Friday, February 5, 2010

NY Natural Heritage Program - Federal Law Regulates "Taking" of endangered and threaened plants when they are affected by federal actions or the use of federal funds.

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Federal Law

One of the results of the environmental movement of the 1960s and 70s was the enactment of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (see the offsite link in the right-hand column of this page). The Act was designed to prevent the extinction of plants and animals, addressing problems of both exploitation and habitat destruction. The Act defines an endangered species as any species of animal or plant that is in danger of extinction over all or a significant portion of its range. A threatened species is defined as one that is likely to become endangered. The Act regulates the "taking" of endangered and threatened plants on federal land or when they are affected by federal actions or the use of federal funds. Specific protection is outlined in the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and states: It is unlawful for any person subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to:
  1. import any such species into, or export any such species from, the United States;
  2. remove and reduce to possession any such species from areas under Federal jurisdiction; maliciously damage or destroy any such species on any such area; or remove, cut, dig up, or damage or destroy any such species on any other area in knowing violation of any law or regulation of any state or in the course of any violation of a state criminal trespass law;
  3. deliver, receive, carry, transport, or ship in interstate or foreign commerce, by any means whatsoever and in the course of a commercial activity, any such species;
  4. sell or offer for sale in interstate or foreign commerce any such species; or
  5. violate any regulation pertaining to such species or to any threatened species of plants pursuant to section 4 of this Act and promulgated by the Secretary pursuant to authority provided by this Act.
Exceptions to these provisions include seeds of cultivated threatened plants, under certain circumstances possession of plants in a conservation program by an employee or designate of the Service and those plants exempted by a special rule.
A particularly important section of the Act promotes the conservation of habitats of endangered and threatened species. The Act authorized the acquisition of land for the protection of habitats of these species and directs federal agencies to ensure that their activities or those authorized or funded by them do not jeopardize the continued existence of endangered and threatened species.
The Act prescribes strict procedural guidelines for determination of status and listing of species. These provide that species be listed only after extensive input and review by biologists, the states and the general public. This procedure insures that only species in need of protection are listed, and it provides baseline data from which further population monitoring may proceed.
Presently, 11 New York rare plants are on the federal endangered and threatened list:


Agalinis acuta - Sandplain Gerardia - presently known from Long Island
Schwalbea americana - Chaffseed - historically known from the Albany Pine Bush
Scirpus ancistrochaetus - Northeastern Bulrush - historically known from Washington County


Aconitum noveboracense - Northern Monk's-hood - presently known from the Catskills
Amaranthus pumilus - Seabeach Amaranth - presently known from Long Island
Asplenium scolopendrium var. americanum - Hart's Tongue Fern - presently known from Central New York
Helonias bullata - Swamp Pink - historically known from Staten Island
Isotria medeoloides - Small Whorled Pogonia - historically known from Central and Eastern New York and Long Island
Platanthera leucophaea - Prairie Fringed Orchid - historically known from Central New York
Rhodiola integrifolia ssp. leedyi - Leedy's Roseroot - presently known from the Finger Lakes Region
Oligoneuron houghtonii - Houghton's Goldenrod - presently known from Western New York
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulates federally endangered and threatened plants. This includes listing new species, developing recovery plans, reviewing projects, and assessing damage and penalties when plants are impacted. For this region, there are offices in Boston, MA; Cortland, NY; and Islip, Long Island.

State Laws and Regulations

Rare plants have been protected in New York State since 1933. After a long history of expanded protection efforts, the latest regulation was enacted in June 1989 and includes three rarity categories (endangered, threatened, and rare) and one non-rare protection category (exploitably vulnerable).
The categories of the rare plant protected list are defined as follows: Endangered Species: listed species are those with
  1. 5 or fewer extant sites, or
  2. fewer than 1,000 individuals, or
  3. restricted to fewer than 4 U.S.G.S. 7 1/2 minute topographical maps, or
  4. species listed as endangered by the U. S. Department of Interior, as enumerated in the Code of Federal Regulations 50 CFR 17.11.
Threatened: listed species are those with
  1. 6 to fewer than 20 extant sites, or
  2. 1,000 to fewer than 3,000 individuals, or
  3. restricted to not less than 4 or more than 7 U.S.G.S. 7 1/2 minute topographical maps, or
  4. listed as threatened by the U. S. Department of the Interior, as enumerated in the Code of Federal Regulations 50 CFR 17.11.
Rare: listed species have
  1. 20 to 35 extant sites, or
  2. 3,000 to 5,000 individuals statewide.
Exploitably vulnerable: listed species are likely to become threatened in the near future throughout all or a significant portion of their range within the state if causal factors continue unchecked.
The exploitably vulnerable category contains plants that are likely to be picked for commercial and personal purposes and affords the landowner extra protection ability.
Rare plants included on the list are protected under New York State Environmental Conservation Law section 9-1503. Part (f) of the law reads as follows: "It is a violation for any person, anywhere in the state to pick, pluck, sever, remove, damage by the application of herbicides or defoliants, or carry away, without the consent of the owner, any protected plant. Each protected plant so picked, plucked, severed, removed, damaged or carried away shall constitute a separate violation." Violators of the regulation are subject to fines of $25 per plant illegally taken.
The Nature Conservancy established the New York Natural Heritage Program in 1985 as a contract unit within the DEC. The program assumed from the state museum the job of compiling a status list for rare plants in the state. Each year a rare plant status review meeting is sponsored by the Natural Heritage Program botanist to review the ranks and taxonomy of the listed plants. The meeting includes the state botanist, a DEC representative, and other botanists from around the state who are familiar with rare plants. After the meeting the list is updated and each plant is assigned a global and state rarity rank devised by The Nature Conservancy. This list has no legal status but is used by the DEC as a basis for the legal protected list that they produce. Since it is updated yearly it often differs slightly from the DEC list which is updated over a multi-year time frame.
Since the Heritage Program began the status list has changed significantly. On the positive side many plants that were originally thought to be rare were shown to be more common after historical sites and potential habitat were searched. Over 70 plants that had not been seen in over 20 years were rediscovered, many of them with historical records over 50 years old. On the negative side many plants were determined to be extirpated from the state after years of searching failed to turn up a single plant. As time goes by and we gather more information on the status of rare plants the lists will become more refined and accurate.

State Environmental Quality Review Act and Lead Agency Regulations

In New York State, when a development or other type of project is proposed that may affect rare plants, an environmental impact assessment may be required as prescribed by the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR). The SEQR process considers the environmental factors of a project and assists in the decision-making process at the earliest possible time.
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