Plant Conservation Program

Managing Rare Plants and Plants of Special Cultural Significance 

The BLM's Rare Plant Program

The BLM manages more than 700 rare plant species, 400 of which are found exclusively on BLM lands. Because many rare plant species are closely related to important crops that provide food, industrial materials and medicines, increasingly, plant breeders are turning to rare plants for the unique genetic information they possess. 

Worldwide, the primary threats to rare plants are habitat loss resulting from land use changes and competition with non-native species. In the long term, loss of habitat resulting from climate change will require active management to sustain viable populations. To address threats and maintain viable populations, the BLM’s rare plant program focuses on four management goals.

INVENTORY – to ensure adequate baseline data are available regarding the distribution and condition of rare plant populations.

PLANNING – to provide for rare plant management and conservation in all BLM funded and authorized actions.

MONITORING AND RESEARCH – to ensure sufficient data are available to evaluate BLM actions and to provide a basis for making informed decisions about management and conservation actions

COORDINATION – to ensure that management for rare plants is carried out efficiently and consistently across jurisdictional and political boundaries.

The primary objective of the BLM's Rare Plant Program is to manage rare plant species in a way that will prevent the need to list them under the Endangered Species Act.  Federally listed plants are managed by the BLM's Threatened and Endangered Species Program. 

Each BLM State Office maintains a list of Bureau sensitive species; plants are added to the list at the discretion of the BLM State Director. 

The BLM works though a number of national and local partnerships to develop conservation strategies and recovery actions for rare plant species and their pollinators. Under the BLM's multiple use mandate, the Bureau works to ensure appropriate steps have been taken to avoid or minimize impacts and mitigate all activities authorized on public lands that affect rare plant species.

Plants of Cultural Significance

Ethnobotany—the study of how people perceive and utilize plants—is an important consideration in native plant management. For example, many native plants managed by the BLM hold special signifcance to Native Americans, who have long relied on their traditional knowledge of botany and ecology to harvest plant materials at the right time of the year for food, medicine, shelter, clothing, tools and fiber.

Individual species were almost always used in several different ways. In the Great Basin, for example, children were taught at a young age to recognize and utilize various plants growing around their homes. Early lessons were as simple as pulling a leaf off of a native reed (Phragmites australis) during the summer, and licking the sweet sap off the upper leaf surface.  As they grew older, children made games such as cane dice out of the very same plant.  Hunters used the native reed for arrow shafts.

In California, oak trees were an important source of food for the Native People, who collected acorns in the fall, shelled them and ground them into coarse flour. The bitter tannic acid, naturally found in the acorn, was leached out, rendering the acorn flour edible. To make acorn soup, the acorn flour and water were placed inside a tightly woven basket along with hot stones from a fire. The red-hot rocks had to be stirred along with the acorn to avoid burning the basket. The hot rocks quickly brought the soup to a boil.  The rocks were then removed from the cooking basket once the acorn soup was cooked and thrown back into the fire.

In an effort to promote Native use of traditionally important plants in California, the BLM worked with the Forest Service and Native California Tribal groups to develop an interagency policy to ensure “that native practitioners have access to plants and such plants are managed in a manner that promotes ecosystem health for the lands managed by the BLM and FS.”   The policy also strengthens the agencies’ relationship with Tribes and promotes management of culturally important plants.


White margin Beardtongue (Penstemon albomarginatus) endemic to Mojave desert








White margin beardtongue (Penstemon albomarginatus). BLM special status plant endemic to the Mojave desert.  BLM Las Vegas Field Office photo.

Santa Fe Cholla - University of New Mexico photo









Santa Fe Cholla (Opuntia viridiflora). BLM special status plant restricted to Santa Fe County, NM. Univeristy of New Mexico photo.

Cusick's primrose (Primula cusickiana). photo from Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.









Cusick's primrose (Primula cusickiana). BLM special status plant found in Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, and Utah. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center photo.


Camas Lily bloom.  USDA Forest Service photo.















The root of the Camas lily (Camas quamash) has been an important food source for a number of Native American Tribes in Idaho, including the Nez Perce. USDA Forest Service photo.