because the biology of so many rare Florida plants is unknown, conservation horticulturists are faced with the difficult tasks of determining soil, water, light, and fertilizer requirements for rare plants while attempting to learn about their reproductive phenology, pollinators, and natural enemies. In this respect, conservation horticulture involves a very significant research component. If they do not have adequate research facilities or staff in-house, the ex situ plant conservation organizations are strongly encouraged to develop or enhance partnerships with research institutions possessing those capabilities.

The long term goal of ex situ management is the reintroduction of rare plant taxa into appropriate wild settings. The Nature Conservancy and the Department of Environmental Protection recently and independently proposed guidelines for reintroduction projects (Gordon 1994; Younker 1994). In considering the important question of where it is appropriate to try to reestablish rare taxa, the consensus was that a species should not be introduced outside of its historic range (some would argue for an exception to this rule if no protected, ecologically-suitable sites now exist within the documented historic range of the taxon). In Florida, the few reintroductions that have occurred (see below) have been carefully designed to avoid the introduction of native plants into inappropriate locations. However, as reintroductions become more frequently employed in the state, ecologically- and genetically-based protocols for plant augmentation and restoration must be formulated by scientists and managers representing all concerned parties.

Reintroductions invariably require intensive monitoring in order to determine, at a minimum, the conditions that will best assure the success of future restoration efforts. At the 1993 CPC-sponsored conference "Restoring Diversity: Strategies for Rare Plant Reintroductions," national experts agreed that little was known about how to restore most rare plants to natural habitats and, as a result, reintroductions should be considered to be experimental until proven otherwise. The costs and the expertise necessary to design and carry out restoration research and monitoring are substantial for any credible reintroduction effort. Allocation of charges and responsibilities for such activities must be negotiated among the relevant organizations during initial planning, and is, again, an area in which general statewide protocols and guidelines are needed.

Ex situ plant conservation activities in Florida fall largely within the purview of the state's two CPC Participating Institutions. Those activities are outlined briefly below.

Fairchild Tropical Garden

FTG's Endangered Species Program currently maintains ex situ collections of 11 CPC-approved (and some 30 additional) rare South Florida plant taxa. FTG's collection protocols generally follow CPC standards found in the CPC Handbook and in the Appendix to Genetics and Conservation of Rare Plants (Falk and Holsinger 1991). A routine horticultural maintenance and biological monitoring program has been established, and there is an ongoing effort to identify and codify propagation protocols for rare species. Careful computerized documentation of collection and curation procedures at FTG is done through BG-BASE, a conservation-oriented database management program designed for botanical gardens.

In collaboration with DEP biologists, FTG has developed and implemented a reintroduction plan for the buccaneer palm (Pseudophoenix sargentii ) on the coastal berm at Long Key State Recreation Area. FTG/DEP's apparent success in reestablishing this species at one of the sites where it was described earlier in the century may provide a model for other reintroductions planned in the near future. These may include Amorpha crenulata (a pine rockland species) and Jacquemontia reclinata (a coastal strand species).

Bok Tower Gardens

BTG has 35 CPC-approved rare taxa in its ex situ collection. These are held as living plants and/or in long term seed storage. Thirty-four of these are Florida endemics. All of these taxa were collected as seeds or cuttings from wild populations according to CPC standards. The program at BTG has emphasized the development and documentation of propagation, maintenance, and field introduction methods. BTG has been a partner in establishing or augmenting populations of three rare plants into protected natural areas. For example, a population of an undescribed species of Dicerandra, known from only two sites on the Lake Wales Ridge, was established in a natural buffer area at the Gardens. The Nature Conservancy and BTG reintroduced Conradina glabra to TNC's Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve. Another BTG introduction, funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, involved the establishment of the endangered mint Dicerandra immaculata beyond its known historic range because no protected sites within its historic range could be found. This case illustrates not only the acuteness of the plant endangerment problem in some parts of Florida, but also the dilemma which often faces resource managers committed to the reestablishment of rare plants in the wild. Finally, a BIG reintroduction of Ziziphus celata into native scrub is planned.

