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Last-of-Its-Kind Plant Could Get Federal Protection

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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There’s just one Franciscan manzanita (Arctostaphylos hookeri franciscana) plant left in the wild, and it could soon get protected status under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) this week proposed adding the extremely rare shrub to the ESA in response to a petition from the conservation organizations Wild Equity Institute (WEI), Center for Biological Diversity and California Native Plant Society, and a later lawsuit from WEI.

“The Endangered Species Act gives us the best tools available to protect and recover the rediscovered Franciscan manzanita,” WEI executive director Brent Plater said in a prepared statement. “Coupled with the Bay Area’s best minds in the manzanita business, the day will come when this species is once again a functioning part of our biological community.”

Franciscan manzanita—previously considered extinct in the wild since 1947 after its three known habitats were developed—was rediscovered by biologist Dan Gluesenkamp on a traffic island near San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge in 2009. The shrub had been hidden from human eyes for decades by surrounding plants and trees and only became visible when a construction project started clearing the area. Ironically, the construction project, which was about to cut the last Franciscan manzanita down, was therefore also responsible for its rediscovery.

Before the construction project could commence, the shrub was moved to a new, secret location on federal land in Presidio Park within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in 2010. It wasn’t an easy task: the shrub and its surrounding soil weighed 11,300 kilograms. But now it is safe from prying eyes and people who might accidentally damage the plant.

Strangely enough, FWS initially turned down the organizations’ petition because of the relocation, saying at the time that the shrub’s transplant to the Presidio eliminated the immediate threat of the construction project. The plant also exists in cultivated form, but the agency acknowledged that the wild plant “is not receiving the level of protection, water and nutrients that plants in a botanical garden may receive.”

FWS is now seeking public comment on the ESA proposal, along with any available scientific information on the plant. Comments may be submitted at http://www.regulations.gov (search for keyword FWS–R8–ES–2010–0049) and are due November 7.

Photo: Franciscan manzanita being moved to a secret location. By Michael Chasse / National Park Service.

John R. Platt About the Author: Twice a week, John Platt shines a light on endangered species from all over the globe, exploring not just why they are dying out but also what's being done to rescue them from oblivion. Follow on Twitter @johnrplatt.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. santaidm 9:26 pm 09/12/2011

    Bureaucracy at it’s best ! It’s “saved” already, what else is there to do? Fill the paper work?

    Link to this

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