Mixed Results for Mission Blue Butterfly in San Francisco: Here’s Why

This article is reprinted with permission from SutroForest.com, a website that has been reporting on the Mission Blue project for some years.

Mission Blue Butterfly - Public Domain Image

Mission Blue Butterfly – Public Domain Image

It’s now Year 9 of the the Mission Blue butterfly project on Twin Peaks, San Francisco. In 2008, SF Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) started trying to reintroduce the Mission Blue Butterfly to Twin Peaks, by planting lupine and transferring in breeding butterflies from their largest existing population on San Bruno Mountain. The results so far have been mixed:

  • The lupine needs continual care;
  • The butterflies are breeding on Twin Peaks;
  • Most years, imports of Mission Blue butterflies from San Bruno continue to be needed to boost the population and its genetic diversity.

In 2017, SFRPD observers spotted 30 butterflies that were actually born on Twin Peaks. They didn’t import any butterflies from San Bruno. But the lupine, the nursery plant of the butterfly, was badly hit by funguses and hungry voles.

WHAT ARE MISSION BLUE BUTTERFLIES?

The Mission Blue butterfly (Aricia icarioides missionensis) is a rare subspecies of the much more widespread Boisduval’s Blue (Aricia icarioides).  The species is not endangered, but the subspecies is found only from San Bruno to Marin and is federally-listed as endangered. The largest population is on San Bruno Mountain.

Lupine is the nursery plant of the Mission Blue. It’s the only plant on which it’s known to lay its eggs and which the caterpillars eat. Mission blue eggs hatch into caterpillars which eat the lupine, shedding their skins as they grow. The larger caterpillars are tended by native ant species, who protect them from predators while benefiting from “honeydew” – sugary caterpillar pee.

Mission Blue larva tended by ant - NPS photograph

Mission Blue caterpillar tended by ant – NPS photograph

When they’ve grown to their full size, they form their pupae near the base of the plants, or even on the soil beneath, and remain there for months (in diapause). They hatch into butterflies in spring, sip nectar from a range of flowers (including the “invasive” non-native Italian thistle: Carduus pycnocephalus), mate, and lay eggs on lupines.

Aricia Icarioides Missionensis, Photo Copyright Joe O’Connor

These butterflies have only one generation a year and an 8-10 week flight season, becoming visible in April and May. The males live an average of 7 days, and females for 8 days. The males usually hatch before the females do, so they are ready to mate when the females appear.

PROJECT ORIGINS

Mission Blue butterflies used to inhabit Twin Peaks in San Francisco, but in 1998 a wet winter encouraged a fungal pathogen that destroyed most of the lupine plants – and the Mission Blue butterfly will not breed on anything else. The population, already small, fell until it was essentially gone. Eventually, SFRPD decided to attempt a reintroduction by planting lupine and then bringing butterflies from San Bruno Mountain.

The first batch, 22 females, was brought over in 2009. Optimistically, they hoped that this would be sufficient. But in 2010, only 17 butterflies were spotted, and imports resumed in 2011 – and in 2012, 2013, 2015, and 2016. In the graph below (covering the years 2009-2017) the dark bars show the “native-born” butterflies on Twin Peaks – i.e. ones that were spotted before transfers from San Bruno, or in years when there were no transfers. The light bars show the butterflies imported to Twin Peaks.  In 2017,  they’ve spotted 30 native-born butterflies.

 

[We’ve been reporting on this project for years; our most recent report is here: Mission Blue Butterfly 2016 Update: Imports from San Bruno Continue]

A report from SFRPD and its consultants on the year 2016 was issued in April 2017. It said they would not import any in 2017, but if the numbers fall in 2018, they’ll restart. The US Fish and Wildlife permit to transfer up to 20 male and 40 female butterflies each year is valid through 2020. They imported 44 butterflies from San Bruno in 2016: 15 males and 29 females.  You can read the report here: TwinPeaksProgressReportApr2017

According to that report, they were going to stop counting adult butterflies.  They planned instead to count the eggs, and calculate backward to figure how many females were implied by the number of eggs.  However, in 2017 they did in fact count butterflies, and found 15 males and 15 females in April and May.

This is the most of any year since 2009 – and definitely the most females. (However, there’s a bias because for each season we only use observations from before the transfers from San Bruno. But the transfers, too, must be made during the flight season. So in years with transfers, the local observation time is lessened and is biased to males, which emerge earlier than females.)  Despite the improvement, it suggests the population is still small enough that it cannot be considered stable or self-sustaining.

(The graph below is similar to the purple one above, but breaks out the observations – and imports – by the sex of the butterflies. The darker bars show imports, the lighter bars indicate butterflies that were born on Twin Peaks.)

