California Native Plant Society

Education Program - Workshops and Professional Training

Rare Plant Survey Protocols: A Scientific Approach

*May be taken with the CNDDB & BIOS workshop on March 26

Tuesday, March 24 & Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Borges Ranch, Walnut Creek, CA

Instructors: Heath Bartosh, Senior Botanist, Nomad Ecology; Aaron Sims, Rare Plant Botanist, CNPS
Will also include a lecture by Roxanne Bittman, former Coordinator for the California Natural Diversity Database (CNDDB), California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Download the print-friendly flyer for this workshop (pdf)

Target Audience: Professional botanists, ecologists, land managers, resource specialists, academics, and conservationists. Participants should have an understanding of plant terminology and capable plant identification skills.

Description: This course is designed to approach rare plant surveys using the best scientific information available. This scientific approach is built on conducting proper background review and literature searches, evaluating ecological information, assessing annual phenology, appropriate study design based on the scale of the survey area, survey execution, and adequate documentation of rare plant populations encountered.

This is a two-day course set in the Mount Diablo region, a hot-spot of endemism as well as home to many peripheral populations of our native flora. Both days will include classroom and field settings where the instructors will cover three topic areas: preparing for surveys, conducting surveys, and reporting findings. These topics will be discussed based on applicable botanical survey guidelines. Time spent in the field will be applying the concepts learned during classroom sessions. A small amount of time will also be spent on the proper methods of collecting voucher specimens. This course includes a certificate of completion for participants who complete CNDDB forms satisfactorily and pass an open book exam at the end of the course.

Optional Day 3: The CNDDB & BIOS: Online Resources for Botanists, Biologists, & Ecologists class is a six-hour course describing the background, purpose, and use of both the CNDDB dataset and the BIOS web-based map viewing tool (which includes access to the CNDDB). It complements what is learned in the preceding two-day course by providing detailed instructions on how to effectively utilize the state's largest repository of rare plant and animal information. This portion of the course will be held at the California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW) Office of Training & Development in Sacramento (approx. 1 hour and 15 minute drive from Walnut Creek). Click here for more details on this course.

Participants will learn:

  • How to properly prepare and conduct background research prior to initiating rare plant surveys
  • How to design and conduct rare plant surveys focusing on the size and topography of the study area, ecological niches, the importance of reference sites, etc.
  • California Department of Fish and Wildlife, CNPS, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and other relevant botanical field survey protocols
  • How to use online databases and resources such as: California Natural Diversity Data Base (CNDDB), the CNPS Online Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants, the Jepson eFlora/Interchange, Consortium of California Herbaria, among others
  • To fill out CNDDB forms correctly and thoroughly
  • A brief overview of laws pertaining to rare plants
  • A brief overview of voucher specimen collecting techniques


Registration is now open! Click here to sign up now.

Registration fees are discounted for CNPS members. If you are not a CNPS member, visit to join now and save!

Please note: class size is limited to 20 participants.

  Date CNPS Members Non-members
Rare Plant Survey Protocols (2-day course) Mar 24-25 $310 $335
CNDDB & BIOS (optional 3rd Day) Mar 26 $160 $175

Cancellation Policy: The last day to cancel your registration and receive any refund is Tuesday, March 10, 2015. Refunds may be subject to processing fees. Please send cancellation requests by e-mail to Becky Reilly, Click here for more details on the cancellation policy for CNPS workshops.


Day 1 - Tuesday, March 24
Indoor lecture, classroom setting. Each of the topics covered during day one will be discussed in relation to established rare plant survey guidelines. Note: the classroom we will be using is not heated. Please plan for cool weather and dress in layers.

8:00 am Meet & Greet at Borges Ranch with coffee, tea, and bagels
8:30 am Introductions
9:00 am Overview of laws applicable to rare plant protection
9:30 am Preparing for Rare Plant Surveys: background research (CNDDB/CNPS Inventory and other sources), evaluating the study area, and study design
12:00 pm Break for lunch (please bring your own lunch and water)
1:00 pm Conducting Surveys: survey techniques and field data collection
2:00 pm Roxanne Bittman, CNDDB: How to fill out the more difficult parts of the field survey form
3:00 pm Reporting Findings: CNDDB forms and what the guidelines tell us
4:30 pm Wrap up discussion, review, and questions
5:00 pm Break for the day

Day 2 - Wednesday, March 25
All in the field, site TBD. Spend the day learning the local flora, the importance of field keying, how to identify niche/specialized habitat, CNDDB field form data collection, voucher specimen collection, transect surveying based on target species. Note: please bring a bag lunch and plenty of water.

