Conservationists are trying to correct a 33-year-old oversight in how the Pinelands Commission protects rare plants, by getting at least 17 species identified decades ago as threatened added to the agency’s protection list.

The commission is updating its Comprehensive Management Plan, and groups such as the New Jersey Conservation Foundation and the Pinelands Preservation Alliance are lobbying for the agency to protect more species known to grow in limited numbers of places.

“We’ve been talking about it since 1980,” said Russell Juelg, senior land steward for the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, at a Feb. 21 meeting of the commission’s Plan Review Committee.

The committee is studying which of the hundreds of suggested changes to the CMP should move forward in the fourth update to its rules.

When the Pinelands Commission was created in 1979, to protect the Pinelands National Reserve, it adopted the state’s list of endangered plants for protection and added 20 plants that botanists had identified as endangered and 34 as threatened in the Pinelands.

At the time, it didn’t include 17 plants botanists had said were of undetermined status. That was because of a mistake in understanding, said Amy Karpati, director of Conservation Science for the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, while giving a presentation last week on Conservation Issues in the Pinelands at the Pinelands Short Course at Richard Stockton College.

Botanists knew the 17 species were in trouble, she said. They just hadn’t yet determined to what extent they were endangered or threatened. But the commission didn’t include them because of the “undetermined” label, she said.

Since New Jersey hasn’t developed an official list of threatened plants, the commission has been reluctant to expand its list of threatened plants, Juelg said, even though studies have shown many more should be added.

“Use your authority to pick plants, based on the best available information (showing they) are species that deserve to be protected,” Juelg said.

The commissioners and staff at the meeting were interested in Juelg’s comments but said they needed more information before acting.

Karpati said the commission did enlarge its list in 2005 to include all of the plants on the state’s Natural Heritage Program endangered list but not all the species on its “species of concern” list.

“We are of the view 55 (more) plant species should be protected,” Karpati said.

The endangered and species of concern list ranks plants as S1 (1-5 known populations); S2 (6-20 populations); S3 (21-50 populations) and S4 (50+ populations). The PPA would like to see everything through S3 included for protection, she said.

The dragon mouth orchid is an S2 plant known to grow in the Pinelands but is one of many unprotected now, she said. Most other states on the Eastern seaboard list it as threatened or endangered, and it has been extirpated in Maryland, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. For more information on endangered plants and plants of concern visit nj.gov/dep/parksandforests/natural/heritage/jan2010plantlist.pdf.

Contact Michelle Brunetti Post:

609-272-7219