Letter to Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt

14 January 1999

Dear Secretary Babbitt:

It is with a strong sense of responsibility that we provide you with a copy of The 1997 IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants. The World Conservation Monitoring Centre, working with an international team of researchers, compiled this first-ever global plant assessment to support plant conservation and to serve as a resource for further research on plant species and communities throughout the world.  We trust that this book, a culmination of 125 person-years of effort, will be a useful tool in assisting the U.S. Department of the Interior to meet its conservation mission.

In total, over 33,000 plant species worldwide are considered at risk, fully 12.5% of the known vascular plants of the world.  The Red List points to four alarming conclusions concerning U.S. native plants:

  • 29% of the United State’s native flora is at risk of extinction
  • the United States has the fourth highest percentage of at risk native flora among the world’s nations (after St. Helena, Mauritius, Seychelles)
  • the 4,669 U.S. native plant taxa at risk represent the highest number of threatened plant taxa for any single country; these are found in every state of the Union
  • over 90% of these at-risk plants are endemic to the United States, and thus if action is not taken within and by the United States they stand to be lost forever
Clearly, our vegetation resources are under tremendous pressure. We must direct significant, strategic efforts to protect these unique plant species, plant communities, and other wildlife, including pollinators and dispersers, from extinction. Conservation of these communities will further preserve their ecosystems’ significant and often delicate ecological dynamics. 

The Red List shows some cause for hope: only 395 of the world’s estimated 270,000 higher plant species are believed to be truly extinct. Thus, for the vast majority of threatened plants it is not too late – with timely intervention, these invaluable resources can be saved. The Native Plant Conservation Initiative pledges itself – and its 129 cooperating organizations – to work together effectively to halt and reverse these disturbing losses.

The Native Plant Conservation Initiative appreciates and acknowledges the conservation leadership and commitment of the United States and this Administration. We look forward to strengthening our ties with you as we work together to prevent further plant extinction and ensure the continued existence of this nation’s rich and unique flora. 


Peggy Olwell

Chair, Federal Native Plant Conservation Committee
Native Plant Conservation Initiative
1999 Action Agenda Meeting
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Austin, Texas

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