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The Development of a Strategic Plan for a Regional Network of Botanic Gardens for Conservation: the North American Experience

Volume 3 Number 1 - January 2006

David Galbraith and Kathryn Kennedy

The launch of the International Agenda for Botanic Gardens in Conservation at the World Botanic Gardens Congress in Asheville, North Carolina, U.S.A. in 2000 presented botanic gardens worldwide with an important challenge. The numerous recommendations for individual gardens and for networks within the International Agenda presents a complex landscape for individuals and institutions that want to contribute, or are contributing to conservation.

One approach to such a global challenge is for networks of botanic gardens to provide local context and synthesis that can support individual institutions in planning their own programmes (Section 2.19).

We are happy to note there are now many national and regional biodiversity action plans for botanic gardens, including the northern region of North America.    A national biodiversity action plan for botanical gardens and arboreta in Canada was published in 2001 (Galbraith, 2001), a follow-up to workshop proceedings published in 1997 following the first national network meeting of the Canadian Botanical Conservation Network (Galbraith, 1997).  Shortly after, work began on producing the North American Botanic Garden Strategy for Conservation, which was endorsed by major cooperating botanic garden groups in June, 2004. 

The purpose of this article is to outline the development of the strategy for North American botanic gardens which harmonises with the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC) (2003), the International Agenda, and the Plant Conservation Alliance’s National Framework for Progress (PCA, 1995). 

Although North America north of the Rio Grande is not known as one of the richest global hotspots of biodiversity, the natural plant diversity within Canada and the United States is significant non-the-less. When the great botanical richness of Mexico and the Caribbean are included, the conservation and sustainable use of plant diversity in North America are indeed important objectives.

The Process

In 2002, discussions began among the American Public Garden Association (APGA, formerly AABGA), the Center for Plant Conservation (CPC), Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), and the Canadian Botanical Conservation Network (CBCN) into the idea of cooperating on an organised approach to plant conservation projects and on related initiatives such as education for conservation and biodiversity themes. The four organisations agreed to formal cooperation with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding at Tower Hill Botanical Garden in Massachusetts in the summer of 2003 (Jasaitis and Line, 2003).  This partnership consists of organisations of varying strengths and capacities. Each of the individual organisations is committed to conservation activities, and brings with it its own perspective and initiatives.

The APGA is a large continent-wide professional association with members in the U.S.A., Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. With over 600 institutional and 2000 professional members, APGA seeks to strengthen the abilities of its members in all areas of their professional work, including conservation.  The US program for BGCI focuses its efforts on public policy, education and public awareness of the importance of plants and their need for conservation. With 75 US, 11 Canadian and 15 Mexican institutional members, BGCI unites its global network of botanic gardens working in partnership for conservation, education and development goals.  The CPC is a not-for-profit organisation that includes 33 botanical gardens in the U.S.A. in support of both in situ and ex situ conservation. The network includes a national collection of endangered plants of the U.S.A. held ex situ by the participating gardens.  The CBCN has 20 institutional members. It has supported national and local plant conservation and education programmes in cooperation with BGCI, Environment Canada and other partners since 1995.

The process of developing a formal North American Strategy for botanical gardens in conservation began with workshops held in Barcelona, Spain immediately prior to the 2nd World Botanic Gardens Congress in April, 2004. A one-day workshop was held to consider global targets for the botanic garden community that would harmonise with the 16 targets of the GSPC (to be achieved by the year 2010) (Wyse Jackson, 2004).  The targets (2010 Targets for botanic gardens) have since been approved with amendments by the International Advisory Committee (IAC) to BGCI in Vienna in July, 2005.  They are posted on the BGCI website and included in this issue.

Follow-up workshops held the next day encouraged the development of regional targets. Most of the participants in the North American regional workshop were from American or Canadian botanical gardens. It was recognised that it was also desirable to have the participation of the botanical garden community of Mexico and of the Caribbean in this process, both of which have previously developed action plans.

The resulting draft set of targets for the North American botanical gardens community was then subjected to nearly a year of consultations with individual institutions and networks in North America. The four cooperating networks (APGA, CPC, BGCI and CBCN) each reviewed the draft document, and circulated it among their members for comments. The draft document was also reviewed by the Asociación Mexicana de Jardines Botánicos (Association of Mexican Botanic Gardens).

The process was clearly useful in helping gardens think about their current and potential roles in conservation.  The collaborative effort also helped North America partners identify where their work relative to the global strategy is well underway, where gaps may exist, and for which global targets North American botanical gardens have a primary role and where their role is secondary but still essential.

