Revisiting a Rare Plant Population Just in Time

By David Magney

After conducting a rare plant survey near Santa Ynez in June of 2016, I took the opportunity to revisit several of the occurrences of Arctostaphylos refugioensis, Refugio Manzanita. This species is classified as a rare plant, assigned to the CNPS California Rare Plant Rank 1B.2.

Arctostaphylos refugioenesis

Arctostaphylos refugioenesis – photos by David Magney

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Baja California: Renewable Energy in Natural Areas

Baja California: Renewable Energy in Natural Areas

By César García Valderrama

President of the California Native Plant Society Baja California Chapter

Photographs courtesy of Martha Pineda

Photographs courtesy of Martha Pineda

The CNPS Baja California Chapter shares the biodiversity of the California Floristic Province and the Sonoran Desert that ignores national boundaries. We also share common problems—including habitat loss, urban sprawl, and climate change. Recent proposals for renewable energy projects in Baja California exemplify how these issues are presenting new challenges on both sides of the border.

Renewable energy farms have been placed in natural ecosystems across the world. While positive results have been realized for energy production, environmental conditions and biodiversity have concurrently declined. A few years ago in Baja California a wind farm was developed by Sempra Energy, one of the world’s largest energy companies. The farm currently maintains 40 wind turbines but plans are in the works to build over 1000 more. This growth will impact over 7000 acres of mountain habitat. The project is named Energia Sierra Juarez after the Sierra Juarez Mountains—one of Baja California’s most endearing environments. The region is home to stands of chaparral, oak woodland and some of the last coniferous forests in the state.

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Livermore Tarplant

Livermore Tarplant

The California Native Plant Society (CNPS) successfully petitioned for endangered status for the rare Livermore tarplant (Deinandra bacigalupii), a species known to exist in only three locations within Alameda County.

Two years after Heath Bartosh, Rare Plant Committee Chairman of the East Bay Chapter of CNPS, petitioned the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to list this rare endemic species as endangered, the California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to grant the Livermore tarplant endangered status. The Commission praised the thoroughness and sound science that CNPS presented in the petition, and in two motions moved to add it to the list of plants declared to be endangered in California.

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Oaks and Agriculture at Odds in SLO

Oaks and Agriculture at Odds in SLO

The drone of heavy equipment is not unusual in the rural community of Adelaida west of Paso Robles, where farmers regularly work the land to reap harvests of walnuts, barley, safflower and more recently, wine grapes. But the din coming from Sleepy Farm Road this spring didn’t sound like the ordinary tractor, and indeed it wasn’t. It was the sound of bulldozers toppling thousands of oak trees, many clinging to steep hillsides, to make way for a vineyard and a six million gallon agricultural pond.

slo-oaksThe owners of neighboring properties sprang into action to garner public support to stop the destruction. A flood of complaints to County officials resulted in the issuance of a stop work order on June 9th. The local press and social media picked up the story and it soon went national. Local residents descended on the County Board of Supervisors during public comment on June 16th and urged passage of an oak protection ordinance. The Supervisors scheduled a special meeting in mid-July to consider an urgency ordinance prohibiting clear cuts of oak woodlands. When the day arrived, the urgency ordinance passed with 4 of 5 supervisors in favor. In mid-August, the supervisors voted unanimously to extend it until April 2017. They also directed staff to bring back a permanent ordinance to protect oak woodlands by this date and report progress in January 2017.

The urgency ordinance requires authorization from County Planning for the removal of up to three trees on smaller properties and up to five per cent of the canopy on larger parcels in the unincorporated inland areas. Exemptions are provided for public utilities, public safety, fire clearance and conservation easements that include woodland management plans. Anything above these thresholds requires a permit and environmental review. A minor use permit is required for the removal of up to ten percent of the canopy. A conditional use permit is required for removal of more than ten per cent and an Environmental Impact Report is required for more than twenty-five per cent.

Meanwhile, the owners of Justin Vineyards & Winery and its parent corporation the Wonderful Company (a conglomerate which includes FIJI Water, Justin Wines, Landmark Wines, Hopkiln Winery, POM Wonderful, Teleflora, Wonderful Almonds, Pistachios, Halos and Scarlett grapefruits) issued a mea culpa, saying they were ashamed, sorry and “asleep at the wheel”. They offered to “make things right” by donating the denuded property to a local nonprofit and planting 5000 oak trees. The idea that such actions could offset the destruction of a mature oak woodland was met with considerable skepticism, as was the notion they were “asleep at the wheel” when it was revealed the company had cleared 100 acres of trees on a nearby parcel just four years earlier.

The San Luis Obispo chapter of the Native Plant Society has been actively working with County representatives, as well as concerned citizens, environmental and agricultural groups through this entire process. Chapter leaders quickly organized an adhoc committee to work on the issue and went on to meet individually with supervisors, submit written comments on the draft ordinance, provide interviews to local media, encourage CNPS members to make their voices heard and provide testimony in public hearings. In the months ahead, the chapter will continue to play an active role in the development and implementation of a permanent ordinance to protect our oak woodlands. The final result will inevitably represent a compromise between the goals of conservation, agriculture and property rights that is essential to win the support of adherents from all groups and secure passage.