8:30 am Meet at Borges Ranch, hike to field site (approx. 3 miles round-trip, moderate terrain)
12:00 pm Lunch in the field (please bring your own lunch and water)
1:00 pm Resume field work
3:30 pm Q & A, Exam, Course Evaluations
4:00 pm Workshop concludes

Optional Day 3 - Thursday, March 26
Indoor lecture, classroom setting. Meet at the CDFW Office of Training & Development in Sacramento.

9:00 am Introductions, CNDDB Overview
10:15 am Break
10:30 am RareFind 5 Functionality and Exercises
11:45 am Lunch Break
1:00 pm BIOS Data Viewer Functionality (Part I)
2:15 pm Break
2:30 pm BIOS (Part II) & Exercises
4:00 pm Workshop concludes

About the Instructors:

Heath Bartosh is co-founder and Senior Botanist of Nomad Ecology, based in Martinez (CCo, SnFrB), and a Research Associate at the University and Jepson Herbaria at UC Berkeley. After graduating from Humboldt State University, Heath began his career as a professional botanist in 2002 and has been refining his survey methodologies over the past 10 years. In 2005 he became an active member of the California Native Plant Society, East Bay Chapter. He is currently Rare Plant Committee Chair for the Chapter. In 2009 he became a member of the Rare Plant Program Committee at the state level of CNPS. His role on these committees is to ensure these programs continue to develop current, accurate information on the distribution, ecology, and conservation status of California's rare and endangered plants; and helps to promote the use of this information to influence on site
plant conservation in California.

Aaron Sims is the statewide Rare Plant Botanist for CNPS and manages the Rare Plant Program, with primary duties as implementer of the rare plant status review process and updating and maintaining the CNPS Rare Plant Inventory. He received a degree in Ecology and Systematic Biology with an emphasis in Botany from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, where he also assisted with David Keil's Field Botany course for five consecutive years. Prior to employment with CNPS in 2010, Aaron worked in environmental consulting and as a biologist for California State Parks on the Central Coast, performing rare plant and vegetation surveys, prescribed fire management, and producing a multitude of GIS maps pertaining to sensitive resources. Aaron has also contracted with the US Fish and Wildlife Service conducting sea bird monitoring, and with the Morro Bay National Estuary Program, producing the Atlas of Sensitive Species of the Morro Bay Area (2010) and the Green Infrastructure Network of the Baywood Fine Sands Community (2013).

Roxanne Bittman is the former Coordinator and Lead Scientist for the CNDDB at the California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW). She has a B.S. in Environmental Biology from U.C. Santa Barbara and a M.S. in Botany from Ohio State University. Her thesis work was on the chemosystematics of Chelone, a genus related to Penstemon. She started volunteering for the CNDDB in 1983. After working for The Nature Conservancy for three years, she became the lead botanist for the CNDDB in 1986. Roxanne has seen the CNDDB through many changes, from mapping rare plants on paper maps, to early GIS use, to ever more sophisticated use of computer tools.

Materials Required: Please bring the following:

  • Hand lens
  • The Jepson Manual: Vascular Plants of California, Second Edition (we will bring some extra copies)
  • Clipboard
  • Notebook and pencil
  • Sturdy boots and field clothes appropriate for the weather and conditions (e.g. protection from rain, sun, cold, poison oak, rattlesnakes, etc.)
  • Warm layers and/or jacket for the unheated classroom we will be using
  • Drinking water
  • Lunch and snacks for the field
  • Digital camera (optional)
  • GPS unit (optional)
  • Binoculars (optional)

Materials Provided: CNPS will provide handouts and a certificate of completion after successfully completing CNDDB forms and passing an open book exam.

Physical Requirements: Participants should be physically able to hike 3 miles over uneven terrain and remain in the field for up to 7 hours at a time. On Day 2 we will be hiking about 3 miles round-trip to the field site. The hike will be mostly moderate with a sharp but short uphill stretch. We will remain in the field all day.

Workshop will be held rain or shine. We will spend approximately 50% of the time in the field.

Maps and Directions:


If you have questions about this or any other CNPS workshops, please contact Becky Reilly, CNPS Events Coordinator, at 916-447-2677 x207 or

View the complete schedule of CNPS 2015 Plant Science Workshops


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