The feed-back on the draft targets included energetic commentaries and scepticism from some quarters. Of particular importance was concern over the relevance of targets to individual institutions and the fact that the target-setting exercise was taking place without any explicit framework for resources to support implementation. Recognising that the spirit of the consultation exercise was always to promote collaboration and keep in mind the need for others to participate, by June 2005, a revised set of targets were agreed by all four organisations within the Canada-US MOU, under the title of the North American Botanic Garden Strategy for Plant Conservation.

The Strategy

The North American Strategy was publicly introduced at the 2005 annual conference of the APGA in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A (Anonymous, 2005). The context and intended uses of the targets within the North American Strategy are introduced within the document itself:

"This document will help demonstrate the collective impact that botanic gardens in North America have on the protection and conservation of native plants and plant communities. By setting these outcome-oriented and measurable targets, which range from local to international in scope, botanic gardens in Canada, the United States, and Mexico will significantly contribute to the ultimate goal of halting the current and continuing loss of plant diversity."

The North American Strategy bears a structural resemblance to the GSPC and the 2010 Targets for botanic gardens.  It consists of broad objectives to which the work of many institutions contribute.  No single institution should feel bound to attempting to contribute to every one of the targets. The targets of the North American Strategy are grouped into six broad categories or themes:

A.    Understanding and Documenting Plant Diversity
B.    Conserving Plant Diversity
C.    Using Plant Diversity Sustainably
D.    Promoting Public Education and Awareness About Plant Diversity
E.    Building Capacity for Conservation of Plant Diversity
F.    Supporting the North American Strategy

The development of the strategy itself is important, but it is the responsibility of the individual gardens and partner associations to develop practical, hands-on implementation planning and actions. Each participating organisation is working toward its own implementation of the strategy. For example, the Asociación Mexicana de Jardines Botánicos are presently preparing a set of Mexican aims for the North American Strategy.

The Canadian Botanical Conservation Network, with support from BGCI and the Investing in Nature: A Partnership for Plants in Canada project, is preparing an update to its 2001 Biodiversity Action Plan for Botanical Gardens and Arboreta in Canada (Galbraith, 2001) that will harmonise the planned actions in Canada with the North American Strategy, the GSPC, and the International Agenda.

In 2006, the Center for Plant Conservation is undertaking a strategic plan update as well, which will address the contributions of their U.S. botanic garden network to the targets of the North American Strategy as well as the organization’s role in international plant conservation work.

The process of implementing the North American Strategy is now underway. In mid-November 2005, the Montreal Botanical Garden hosted a two-day meeting held with support from BGCI under the Investing in Nature programme. On the first day the four partner organisations, APGA, BGCI, CBCN and CPC, discussed the operation of their partnership and next steps under the 2003 MOU. On the second day a broader range of participants (Asociación Mexicana de Jardines Botánicos, the Association of Zoological Horticulture, the Plant Conservation Alliance, NaturServe, the IUCN-SSC and the Wildlife Conservation Society) were invited to discuss the North American Strategy and next steps in its realisation.

The North American Strategy is an example of a voluntary regional approach to encouraging plant conservation programmes. Participation by a wide cross-section of the broader plant and biodiversity conservation community is critical to the success of this or any other strategy. As the goal for any such exercise is to promote and organise on-the-ground plant conservation efforts and generate success, the development of strategic targets is only the beginning of the process, and a means, not an end. Ultimately our success will be judged by the effectiveness with which strategic documents like the International Agenda and the North American Strategy can be used to stimulate the provision of new resources to support our mutual goals, and to help us as a community recognise and celebrate our many successes and challenges in conserving the diversity of plant life in our region and around the world.


Thanks to Steve Clemants, Christopher Dunn, Maite Lascurain, Laurel McIvor, Dan Shepherd, Dan Stark and the many individuals who have contributed to the development of both the North American partnership and also the North American Botanic Garden Strategy for Plant Conservation.


Anonymous. 2005. North American Botanic Garden Strategy for Plant Conservation. Draft Document.

Galbraith, D.A. (ed.) 1997. Partnerships for Plants: Proceedings of CBCN's 1996 Workshop. [ accessed October, 2005].

Galbraith, D.A. (ed.) 2001. Biodiversity Action Plan for Botanical Gardens and Arboreta in Canada. Royal Botanical Gardens. accessed October, 2005].

PCA, 1995. National Framework for Progress.  [ accessed, October, 2005].

Wyse Jackson, P., 2004. Developing international targets for botanic gardens in conservation: a consultation document. BGjournal 1(1): 4-6.