By Lisa Smith, Executive Director of the Natural Areas Association
The Natural Areas Association has come out in support of the Botanical Sciences and Native Plant Materials Research, Restoration and Promotion Act, or the “Botany Bill.”
This legislation will:
Increase training, hiring and placement of plant scientists in Federal agencies
Promote a preference for the use of locally appropriate native plant materials in Federal land management and other activities.
Increase demand for – and therefore supply of – locally appropriate native plant materials
Create new Federal programs to conserve rare plants and prevent their listing and extinction
We here at NAA are concerned about the decreasing focus and attention being paid to the importance of botanical capacity in successfully conserving natural areas in perpetuity. That’s why we’ve joined forces with a large coalition of organizations that have been working over the past several months to develop proposed federal legislation to promote the importance of botanical capacity.
Through these efforts, draft legislation of the Botany Bill has been developed to support the hiring and placement of botanical scientists, create demand for native plant materials, and promote a preference for their use in federal restoration activities. We are now sharing this proposed legislation with other like-minded groups to develop a list of organizations that support this proposal. We are also working with a number of potential sponsors in Congress.
A list of some of the many other organizations that support this draft legislation can be found at the bottom of this article, but we wanted to lay out the reasons why this piece of legislation is so important, and so closely aligns with our mission.
- Plants are central to the future of scientific discovery, human well-being, and the sustainable use and preservation of the nation’s resources. They form the physical foundation of every natural area in the world.
- The natural areas community plays a mission-critical role in researching, conserving, and sustainably managing our plant diversity and resources.
- Botanical expertise is required to address current and future grand challenges and issues, including climate change mitigation, land management and wildlife habitat restoration, understanding the provision of ecosystem services, management and control of invasive species, and the conservation and recovery of rare species.
- Despite the fundamental role botanical knowledge and “capacity” plays in tackling each of these issues, this expertise is lacking across all sectors of natural areas conservation (federal/state government, land trusts, research institutions and other private land management entities).
- In the United States over the past two decades, the botanical community has experienced significant changes in the demands placed upon it and the resources available to it. Since the early 1990s a series of published and anecdotal reports have outlined declining botanical capacity in many facets of this sector. This includes declines in human resources like botanical training and expertise, financial and management-level support for research, education and application, and the loss of infrastructure such as herbaria. The nation’s science and land management agenda is suffering as a result.
- Government agencies, especially, are losing botanical capacity as staff botanists retire and positions are not refilled, either because positions are eliminated, replaced by individuals without equivalent botanical training, or because there is an inability to find appropriately qualified new candidates to fill them.
- Botanical education and training likewise appears to be on the decline, with many botany departments at universities being subsumed into more general or interdisciplinary departments, and subsequently losing resident expertise as professors retire and are replaced by individuals without botanical expertise.
The Natural Areas Association is among a number of organizations in the private sector (e.g. botanic gardens and other non-profit conservation organizations, as well as for-profit businesses and self-employed individuals) working to help fill these widening gaps in botanical capacity. But we can’t do it alone, and this proposed legislation is intended to help fill gaps in federal botanical capacity while supporting botanical research and generating consistent demand for native plant materials that will support critical native plant conservation and restoration efforts in all sectors.
If your organization is interested in endorsing this bill, please email Kay Havens at Chicago Botanic Garden (firstname.lastname@example.org) by December 1, 2016. Your organization’s endorsement is important because it will improve our chances of securing congressional sponsorship.
Currently the following organizations have signed their names to this legislative proposal:
Alabama Wildflower Society, American Public Gardens Association, Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, Botanic Gardens Conservation International-US, Botanical Society of America, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, California Native Plant Society, Center for Plant Conservation, Chicago Botanic Garden, Colorado Native Plant Society, Denver Botanic Garden, Florida Native Plant Society, Garden Club of America, Institute for Applied Ecology, Iowa Native Plant Society, Kinnikinnick Native Plant Society, Longwood Gardens, Natural Areas Association, New England Wild Flower Society, Oklahoma Native Plant Society, Pinelands Preservation Alliance (New Jersey), Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, Society for Ecological Restoration, Virginia Native Plant Society, Washington Native Plant Society, West Virginia Native Plant Society, and Wilbur D. May Arboretum and Botanical Garden