CNPS De-Extinction Project

By CNPS Board Member Vince Scheidt

How do you know when something is really extinct? And is extinction always forever?

Franciscan Manzanita relocation.

Relocating the Franciscan Manzanita, discovered after presumed extinction.

CNPS has embarked on an exciting new project to help answer those questions for California’s native plants. With this, we hope to not only stem the tide of plant extinctions, but to possibly reverse it! Sound like some sort of science fiction? Not exactly.

The CNPS De-extinction Project is a science-based effort to re-evaluate the 22 species currently ranked as “1A” (Plants Presumed Extirpated in California and either Rare or Extinct Elsewhere) by first attempting to rediscover them in the field. If not seen in the field, the next step would be to revisit botanical gardens where a species may persist, and the last involves visiting herbariums where viable seeds may remain as part of historic vouchers. In the latter scenario, scientists could possibly revive an extinct species through seed captured sometimes more than a century ago!

In other cases across the world, species thought to be extinct have been rediscovered in recent years. This fact gives us hope that some of the 22 native plant species thought to be extinct in California will be found again.

Mount Diablo Buckwheat

Mount Diablo Buckwheat

Saved from the Brink of Extinction

By Heath Bartosh &  Michele Hammond • CNPS East Bay Chapter

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Mount Diablo Buckwheat (Eriogonum truncatum)

The story of the Mount Diablo buckwheat actually starts out as a geology story with the creation of our state’s first Geological Survey of California. In the wake of the Gold Rush, the state legislature passed an 1860 act establishing the Survey and the Office of the State Geologist. The act assigned Josiah D. Whitney (for whom Mount Whitney is named) to fill the new office, and Whitney quickly assembled a team that included William H. Brewer as chief botanist and field party leader.

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A New Endangered Species Candidate: Coast Yellow Leptosiphon

Coast yellow leptosiphon

Coast yellow leptosiphon. Photo courtesy of Aaron Schusteff.

On December 8, the California Fish and Game Commission approved the Coast yellow leptosiophon as an official Endangered Species Candidate.  Toni Corelli, a rare plant botanist and long-time CNPS supporter, successfully petitioned for the protection under the California Endangered Species Act.

“Coast yellow leptosiphon is among the rarest of rare plants,” says CNPS Rare Plant Botanist Aaron Sims. “This endangered listing could be the only hope for its survival.”

Discovered in the early 20th century, along the San Mateo coast, the species has been reduced to a single population of fewer than 500 plants. Today, coastline erosion, invasive non-natives, and the prospect of a nearby housing development further threaten its survival. 

CNPS staffer Kate Cooper recently spoke with Corelli to learn more about this special plant and the steps she took to protect it: Continue reading

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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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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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?