Plant Rarity and The Law
Various government laws, regulations and policies protect rare plants. Probably the most surprising aspect of rare plant protection is that, unlike animals, plants are the property of the landowner whether that might be an individual, corporation, or government agency. This means that the protection of rare plants is under control of the landowner unless, in some cases, a government-regulated action is affecting them. Then the government entity regulating the action may require that protection efforts take place to preserve the rare plants and their habitat.
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