–Holly Sletteland
CNPS San Luis Obispo Chapter

Saving the Lassics Lupine

Saving the Lassics Lupine

Lassics lupine (Lupinus constancei)

Lassics lupine (Lupinus constancei)

Anyone who has had the pleasure of seeing the Lassics lupine (Lupinus constancei) up close knows that it is among the most attractive of all the California lupines. The striking white, pink and rose flowers—contrasting with its silvery-white foliage on the barren rock slopes where it occurs—is simply magnificent. Endemic to less than four acres on the upper slopes of the Lassics Mountains in eastern Humboldt County, it depends on sufficient snowpack and shelter from summer heat to survive. The Lassics Mountains are widely known for their exceptional botanical diversity and rare species associated with the ultramafic (high in magnesium and iron) soils.

The CNPS North Coast Chapter has been active in conservation efforts aimed at the lupine for more than 20 years, including several cost-share agreements with the U.S. Forest Service, and assistance in inventory, monitoring, and other tasks. Based on annual monitoring conducted since 2005, the population of mature Lassics lupine has declined from more than 600 in 2014 to roughly 130 in 2016. An estimated 580 seedlings germinated this year but, based on historical data, 95 percent of those are not likely to reproduce.

Extensive research by US Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service scientists has indicated a variety of factors responsible for this decline, including seed predation by small mammals due in part to and forest and chaparral encroachment into its open habitat. Since 2003, most of the physically accessible reproductive plants have been caged to prevent seed predation. A population viability analysis conducted in 2012 suggested the caging was critical to stabilizing the species in the short term.

Changing climate, however, poses a new threat to the species. Drought over the past five years, the virtual absence of winter snowpack, unusually high summer temperatures in 2014 and 2015, and the Lassic Fire of 2015 have pushed the Lassics lupine to the brink of extinction.

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In habitat.

Virtually the entire distribution of the species is within the 7,000-acre Lassics Wilderness, managed by Six Rivers National Forest, which—in this area of the forest— is surrounded by either private or National Forest timberlands; this severely limits the feasibility of allowing lightning-caused fires to burn naturally. After decades of fire suppression, manual treatment followed by routine prescribed fire is needed to restore and maintain much of the Lassics lupine habitat. Unfortunately, that same habitat offers the species the best available refuge from climate extremes.
Although multiple policies allow and often mandate the Forest Service to take specific action to conserve this species, Six Rivers National Forest has not implemented habitat restoration nor aggressively pursued recovery actions. Over the past decade the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and CNPS have repeatedly asked the Forest Service to give priority to saving this species. These requests have been ignored, ostensibly due to conflicts with wilderness values and forest priorities or lack of funding. As a result, a petition to list the lupine as Federally Endangered was filed in January 2016. This would force the survival of the species to be considered in any actions taken by the Forest Service, and would require development of a formal recovery plan for the species.

To help spur the Forest Service into action, we petitioned for State listing in July. Not only could this lead to increased potential for funding from the State, but Federal guidance on management of wilderness areas recognizes an important role for state decisions affecting fish and wildlife resources in wilderness. As the trustee agency for fish and wildlife resources statewide, we believe the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has a shared responsibility for saving the Lassics lupine.

-Dave Imper
CNPS North Coast Chapter

What can you do to help the Lassics Lupine?

Plant Exploring: Mendocino County

Plant Exploring: Mendocino County

Sensitive Plants of the Jug Handle

Sensitive Plants of the Jug Handle

Throughout the Pleistocene, as the climate fluctuated, sea levels rose and fell in conjunction with the size of the polar ice caps. This process allowed oceanic wave-action to cut coastal terraces around the world. Subsequent tectonic forces then slowly pushed these terraces upward. Through other dynamic processes, beach materials like sand, gravel, clay and other rock have been deposited on the terraces at varied depths. What we now witness in coastal Mendocino County is the best preserved example of marine terraces in the Northern Hemisphere.

Directly adjacent to the Pacific Ocean on the first step, wind sculpts coastal scrub and grassland on coastal bluffs or “Bonsai” beach and bishop pine forests (Pinus muricata). Further up the staircase-out of reach of the salty air-ample precipitation, Pleistocene and Holocene sand dunes, and the deposition of conifer needles nurture trees with deep roots and tall shoots. However, the most amazing staircase story begins just to the east of the ancient dunes.

In the mid-section of the second step, and upward on each subsequent step, ancient dunes have cut off surface drainage, flushing perennial moisture onto the step. Via seepage and springs, moisture has created pooling basins that ever-so-slowly drain. Prolonged seepage leaches nutrients like calcium and potassium from the Pleistocene beach deposits, leaving behind sterile hard-pan soils. The year-round leaching, coupled with summer dryness and heating, nurtures an inhospitable layer called a Podzol Horizon (podzol is a Russian word meaning “ash soil”). This unique soil layer creates edaphic microsites.

Exploring the Pygmy Forest.

Exploring the Pygmy Forest.

Certain hardy plant species–some now endemic–survive in spatial isolation on these podzolized terraces. Mendocino cypress (Hesperocyparis pygmaea), Bolander pines (Pinus contorta spp. bolanderi), and Fort Bragg manzanita (Arctostaphylos nummularia ssp. mendocinensis) are just a few of the unique plants that can be found on these staircases.

The California Native Plant Society has had a long history of working to preserve these botanically unique areas. In fact, the Dorothy Young King Chapter (formerly the Gualala Chapter) formed in 1966 when citizens of coastal Mendocino and Sonoma counties joined together to dig up native plants that were going to be bulldozed in the region. Later, in 2006, with pygmy forests designated an Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area within the California Coastal Zone the chapter presented litigation against clearing pygmy forest for development.

Take a journey to coastal Mendocino County and visit, what Hans Jenny called the best preserved ecological showplace of coastal landscape evolution in the Northern Hemisphere.

Aricle previously published at blog.conifercountry.com