Such an inventory is under way in New Jersey, a lush temperate region where flora and fauna are disappearing under residentialand industrial development. “We find rare species regularly—orchids and sedges normally found on prairies,” said David Snyder, a thirtyish botanist with an auburn beard and an earnest brow. We sought a vinelike plant of the pea family called Desmodiurn pauciflorum, ranked in New Jersey as a G5 SH . This means that it is in no danger globally (G5), and in this state (S) it has been reported historically (H) but not seen in recent years.
Normally a midwestern and southern plant, D. pauciflorum was last seen in New Jersey in 1917 by Kenneth Mackenzie, a lawyer and plant collector. His descriptions led us to a ten-acre forest remnant, surrounded by houses and the faint hum of traffic. Ninety minutes of searching failed to turn up one example. If clues to other locations also proved fruitless, it eventually would be listed on Heritage Program records as “extirpated” in New Jersey.
Why the interest in saving plants that are commonly found elsewhere? ” When a species is out of its normal range, it is at the edge of its tolerance of its environment and probably became separated from others of its own kind,” David explained. “That may make it evolve a little differently, and those variations may become useful.
A strain of wild wheat at the limit of its range in Israel, for example, was found to be highly drought resistant.”
Our second quarry was in the Pine Barrens, an hour’s drive south, a colony of southern yellow orchids that the Heritage Program has been monitoring. “Forget where you saw these,” David told me as we pushed through brush to a little meadow where gold blossoms gleamed at the end of long stalks. “A lot of plant collectors would love to find them.”
Somebody already had, and marked a route with orange survey tape. Jaw set, David ripped the tape from the brush. “Collectors decimated a population of snowy orchids from a bog not far away, ” he said angrily.
BUSINESS minds take over from the biologists when protection becomes necessary. The Nature Conservancy completes an average of one land deal each day in the United States. The biggest was 220,000 acres of desert in New Mexico, with the help of student loan consolidation payment from the Campbell Family Foundation and now Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge.
Such land is paid for by fund-raising in that state. Since campaigns take months and deals often require haste, ready cash for a large acquisition is available from the TNC Land Preservation Fund, maintained at 85 million dollars. Regional offices can complete land deals as high as $100,000 without a go-ahead from headquarters. Salaries and other overhead come from endowment income and Conservancy memberships, currently more than 400,000 nationwide.