California Native Plant Society

Rare Plant Communities Initiative

A fen meadow in the Sequoia National Forest, 2010.

Through its Rare Plant Communities Initiative (RPC), CNPS is developing tools and training individuals/groups to identify and protect rare vegetation types as key units of biodiversity.

Vegetation types provide key ecosystem services by maintaining water cycles, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and providing habitat for rare plant and animal species. Conversion and degradation of rare vegetation types can disrupt the integrity of the ecological functions of our natural environments, leading to the loss of sensitive plant and animal species and a corresponding decrease in biodiversity. The inherent values of vegetation have lead scientists and conservationists to make use of vegetation patterns as a surrogate for ecosystems for many years.

With this Initiative, CNPS has begun a multi-step process to identify, inventory, map, and track rare communities throughout the state. The main objectives are to:

  • Utilize and expand existing methods to identify, sample, and map rare communities
  • Identify new processes to document and protect rare communities
  • Identify funding for future work in key regions and habitats of the state (e.g., Central Coast and maritime chaparral vegetation, riparian and wetland vegetation)
  • Train/assist local CNPS and other partners on using our existing and new processes
  • Analyze existing and new data to better describe rare vegetation
  • Update rarity ranks of rare, threatened, and endangered vegetation
  • Provide useful descriptions and maps of rare vegetation with other agencies
  • Develop conservation measures and strategies

Find out more about the RPC Initiative by reading our Position Statement (PDF 58kb) and recent CNPS paper (PDF 3.5Mb).


Mapping Rare Plant Communities

In February 2011, CNPS completed the Guidelines for Mapping of Rare Vegetation to assist in the development and standardization of rare plant community mapping throughout the state. We encourage you to download and use these Guidelines and to share your feedback so that we can continue to refine them during the 2012 field season. You can download the Guidelines for Mapping Rare Vegetation by clicking here or through our Vegetation Sampling, Classification, & Mapping page.


Recent updates of the Rare Plant Communities Initiative:

Recent Articles:
Carnivorous plants in Meadows and Fens
Cypress - A Rare Natural Community

Fen Reports Finalized
CNPS, US Forest Service (USFS), and collaborating partners have completed a draft report that summarizes the current knowledge of fens throughout 11 National Forests of the Sierra Nevada and adjacent areas. The report reviews existing literature and unpublished studies, summarizes USFS efforts to inventory fen resources, analyzes data compiled from over 800 fen surveys, and identifies gaps in available data. In the past decade, standardized procedures have been developed to survey and monitor fens; these procedures are further revised in this report based on work conducted by CNPS and USFS in 2009-10. This report will be posted when finalized.

A separate report for fens of the Lake Tahoe Basin was just finalized.  You can view this fen report here, or you can access this and additional fen reports on our Reports page under the ‘Fen Vegetation, U.S. Forest Service Lands’ section.


Workshop & Efforts along the North Coast

Volunteer training. Photo by Todd Keeler-Wolf. view larger

Mendocino Cypress (Hesperocyparis pygmaea) Woodland Alliance. Photo by Todd Keeler-Wolf. view larger

In the fall of 2014, a collaborative agency-NGO-volunteer sampling and mapping effort was initiated in Mendocino County. More than 25 people came together to collect data to help define the associations of the Mendocino Cypress (Hesperocyparis pygmaea) Woodland alliance and to contribute to a map of this unique and rare vegetation type. This volunteer effort was made possible by the cooperation of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Vegetation Classification and Mapping Program (VegCAMP), CNPS, and the incredibly knowledgeable local expert, Teresa Sholars.

In early 2015, volunteers were trained by CDFW and CNPS on the vegetation rapid assessment protocol, and they spent a week collecting data throughout the range of the Mendocino Cypress Woodland alliance. The goal was to capture a range and variety of surveys in the pygmy forests to better understand the diversity of the vegetation associations that occur here. Efforts continued by members of the Dorothy King Young CNPS chapter to collect more than 100 surveys. The compiled data was analyzed by VegCAMP to create a regionally specific classification of the pygmy forest vegetation types, and the pygmy forest vegetation types were mapped by regional CDFW staff in the fall of 2016. The products of this effort will help in the conservation of the rare Mendocino Cypress Woodland alliance and is an excellent example of how CNPS chapter members and partners can work together to identify and protect rare communities locally.


Previous Workshop News:
Workshops Held in Southern California, 2011


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