SePPCon 2016 Summary
The inaugural Southeastern Partners in Plant Conservation (SePPCon) meeting was held November 1-3, 2016 at the Garden. The event was coordinated by the Garden’s Southeastern Center for Conservation and co-sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (SFWS), U.S.D.A. Forest Service (USFS), National Wildlife Refuge Association, Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance.
The goal of this regional gathering was to bring together government agencies, land managers, botanical gardens, university programs, and botanical experts to inform each other on best practices and topics relevant to rare plant conservation and to form a cohesive network of resources to support regional efforts for at-risk & listed plant species in the Southeastern U.S.
The meeting was attended by about 160 people from 22 states, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Additional organizations represented at the conference include the following:
The American Public Gardens Association, The Center for Biological Diversity, The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, The Gulf Coastal Plains and Ozarks LCC, the South Atlantic LCC, The Nature Conservancy, State Natural Heritage Programs, universities, botanical gardens, utility companies, and other organizations.
The official footprint of this conference included the following states and territories: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri (Southern), North Carolina, Oklahoma (Eastern), South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas (Eastern), Virginia, West Virginia (Southern), and Puerto Rico & the Virgin Islands.
The SePPCon conference featured three days of plenary symposia and concurrent workshop sessions. Sessions were tailored to multiple interests to provide training and skill development, and to fill in information gaps for 82 at-risk plant species that have been petitioned for Federal protection by the Center for Biological Diversity. Additionally, 191 federally listed species were also included in the planning list in order to capture information and needs from the experts attending.
The USFW recently released its National Listing Work Plan for addressing Endangered Species Act, (ESA) listing and critical habitat decisions as biologists wrap up work on the list of more than 250 species that had been identified as candidates for protection under the ESA. This new work plan will allow the USFWS to meet its current and future ESA obligations while creating opportunity for partnerships aimed at delivering conservation on the ground to keep working lands working, protect local ways of life and reduce regulatory burdens, saving the ESA’s protection for the species that need it most. SePPCon is part of a regional effort to enhance cooperative conservation efforts for plants.
Geographic Technical Planning sessions at SePPCon included moderators from USFWS, USFS, and Natural Heritage Program botanists from several states. These sessions helped to validate and supplement critical information on the status and needs for at-risk andfederally listed plant species by engaging individuals from a diverse group of organizations. Participants identified information related to occurrences of at-risk and federally listed plants on protected lands, matched species with needed actions and prioritized them for additional planning efforts. Subsequent planning sessions included land managers, botanists and subject-matter experts who delved into topics based on categories of need to identify information gaps and actions that should be or are already being applied to conserve these species.
Capacity-building sessions provided training opportunities for current, new and potential partners from horticultural institutions. Representatives from sponsoring organizations and other groups presented best practices and guidelines for conducting ex situ and in situ conservation work. These included NatureServe, the Center for Plant Conservation, North Carolina Botanical Garden, Missouri Botanical Garden, the State Botanical Garden of Georgia and the New England Wildflower Society. Partners from 24 botanical gardens, arboreta, nature centers and zoos or aquariums were in attendance, representing new collaborators and successful examples for conservation.
Other sessions, including a panel presentation on funding, tools and resources, a partner poster expo and a listening session provided interactive opportunities for learning and networking.
Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance offered a workshop on local alliances to provide networking expertise, skills and models to be used within and among other states to promote cooperative conservation. Breakout groups for the following states and areas were mentored by GPCA members: Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, U.S. Virgin Islands & Puerto Rico, and the Lower Mississippi Valley (including parts of Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas). By creating and enhancing proactive conservation opportunities, such as candidate conservation agreements and conservation alliances, SePPCon has facilitated networking, built capacity, and identified actionable items for conserving imperiled plants throughout the Southeast.
In light of updated information identified by scientists and other knowledgeable partners at the Southeastern Partners in Plant Conservation meeting, 10 plant species were withdrawn from the Center for Biological Diversity petition. The USFWS was acknowledged for its efforts and partnerships in working with scientists to gather updated information on vulnerable species, as well as identifying species that do not need focused conservation action. New data on species status and threats has provided states and agencies with information they need to take steps to proactively safeguard imperiled species.