Altogether, about 45% (approximately 80 out of 179) of Florida's imperiled plant taxa are represented in ex situ collections at these two CPC affiliates. Nevertheless, in the interest of preserving the genetic diversity of Florida's rare plants -- as a backup against extinction, and for eventual augmentation or reestablishment into natural settings -- a goal of 100% should be set. A realistic time frame for achieving such a "full insurance policy" standard needs to be established.

b. In situ activities

In situ resource management activities in Florida primarily concern the administration of terrestrial habitat in the nearly 3 million ha of Conservation Areas (Cox et al. 1994). Most of this land is in public ownership. 1.85 million ha are under federal jurisdiction, slightly under one million ha are in state management, and approximately 15,000 ha are managed by county or municipal governments. Extremely valuable habitat is also included in the extensive tracts under U.S. Department of Defense control, which total more than one-quarter million ha. While conservation objectives are now being given serious attention by the military, they remain secondary priorities on these lands. A number of relatively small but ecologically significant parcels are owned and 26 managed by private, not-for-profit conservation organizations.

The National Park Service is responsible for the largest parcels of protected lands, including adjacent tracts in Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve, and for the largest total amount of land, about 1 million ha. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has jurisdiction over 27 National Wildlife Refuges statewide, totaling some 375,000 ha. The U.S. Forest Service manages three National Forests with about 430,000 ha. Most state lands in conservation management are under the jurisdiction of the Division of Recreation and Parks, part of the Department of Environmental Protection. Smaller agencies manage the rest of the state-owned CAs. Diverse local agencies manage the many small parcels controlled by counties and municipalities.

The prevailing philosophy of these federal and state land-managing agencies is "ecosystem management." Depending on the practitioner, this concept includes a number of economic, ecological, and institutional components. Among these is the idea that by eliminating interference from non-native species, and by restoring natural regulatory processes over physiographically- and biologically-defined (viz. administratively- defined) areas, healthy, functional ecosystems can be maintained or reestablished. Maintenance of ecosystem functionality, in turn, is the best assurance of sustained well being within the systems' biotic components, including the rare plant taxa. Thus, native habitats are maintained by removing exotic species, by reestablishing historical hydrologic regimes, and by utilizing prescribed burns within ecosystems once regulated by periodic fires. When an ecosystem has been so modified that its natural functionality is seriously disrupted or altogether replaced by non-native species, habitat restoration may be necessary.

While the amount of land managed by private conservation organizations is not large, it includes some of the best-preserved examples of rare native habitat in Florida. The Nature Conservancy is the largest private owner of Conservation Areas, managing 42 sites totaling over 15,000 ha. The three largest TNC sites are: Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines (2,600 ha), notable for the presence of several of Florida's rarest species; Tiger Creek (1,900 ha), encompassing many endangered Lake Wales Ridge scrub species; and Disney Wilderness Preserve (4,500 ha). The National Audubon Society owns and manages the 10,000 ha Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, which includes one of the largest remnants (about 250 ha) of virgin baldcypress forest in the United States. Archbold Biological Station, established by eco-philanthropist Richard Archbold, and funded by an Archbold Expeditions endowment, is a 2,000 ha property on the Lake Wales Ridge consisting of pine flatwoods, sandhills, and scrub. Tall Timbers Experiment Station manages a 1,600 ha property north of Tallahassee composed mostly of sandhill vegetation.

Private-land managers have sometimes been more innovative than their public counterparts, presumably because of the simpler administrative structures and more homogeneous constituencies to which they are accountable. While natural area values are important to the four private conservation organizations described above, their resource management objectives range from pure habitat preservation (Archbold) to more traditional "multiple use" objectives such as wildlife habitat, timber, and agricultural production (Tall Timbers). As on the public lands, prescribed fire, exotic plant removal, and/or hydrologic management are important practices within privately-owned Conservation Areas. These are described in somewhat more detail below:

  1. Exotic plant removal. Conserved lands have not been immune to invasion by the hundreds of exotic plants that have been introduced into Florida by humans. Some of these introductions have become aggressive, invasive pests that are doing enormous and costly damage to native ecosystems. For example, thousands of acres of Everglades National Park are now overrun by Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius), melaleuca (Melaleuca quinquenervia), and Australian pine (Casuarina equisetifolia ). Such trees not only dominate disturbed sites, but are capable of supplanting native communities and outcompeting native species. The key factor in their success is believed to be the absence of coevolved biological controls which would presumably limit their invasive spread within their natural ranges. Especially in the southern portions of the state, managers of most protected lands are now forced to devote large parts of their budgets and staff resources to what has become repetitive removal of exotic pest plants. Costs of melaleuca control alone in Everglades National Park and nearby Big Cypress National Preserve total nearly two million dollars since the mid-1980s. In Big Cypress, current plans call for exotic plant pest removal at the rate of $200,000 a year. Similar exotic plant control projects have been promoted and facilitated in recent years by the Exotic Pest Plant Council (EPPC). EPPC is a non-profit organization of agency biologists and private individuals that has accomplished much by assisting municipalities and agencies in the development and implementation of exotic pest plant control programs, by publicizing the magnitude and seriousness of the exotic plant problem in Florida, and by listing and prioritizing invasive species for control. A statewide plan to deal with exotic species issues is needed, and EPPC's recent work on the subject (Department of Environmental Protection 1994) will aid in its development.

