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U.S. Forest Service

The Endangered Species Act at Forty

In 1973, when the Endangered Species Act became law, the landscape of plant conservation was very different than it is today. Deciding which plants were rare meant combing through botanical publications and visiting herbaria to look at labels on dried specimens, labels that were often very vague about locations. We convened meetings of botanical species experts to compile and synthesize the best available information. We typed up and mailed, not emailed, our meeting notes.

What a difference forty years makes!

Think of the explosion of digital information and sharing methods we use routinely now. We have online databases of herbarium records. We can upload digital photographs to the internet the same day we take them. We have Global Positioning System (GPS) software to map plant populations precisely and Geographic Information System (GIS) software to display this information in map format and to model habitats. We can have easy and instantaneous conversations among the diverse people knowledgeable about particular plant groups. All this information exchange makes it possible now to decide with better certainty which plants are rare, where they grow, what threats they face, and what can be done to conserve and restore them.

Dedication ceremony of the Mt. Harrison Botanical Special Interest Area. Dedication ceremony of the Mt. Harrison Botanical Special Interest Area for the protection of Castilleja christii through a partnership and Conservation Agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Sawtooth National Forest. Photo by Teresa Prendusi.

GLORIA project members setting up plots. GLORIA (Global Observation and Research In Alpine Environments) project members setting up monitoring studies to study the effects of climate change on rare alpine plant communities in the Sweetwater Mountains on the California and Nevada border. Photo by Janel Johnson.

On this 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, the Forest Service not only celebrates some remarkable stories of Endangered and Threatened plant and animal recovery, but also its Sensitive Species program. The Sensitive Species program was created to inventory, monitor, and manage and conserve rare species to help them thrive on National Forest System lands, so they will never need the safety net provided by the Endangered Species Act.

Clay phacelia seeds in a brown envelope. Federally endangered Clay phacelia (Phacelia argillacea) seed grown for re-introduction onto suitable habitat on National Forest lands as a key component of this species’ Recovery Plan.

Training session for Spalding's catchfly. Interagency Spalding's catchfly training. Photo by Jennie Fisher, Nez Perce and Clearwater National Forests.

These successes would not be possible without our many partners. NatureServe and the system of state Heritage programs who track species rarity and threats across all land ownerships play critical conservation roles. Native plant societies, botanical gardens, civic organizations, and universities provide citizen scientists and volunteers to assist with inventory, monitoring, and restoration of rare plant populations and their habitats. The skilled staffs of botanical gardens and nurseries propagate rare plants for reintroduction programs, develop educational displays for public events, and conserve seeds in long-term storage facilities.

Recovery Stories

Each rare species recovery story is unique because each plant and animal has its own life history, its own ecological niche, and its own cast of important conservation partners. We invite you to read these stories and be inspired!

Volunteers planting Holy Ghost Ipomopsis on an hillside. Volunteers planting Holy Ghost Ipomopsis on the Santa Fe National Forest.

Eastern Region

Intermountain Region

Northern Region

Pacific Northwest Region

Pacific Southwest Region

Rocky Mountain Region

Southern Region

Southwest Region

See more Rare Plant Conservation Stories…