2016 Southeastern Partners in Plant Conservation

SePPCon 2016 Summary

The inaugural Southeastern Partners in Plant Conservation (SePPCon) meeting was held November 1st – 3rd, 2016 on the grounds of the Atlanta Botanical Garden. This event was coordinated by the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s Southeastern Center for Conservation and co-sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S.D.A. Forest Service, 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 3 days of plenary symposia and concurrent workshop sessions. Sessions were tailored to multiple interests, provide training and skill development, and serve 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 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently released its National Listing Workplan 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 Service 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. Southeastern Partners in Plant Conservation 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 & Federally 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, as well as 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 & Resources, a Partner Poster Expo, and a Listening Session provided interactive opportunities for learning and networking.

A workshop on local alliances was offered by the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance 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 U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service 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.