Two Rare California Plants Denied Federal Protection

Orcutt's bristleweed | Photo: Keir Mosre/CalPhotos/Creative Commons License

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be announcing Friday that it is dropping two rare California native plants from consideration for listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

The plants, a yellow-flowering shrub in the daisy family with one wild population in the U.S. and an annual flowering herb found on barren sandy soils along the Southern California coast, have been deemed insufficiently threatened to warrant protection as either Endangered or Threatened species under ESA.

The news comes in a nationwide status update on so-called "candidate species," which USFWS is formally considering for protection under the nation's landmark wildlife protection law. With the decision not to protect the two California plant species and one species of goldenrod native to North Carolina, USFWS now has 146 candidate species of plants and animals it's considering for protection, a list some have referred to as "extinction's waiting room."

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One of the plants dropped by USFWS from consideration for protection, the Orcutt's bristleweed (Hazardia orcuttii), is restricted in the U.S. to one wild population on a mesa above Encinitas in San Diego County. Proposed for listing by USFWS in 2004, the yellow-flowering shrub in the daisy family was then threatened by suburban development. That 1.5-acre population is now part of the Manchester Habitat Conservation Area and a few experimental populations have been started on nearby protected lands, which -- along with a larger population in Baja California, Mexico -- had prompted USFWS to find that the plant is not in danger of immediate extinction.

That larger Mexican population hasn't prevented Mexico from listing the plant as Endangered under its imposingly named analogue to the ESA, NOM-059-SEMARNAT-2010. California has also listed the Orcutt's brisleweed as Endangered under the California Endangered Species Act.

Also escorted out of extinction's waiting room is the Brand's star phacelia (Phacelia stellaris), a purple-flowering annual herb in the borage family that's restricted to sparsely vegetated sandy loam soils in Southern California and Northern Baja. Just 12 populations of the plant are known to remain in the wild, seven in the U.S. and five in Mexico. One of the biggest threats that led USFWS to propose the plant for listing along with Orcutt's bristleweed in 2004 was rampant trampling of the remaining star phacelia populations by foot and vehicle traffic. Now, says USFWS, a consortium of agencies including the Navy, the Marines, and California Parks and Recreation are working to reduce that trampling.

Brandt's star phacelia | Photo: Keir Morse/CalPhotos/Creative Commons License

The news was not quite so bad for a few other California species, which are keeping their candidate status for now as members of a group of imperiled species that USFWS refers to as "warranted but precluded." That's agency jargon for "these species deserve protection as far as we can tell, but we don't have the resources we need to list them all as soon as we'd like to."

California's remaining warranted but precluded species include:

  • the red tree vole of old-growth forests north of the Klamath River,
  • the Hermes copper butterfly, which lives in coastal scrub and chaparral in San Diego County,
  • the Ramshaw Meadows sand-verbena, known from only two populations in the Kern River Plateau area of the Sierra Nevada,
  • the Siskiyou mariposa lily, which grows on just three ridge tops in the Klamath and Siskiyou mountains,
  • the whitebark pine, found on high-elevation peaks in the Sierra Nevada, the Cascade Range, and the Klamath and Warner mountains in California, and across the arid Intermountain West (I wrote about the danger it's in several months ago), and,
  • the Tahoe yellow cress, an aquatic plant that grows only on the shores of its namesake lake.

The greater sage grouse also stays on the Candidate list, as USFWS is actively working to determine whether iit should be listed. A California population of the high-desert bird recently won Threatened status.

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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