This rare plant grows at White Dome Nature Preserve, Washington County, Utah.
Dwarf Bear Poppy This rare plant grows at White Dome Nature Preserve, Washington County, Utah. © Andrey Zharkikh, Flickr CC BY 2.0

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New Hope for Endangered Utah Flower

For the first time, a drone and new mapping software are providing a clear picture of the rare dwarf bear poppy plant population.

St. George, UT

For the first time, a drone and new mapping software are providing a clear picture of the rare dwarf bear poppy plant population at The Nature Conservancy’s White Dome Nature Preserve and Shinob Kibe Preserve in Washington County. Found nowhere else on Earth, these unique white flowering plants face a number of challenges, including development and recreational use.

The dwarf bear poppies live primarily in a specific geologic layer – the Moenkopi. This soil is incredibly sensitive. Foot traffic damages the habitat and can destroy the endangered flowering plants, which cannot be transplanted and do not survive in cultivation.

The Nature Conservancy and partners are now using this innovative, impact-free approach to measure dwarf bear poppy populations and study their habitat.

“This high-flying technology gives us hope for the future,” says Dr. Susan Meyer, Research Ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station. “We’ve spent the last four decades protecting this rare plant. Now, with a comprehensive inventory and new information on the plant’s pollinators we hope to find ways to increase the population.”

Kody Rominger from Utah Valley University flew the drone during the plants’ flowering period last spring. He then processed the imagery and integrated mapping software to locate, count, and measure the poppies.

“Drones offer a way for us to capture imagery over a relatively large area with virtually no impact on the habitat,” adds Kody. “It would take two botanists a month to do what a drone can do in two days.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the dwarf bear poppy as endangered in 1979 and works collaboratively with conservation partners to ensure this native plant endures for current and future generations. “Beyond establishing habitat protections and implementing recovery actions, this exciting new survey approach provides us with the population-level information we need in a way that minimizes impacts to the dwarf bear poppy’s habitat, which is a milestone for conservation. We support our partners using this innovative technology to further our understanding of this plant and its habitat needs,” says U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Utah Field Office Field Supervisor Larry Crist.

While conservation partners develop land management plans based on the new census, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) invites people to visit its White Dome Nature Preserve to get a look at these incredible flowering plants.

“The dwarf bear poppy elicits a sense of wonder that such beauty can emerge from the desert,” says Elaine York, West Desert Regional Director for TNC. “During spring, the fragile flower’s center is a sunburst of yellow framed by sheer white petals.”

TNC opened the 800-acre preserve in 2016 after buying parcels of land over several years. The goal is to protect the rare poppy plants while offering hiking opportunities and a way for people to enjoy the endangered plants’ exquisite flowers.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.