Last week US Fish & Wildlife announced that Franciscan manzanita is now an endangered species. In 2009 the single plant known to exist in the wild was discovered during the reconstruction of Doyle Drive. It was transplanted to an undisclosed location in the Presidio in San Francisco at a cost of $175,000, (or, according to some accounts, $205,000) including an additional annual cost for maintenance. Is this a preview of potential cost of reintroducing this plant throughout San Francisco?
Although that plant is thought to be the only one of its species existing in the wild—if the Presidio can be said to be wild—it has always been for sale in nurseries. Yes, the plant given endangered status is considered the same species as those for sale in nurseries, but it is presumed to be genetically unique. Because genetic diversity is considered important to the survival of a species, the recently discovered plant has been given endangered status. This makes for an interesting and puzzling lesson on the Endangered Species Act.
CRITICAL HABITATS FOR ENDANGERED SPECIES
In addition to the conferral of endangered status, US Fish & Wildlife has designated 318 acres of public land in San Francisco as critical habitat for the Franciscan manzanita. Critical habitats are places where the endangered plant is either known to have existed in the past or they are places that provide what the plant needs to survive.
Five of the eleven places in San Francisco designated as critical habitat are on federal land in the Presidio. (Details about all the critical habitats are available here.) Forty of the 318 acres are on private land. Six of the critical habitats are in 196 acres of San Francisco’s city parks:
- Corona Heights
- Twin Peaks
- Mount Davidson
- Glen Canyon Park (erroneously called Diamond Heights by US Fish & Wildlife)
- Bernal Hill Park (erroneously called Bernal Heights by US Fish & Wildlife)
- Bayview Hill Park
POTENTIAL IMPACTS ON SAN FRANCISCO’S PUBLIC LANDS
The San Francisco Forest Alliance is studying the impact that planting this endangered species might have. If the proposed critical habitat in these parks is in forested areas, we will undoubtedly object in our public comment because Franciscan manzanita requires full sun which implies that the trees would be destroyed to accommodate the plant.
We are also concerned about the potential for restrictions on recreational access such as more trail closures and fences needed to protect a fragile, legally protected plant. The public has had a preview of such loss of recreational assets to protect endangered species at Sharp Park where native plant advocates and their allies have sued to close the golf course, using the Endangered Species Act.
If you are a visitor to or a neighbor of any of these parks, you might want to inform yourself of the potential impact of planting an endangered species with specific horticultural needs. For example, this is a plant that requires full sun. Since all of Bayview Hill has been designated as critical habitat and Bayview Hill is heavily forested, you might wonder if this particular park is a good fit for this plant. Furthermore, this seems to be the only one of the proposed critical habitats in which this plant is not known to have existed historically.
US Fish & Wildlife tells us that the designation of critical habitat for plants does not commit non-federal land owners to reintroduce this endangered plant unless they receive federal funding. Federal land owners and recipients of federal funding are obligated to consult with US Fish & Wildlife before making any commitments to changes in land use which would not be consistent with the successful reintroduction of the endangered plant. We assume that the city of San Francisco receives federal funds, so it seems likely that these restrictions would apply to the critical habitats in city parks. Legal requirements for critical habitat of endangered animals are more rigorous.
MORE INFORMATION AND PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY
More information is available from the Sacramento Office of US Fish & Wildlife:
Comments on the proposed critical habitats will be accepted until November 5, 2012. Comments may be submitted online at the Federal eRulemaking Portal at http://www.regulations.gov (Docket Number FWS–R8–ES–2012–0067) or by U.S. mail to:
Public Comments Processing
Division of Policy and Directives Management
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM
Arlington, VA 22203.