By Greg Suba, CNPS Conservation Director
For more than 50 years, CNPS has specialized in assembling the most up-to-date information on botanical resources in California and making this information publicly available. The CNPS online Inventory of Rare, Threatened, and Endangered Plants of California (RPI) and the Manual of California Vegetation online database (MCV) are the most recent examples of the ways in which CNPS provides verifiable botanical data for California. This information is used every day in local, regional, and statewide planning for conservation and development around the state.
A Sense of Urgency
Over the last 10 years, the pace and scale of conservation planning in California has increased rapidly, due in part to an urgency to address climate change. It is also a result of California’s ability to couple advances in online mapping technology with opportunities to spend advanced mitigation funding. This combination allows broad stakeholder participation in a process to plan and establish an ecologically sound conservation lands network across California in real time. While the fundamental requirement of sound data as the basis for good planning hasn’t changed, today’s increased pace and scale of conservation planning requires an immediate need for more of it.
Earlier this year, CNPS began an initiative to gather unpublished information from botanical experts to supplement native plant data from the RPI, MCV, and other publicly available sources.
The goal of this work, the CNPS Important Plant Areas (IPA) initiative, is to preserve as much of California’s rich native botanical diversity as possible by assembling as complete a picture of botanical information as possible, and incorporating it into conservation decision-making processes across the state.
To generate an IPA Map, we have established a two-day workshop format. Each workshop brings together regional botanical experts to share and map their on-the-ground botanical knowledge. We then add their data to existing, publicly available sources, in order to generate as current and complete a snapshot of important plant information as possible, region by region, for use in planning.
For each study area, an IPA Map will identify, describe, and map plant areas of highest concern – rare species, locations of usual plant diversity, and rare habitat – and produce publicly available GIS maps, narrative, and data sets to help inform land and resource management decisions. The end product of our IPA Initiative will produce a GIS-based plant conservation decision-making tool for all of California that will aid in responsible planning while helping educate the public as to what is at stake.
Today we are in the data gathering stage. The CNPS Conservation, Rare Plant, and Vegetation Programs have begun planning and hosting a series of IPA Mapping Workshops. We held our first workshop in late February 2017, focusing on the southern San Joaquin Valley, and earlier this summer, we completed data gathering for part of the Modoc Plateau. Current funding will allow us to conduct workshops for northern San Joaquin Valley, the North Coast, and interior Northern California by the end of the year.
The resulting maps and botanical data of each region will be made available to local, state, and federal land use and management agencies and decision-makers. CNPS staff and volunteers can actively pursue the incorporation of IPAs into local, state, and federal land-use and resource management plans.
The CNPS IPA Initiative is proactive conservation. We will identify and protect the most important plant habitats as far in advance of the bulldozers, rather than fighting plans and projects after certification and approvals have been completed.