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Monday, January 25, 2010

Wonder of Wonders: *Everybody* Seems Happy With Relocation of 'Extinct' Presidio Plant

Posted By on Mon, Jan 25, 2010 at 11:45 AM

The 'extinct' Franciscan Manzanita is now planted at an undisclosed location that's not in the middle of a billion-dollar highway route - © CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES
  • © California Academy of Sciences
  • The 'extinct' Franciscan Manzanita is now planted at an undisclosed location that's not in the middle of a billion-dollar highway route
Back in November, we wrote about the discovery of a plant no one had seen in the wild since 1947 and considered "extinct in the wild" being uncovered in the Presidio. And yet, in a legitimate candidate for non-insulin truck running over the diabetic irony, the "last" Franciscan Manzanita was discovered smack in the middle of the planned route for the $1 billion highway Doyle Drive highway project.

Well, the possibility for San Francisco-style vitriol seemed ready to drop. Would litigious environmentalists derail a federally funded rebuild of one of the state's most dangerous highways? Would bottom-line driven state agencies botch the job and kill the resurrected plant? Would five kids from the East Bay BART over and shout into a bullhorn while 15 news photographers snapped away?

That's how it's supposed to work. But this process did something different. It just worked. The weeklong process of uprooting and moving the Franciscan Manzanita was completed over the weekend and everyone we've spoken to is borderline ecstatic about just how damn well it's all worked out.  

"Everybody's been very cooperative -- it's incredible," says professor Tom Parker, one of the state's foremost experts on manzanitas and a consultant on the project.

Rather than demand the Doyle Drive project be re-routed to accommodate the manzanita, potentially litigious environmental groups agreed with the assessment of Parker and his San Francisco State colleague Mike Vasey: Botanists would have a better shot repopulating the city's Franciscan Manzanita population if the "extinct" plant was relocated.

The manzanita is now sitting on an undisclosed serpentine outcropping not far from its original location. "This is so much nicer," says Parker. "The plant was surrounded by roads and it was dangerous for humans to get to. That was not a place where you could restore the population."

In addition to moving the bush, many cuttings were taken and distributed to botanical gardens in Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, the Presidio, and Berkeley. "You could have a major earthquake and we'll still have plants," explains Parker. Since the decendants of Presidio Manzanitas cut in 1947 in San Francisco's now-nonexistent Laurel Hill Cemetary are growing in botanical gardens around the state, scientists now have a bit of genetic diversity to work with when trying to breed the newly rediscovered plant.

And, by the way, the "mother plant" is one big mama. Joey Monteleone, the western project manager at Environmental Design, which executed the uprooting, movement, and replanting of the Franciscan Manzanita, notes that the plant and its "root ball" were nine feet by 10 feet by 27 inches and weighed in excess of 21,000 pounds.

Moving the plant required three days of labor over the course of last week as well as California Highway Patrol escorts and some highway onramp closures. CalTrans paid for the project, and Doyle Drive spokeswoman Molly Graham is still checking exactly how much this cost. But Monteleone notes that they were subcontracted out for the project by the Professional Tree Care Company and the standard rate for this kind of job is about $15,000.

Update, 1:30 p.m.: CalTrans says that "prep work, stabilization work, traffic control, construction fencing, vehicles, cranes, and trailers" added to the cost, which is now estimated at $65,000 and $80,000.

While the plant is now located on land administered by the Presidio Trust, CalTrans has agreed to care for it for 10 years. 


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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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