by UpS Executive Director, Susan Leopold
The “At-Risk” Tool made its published debut in 2014 culminating in years of work by many in the UpS community.1 The visionaries of the “At-Risk” tool are former UpS Board Member Kelly Kindscher of the University of Kansas and Lisa Castle, the 2014 Medicinal Plant Conservation Award recipient, of Southwestern Oklahoma State University. The format of the assessment tool was in part patterned after the Blue Oceans Group’s Seafood Mini Guides.2 Similar to plants’ susceptibility to over- harvesting, wild caught seafood is also in deep decline from over-fishing. Vulnerability of species that are wild and in demand depends on many different factors, from intrinsic life history traits to market forces. Based on literature, logic, and discussions with conservation practitioners, five main factors that influence a species’ vulnerability to overharvest were determined: life history, effect of harvest on individual plants, population size, habitat, and demand.3 These five categories are the framework for the tool, and in each section a series of questions leads to a numerical answer, and the total scores then rate a species. The higher the number, the more vulnerable the species is to over-harvesting. In figure one you can see a graph of all the at-risk and to-watch plants that have been reviewed, which illustrates the numerical risk and the colors indicate scores within each of the five main factors.