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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Rare Franciscan Manzanita Could Be Listed as Endangered Species After All

Posted By on Thu, Sep 8, 2011 at 7:50 AM

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SF Weekly readers might recall the wild discovery two years ago when a Franciscan Manzanita bush -- thought to be extinct -- was randomly spotted in a Presidio traffic island. Since then, environmentalists have fought to have the plant protected -- and now they might have won.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed that the plant be added to the Endangered Species Act list. Next comes a 60-day comment period, during which time the agency will determine whether it's possible to protect sufficient habitat to keep the plant from vanishing.

Before it's 2009 discovery in the path of the Doyle Drive freeway reconstruction project, the plant had last been seen in 1947. It had been declared extinct until local botanist Daniel Gluesenkamp spotted the bush in the freeway meridian on the way to the city from Sonoma County.

Scientists verified it was the sole surviving specimen of Franciscan Manzanita. And it was dug up, hoisted, and trucked to a secret spot in the Presidio. The Wild Equity Institute petitioned to have it listed under the Endangered Species Act, which is a much more arduous process than one might expect. 

But this leads us to a question posited by the new proposal: How could a sole surviving specimen not be considered an "endangered species?"

It turns out that bureaucratic designation could have drawbacks that have led officials to tread carefully as they decided whether to propose listing the Franciscan Manzanita.

As SF Weekly's Joe Eskenazi  explained in in 2009, manzanita preservationists fear collectors as much as they do freeway-builders. Listing it as officially endangered involves identifying critical habitat. But if such areas of the Presidio were outlined on a publicly available map, enterprising poachers might find the plant.

Wildlife officials and environmental activists have determined, however, that the habitat preservation benefits are probably worth it.

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