  2. Prescribed fire. Florida's prairie vegetation and several pineland habitats are fire-maintained communities. Prior to the arrival of humans, fires were lightning-caused, but Native Americans and, more recently, society as a whole, have very substantially modified the natural fire regime. Today, Florida has one of the largest prescribed burn programs in the U.S., and both federal and state agencies use fire as an ecosystem management tool. Given that 80-85 % of the federally-listed plant species in Florida are fire-adapted (D. Hardin, pers. comm.), many undoubtedly depend on these prescribed burns for their continued existence. In recent years, upwards of 500,000 ha of state- and privately-owned land (mostly pinelands) have been burned annually. Most of these burns are carried out by timber companies for wildfire suppression or by private individuals to enhance wildlife habitat. The state Division of Forestry burns between 32,000 and 48,000 ha annually for ecosystem management. In rural, lightly-populated areas of the state, the activity is relatively non-controversial. However, in and adjacent to urban areas, such programs have been limited by smoke and safety concerns expressed by citizenries not well-in formed about the ecological and hazard-reduction benefits of controlled burns in ecosystems that were once maintained naturally by fire.

  3. Hydrologic management. Water is unlike any other Florida resource because its immediate control is not in the hands of the land managers themselves. Instead, management of water in Florida is centralized in the hands of five Water Management Districts. These districts distribute water through a massive plumbing system, i.e., a series of interconnected canals, pumps, and control structures built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Districts are semi-autonomous authorities, with independent taxation powers, nominally under the purview of the Department of Environmental Protection. In providing for the needs of wetland plant species and habitats, Water Management District managers must also consider impacts on other users, for example, urban and agricultural interests. Thus, managers of Conservation Areas that include wetland ecosystems must not only know how much water they need and when, they must contend for it in a highly politicized, competitive environment. For example, the publicly-supported decision to allocate limited water supplies to the maintenance of the native ecosystem in the Payne's Prairie State Preserve south of Gainesville has recently resulted in a legal challenge by nearby lakeshore owners who have requested compensation. Florida's extensive canal and delivery systems were designed for drainage and flood control, not for ecological values. The structure and size of the existing network now limit the ability of the Water Management Districts to meet many of the objectives of ecosystem management. Because of the magnitude of the environmental changes that resulted from water control, structural modifications are currently being planned that will require large capital outlays and years of construction. In South Florida for instance, releases of water into Everglades National Park are governed by a complex set of rules driven by precipitation, canal levels, and seasonality, but not by the condition of the marsh itself. These rules have been modified many times in the last few decades, partly at the urging of Park scientists, but rule changes have not yet reversed a long time decline in wildlife populations. Large-scale vegetation changes resulting from unnatural hydrology in the Everglades marsh have not been unequivocally documented, but changes north of the Park, in the Water Conservation Areas, have been very substantial indeed, provoking great concern within a range of observer organizations. Here, the replacement of native sawgrass marsh by cattails (Typha spp.) has resulted from the delivery of phosphorus-enriched water from adjacent agricultural lands. While some may view this as the substitution of one monospecific plant community by another, the tall, dense cattail stands tear at the fabric of the natural Everglades land scape, and utterly transform the resident fauna; In the wake of a long period of litigation and negotiation over the issue, a major redesign of the water delivery system is being planned. The new design is intended to benefit the ecological health of the Water Conservation Areas and restore the characteristic biotic assemblages there and in adjacent wetlands.

