Manzanita plant re-discovered on Doyle Drive

October 1, 2010 10:16:15 AM PDT
Many think that when one plant of a species thought to be extinct is found -- it's automatically protected -- but that is not the case. As a result, Bay Area environmentalists are trying to get a local plant added to the endangered species list.

Scientists thought the Franciscan Manzanita was extinct in the wild. The last of them was bull-dozed from the Laurel Hill Cemetery in the 1940s and replaced with tennis courts.

But then last fall, biologist Daniel Gluesenkamp was on the Doyle Drive off-ramp to the Presidio Parkway when something caught his eye.

"I phoned a Presidio Trust ecologist, kind of excited," he said. "Sorry Lou, probably not what I think it is, but what if it were? [Referring to a Franciscan Manzanita tree]"

Nestled between Doyle Drive and a concrete retaining wall was a large Franciscan Manzanita, a sole survivor. Work on clearing vegetation for the Doyle Drive replacement project revealed it to Gluesenkap's sharp eye.

"There's some speculation it could have been there from Spanish times and survived the construction of the bridge. But it's more likely that is came up from seeds buried in the soil that were disturbed during construction of the bridge," he said.

The location was kept secret and it was moved to another secret spot -- a process requiring cooperation among groups that don't normally see eye-to-eye.

"It could have been a train wreck, a $1 billion bridge project and environmentalists with an extinct plant. Instead everyone held hands and saved this thing for the cost of a couple thousand cups of coffee," Gluesenkap said.

To get formal, ongoing protection requires the federal government add it to the endangered species list.

"The Endangered Species Act protects endangered plants, but not extinct plants," Wild Equity Institute Executive Director Brent Plater said.

Plater, along with other conservation groups is petitioning.

"It's not a collection of signatures, it's a formal legal document called a petition to list the Franciscan as an endangered species, and that's kick-started a federal process to protect the plant," he said.

Plater says he expects the Manzanita to be listed within a year. When that happens, a whole recovery plan will go into place, but he says that should not stand in the way of Doyle Drive construction.


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