Recovery is Possible, Introduction and Overview

Kelly Bibb, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Geoff Call, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, David Lincicome, Natural Heritage Program Manager, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) Andrea Bishop, Natural Heritage Program Botanist, TDEC – Retired

Effective partnerships guided by shared goals, such as recovery criteria, make it possible to recover endangered and threatened species of plants. For species listed under the Endangered Species Act (the Act), recovery plans provide measureable criteria for determining when they should be considered for delisting. These plans identify threats affecting listed species and describe actions that should be taken to understand the biology and ecology of those species and to reduce threats to the point that listing is no longer needed – i.e., to achieve recovery criteria. From the decision to list a species, to the development of a recovery plan, to the ultimate goal of delisting species, partnerships are vital for carrying out the purposes of the Act. The Service relies on recovery actions carried out by partners in State and Federal agencies, academia, private citizens, or – in the case of plants – botanical gardens. We also rely on data to demonstrate the effectiveness of those recovery efforts. The importance of reliable data in bearing out the effectiveness of recovery efforts cannot be overstated. The Service publishes rules to delist or reclassify species only after multiple levels of review, beginning in our field offices and ending with our headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. Biologists in Service field offices rely on data from our partners in preparing compelling rules that withstand careful scrutiny. Section 6 of the Act is titled Cooperation with the States, and cooperation between the Service, State conservation agencies, and many other partners has been a key factor in Tennessee’s plant conservation successes. Tennessee’s first federally listed plant, Echinacea tennesseensis, was listed as endangered in 1979. The state currently has 21 federally listed species of plants. Over the years there have been significant conservation successes. In 2002, Scutellaria montana was down-listed. In 2005 Helianthus ergertii was successfully recovered followed by the recovery of E. tennesseensis in 2011, 32 years after it was first listed. Plant conservation and recovery does not occur in a vacuum, especially when endangered and threatened species are at stake. In the early years of Tennessee’s Section 6 plant recovery program much of the work focused on recovery of E. tennesseensis, despite minimal coordination with the Service. During this time, Tennessee’s botanists forged partnerships with a community of plant conservationists in academia, NGOs, Federal agencies, and botanical gardens. By 1998 a closer relationship had developed between the local Service staff and the state botanists conducting recovery work, with the Service becoming a more active partner in Tennessee’s plant conservation community. Annual recovery coordination meetings between the Service and the state were more productively guiding conservation efforts. About the same time the state’s Natural Areas Program was rapidly building on its own successes in protecting significant conservation lands. The inertia gained from the two programs and close working relationship between the Service and the state led to the recovery successes in the 2000’s. As a result another endangered species is close to being considered for recovery. Still more plant conservation work remains and through conservation networking, shared goals and priorities, and leveraged resources a broad-based partnership is emerging in Tennessee to effectively conserve all of the state’s imperiled plants.