  4. Restoration and reclamation. Restoration usually involves some combination of the management tools described above, with or without replanting native vegetation. Reclamation is by definition a more arduous and drastic procedure because it occurs on lands where little of the original ecosystems and vegetation remain (Younker 1994). Due to the scope and complexity of the tasks involved, many reclamation projects become large-scale interagency ventures. These include mega-projects such as those intended to reclaim marshes in the Everglades and along the Kissimmee River. Three smaller examples are described below:

    Longleaf pine restoration. The State Division of Forestry is currently restoring longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) habitat on approximately 8,000 ha under its jurisdiction. The areas in question had been converted to sand pine (Pinus clausa) and/or slash pine (Pinus eliottii) plantations, largely because of the lower economic returns of longleaf pine which passes through an extended juvenile "grass-like" stage before commencing rapid growth. This project signifies the Division's increasing recognition of natural ecosystem values, and is to be commended and supported. In conjunction with Tall Timbers Experiment Station, the Division is also investigating methods of reestablishing native ground cover within several forests. Wiregrass (Aristida stricta), one of the dominant understory plants of this habitat, is now being grown in state nurseries, and mycorrhizal relationships are being studied. Prescribed fire is also being studied as an important element of longleaf pine ecosystem management.

    Blowing Rocks reclamation. Blowing Rocks Preserve is a small tract (about 30 ha) of diverse habitats on Jupiter Island owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy. The Preserve includes degraded beach dune, coastal strand, tropical hammock, and mangrove swamp communities, all of which are becoming rare in south eastern Florida as a result of coastal development. Reclamation efforts involve replanting with regionally native plant materials that were grown in an on-site nursery. With initial reclamation now completed, TNC nevertheless believes that periodic removal of exotic vegetation will continue indefinitely.

    The "Hole-in-the-Donut" reclamation project. The "Hole-in-the-Donut" is a 2,000 ha wetland within the bounds of Everglades National Park which was farmed prior to Park creation. After farming was abandoned, the "Hole-in-the-Donut" was invaded by Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius). Scheduled to begin this year, reclamation will involve removal of the rubbly materials that formed the planting rows when the area was plowed. This is expected to increase the period of time during the year that the area is inundated with water, thereby favoring native wetland plants over the pepper. A smaller wetland in an eastern portion of the Everglades was reclaimed in the late 1980s by similarly removing the rock-plowed planting rows which was then followed by grading. Native wetland species recolonized the area and no replanting was needed (Dalrymple et al. 1993). If such experimental restoration projects can be successfully applied on a wider scale, the ability to restore large portions of the Everglades ecosystem will be very substantially enhanced. Unfortunately, the removal of the planting rows is difficult and expensive, and the acreage needing this treatment is large. At current rates, restoring the entire "Hole-in-the-Donut" will take several decades and many millions of dollars. As the project moves forward, the Technical Review Board (the project oversight body) must continuously reassess the balance between realized ecological benefits and their costs in terms of worthy projects deferred. The Board should continue to educate itself about less expensive alternative technologies and apply these as appropriate.

  5. Integration and planning. Lack of coordination across ownership boundaries can frustrate species and habitat protection efforts, even when they are important management priorities. For example, the benefits of controlling or removing exotic plants in one conservation area may be confounded by an untreated seed source in an adjacent unit under the jurisdiction of another agency that is following a different management regime. Therefore, organizations managing common vegetation resources within a watershed or other geographic subunit will achieve best results by coordinating management schedules, biological resource monitoring, vandalism control, personnel training, and so on. The benefits of interagency planning and cooperation similarly extend to land acquisition, research, and education. But as elsewhere, such collaboration doesn't always occur in Florida for many reasons. In order to facilitate cooperation, within the last few years the Greater Arbuckle Ecosystem and the Wekiva River Basin Ecosystem have formed Working Groups to exchange information and to explore opportunities for collaboration. Such interactions and cooperative management efforts should be explicitly stated as goals of ecosystem management throughout Florida.

    At the state level, cross-organizational planning to improve the condition of Florida native plants has focused on single conservation themes or on specific conservation problems. Examples are land acquisition programs by the state under Preservation-2000 (Section IIIC3, above), the listing activities of the Endangered Plant Advisory Council (Section IIIC1, above), and the education and restoration activities of the Exotic Plant Pest Council (Section III5b(1), above). All have brought an element of state wide planning to native plant problems in Florida. Organizations headquartered outside of the state have also attempted to foster plant conservation agendas within Florida. For example, the Center for Plant Conservation organized an Endangered Plant Task Force meeting in 1992 to promote and facilitate the Florida plant conservation planning process. One of the objectives of this meeting was to identify and establish recovery teams for regions and for specific taxa. Another was to assign priority conservation rankings to species of special concern. A 1995 Task Force meeting expanded on these efforts to focus and to intensify native plant conservation collaborative efforts through out the state.


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