Professional Botanists and Native Plant Conservation

CNPS has long been a supporter of the professional botanist, and yet the professional botanist can also have a significant impact on the conservation of native plants.  Consulting botanists didn’t really exist as much of a profession until the passage of environmental review laws in the 1970s, such as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), as well as the two laws that result in plants getting listed as threatened or endangered (federal Endangered Species Act and the California Endangered Species Act). 

Prior to these environmental laws, almost all professional botanists were either in academia, government, or worked for pharmaceutical companies looking for sources of new medicines.  Many universities offered formal degrees in Botany; however, there are now no public universities in the United States at which a student can earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Botany.  However, the demand for botanists in the consulting field is relatively high, and growing.  This has led to a situation where general biologists need to perform tasks of a botanist but lack formal training and experience, much less expertise. 

Unlike many other professions, there are no regulations governing the work of a professional botanist.  No professional society has been established to formally meet the needs of this profession.  Many botany specialty fields are so covered; however, but not for consulting botanist.  CNPS has been considering this issue, and the ramifications that a lack of such a focus or professional botanist organization has on the conservation of the California native flora.  CNPS actually worked against such an effort back in the early 1990s, and was successful in changing existing (at that time) California law that was being used by the California Board of Forestry to regulate the activities of the consulting botanist under the auspices of the Licensed Professional Forester.  However, it has become clear over the last decade that the consulting botanist profession needs support and “regulation” to improve the quality of work performed, and that consulting botanists are indeed qualified to work in this field.

The links here provide issue papers and possible solutions that have been discussed at the CNPS Chapter Council and Board of Directors level, as well as at other botanical organizations in California, including:

·        Auditing Environmental Documents

·        a possible California Botanist Certification Program administered by CNPS, starting in 2016

·        Consulting Botanist's Code of Ethics

·        a Powerpoint presentation about the entire issue: Ethics and the Consulting Botanist.

·        Los Angeles Times story on ethical problems of consultants who sign confidentiality agreements and how endangered plants destroyed.



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Last updated: 13 November 2015