A BRUTAL YEAR FOR LUPINE

It’s been a brutal year for lupine  in 2017 owing to the wet winter. There’s been a population explosion of voles, which have eaten some of the largest plants down to the ground. A fungus has killed many of the lupine plants. (Field notes describe it as anthracnose, but we’re not sure if a positive identification was made.)

In any case, this is never going to be a self-sustaining situation. They will need to keep gardening for lupine, because lupine is a plant of disturbed areas and Twin peaks isn’t disturbed.  As the report points out “unmanaged habitat degrades quickly.”

And while they can set up Mission Blue butterfly populations that are temporarily self-sustaining, in the long term they will still need to boost the population with imports.

A FRIENDLY SUGGESTION FOR LUPINE MANAGEMENT

We have a suggestion. Since lupine will have to be gardened anyway, why not grow it in containers? This should offer some protection from both voles and funguses, and provide the opportunity to optimize the soil conditions including drainage for the plant. SFRPD plants three species of lupine at Twin Peaks: Lupinus albifrons, lupinus varicolor, and lupinus formosus.

The favorite of the Mission Blue caterpillar is apparently Lupinus albifrons, or silver lupine; according to the April 2017 report, that was the only one the caterpillars were eating. And that one grows nicely in containers. The photograph below is from the website of specialist plant supplier Annie’s Annuals, specializing in rare and unusual annual & perennial plants, including cottage garden heirlooms & hard to find California native wildflowers.”

As a bonus, since container-grown plants won’t face competition from other wild plants, SFRPD can stop using toxic herbicides on Twin peaks. In 2016, they used toxic herbicides 25 times on Twin Peaks – behind only the much-larger McLaren Park (27 times) and Bayview Hill (34 times).  This included 7 applications of Garlon, possibly the most toxic herbicide the city permits.

It’s unknown whether these herbicides impact the reproductive success of the butterflies, either directly or via their ant tenders. In any case, organic lupines might be a healthier option.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH GARLON?

These are the main issues with Garlon, in brief:

  • Garlon “causes severe birth defects in rats at relatively low levels of exposure.” Baby rats were born with brains outside their skulls, or no eyelids. Exposed adult females rats also had more failed pregnancies.
  •   Rat and dog studies showed damage to the kidneys, the liver, and the blood.
  •   About 1-2% of Garlon falling on human skin is absorbed within a day. For rodents, its absorbed twelve times as fast. It’s unclear what happens to predators such as hawks that eat the affected rodents.
  • Dogs  may be particularly vulnerable; their kidneys may not be able to handle Garlon as well as rats or humans.  Dow Chemical objected when the Environmental Protection agency noted decreased red-dye excretion as an adverse effect, so now it’s just listed as an “effect.”
  •  It very probably alters soil biology. “Garlon 4 can inhibit growth in the mycorrhizal fungi…” ( soil funguses that help plant nutrition.)
  •  It’s particularly dangerous to aquatic creatures: fish (particularly salmon); invertebrates; and aquatic plants.
  •  Garlon can persist in dead vegetation for up to two years.

If SFRPD grew the lupine in containers, it wouldn’t need to worry about the oxalis or use Garlon. At least on Twin Peaks.

COSTS

We are often asked how much the Mission Blue project is costing the tax payer, so we tried to find out. This project is funded by the city, and with a three-year grant from US Fish and Wildlife Services for “habitat management” that just ended.  Data for 2008-2017 indicate the SF Rec and Parks Commission spent around $82,000. We looked at Professional Services payments to Coast Ridge Ecology, to Creekside Center for Earth Sciences, and to Liam O’Brien. There’s another consultant involved, Golden Hour Restoration Institute, but we think they were paid directly from the US FWS grant.

This of course excludes the salaries/ time of the SFRPD staff. Natural Resource Department staff are involved at every stage, from lupine planting to butterfly counting. It also excludes the cost of laying down pesticides on Twin Peaks 25 times annually.

[Note: We also attempted to search for the USFWS grant information, but so far have no numbers.]

Pesticides in our Parks, Jan-March 2017

Herbicide Spraying in Glen Canyon May 2017

Someone recently sent us this picture (above) of herbicide being sprayed at Glen Canyon.

Saw a guy spraying pesticides in Glen Canyon today. I didn’t want to get close enough to read the sign because he’s spraying right now and I’m pregnant.  I’m assuming its one of the same old for the same old reasons.  It’s right near a child’s classroom and right near someone’s backyard.  Somewhat related, did you hear that a coyote in Glen Canyon was killed by rat poison?

Clicking on the picture will bring you to a very short video of the spraying.

In other news, the petition opposing pesticides finally closed with 12,113 signatures!

PESTICIDE USAGE, FIRST QUARTER 2017

We recently received and compiled the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) pesticide usage reports for the first quarter of 2017. There’s good news and bad news.

Bad news first: The first quarter continues to be Garlon time in the Natural Areas, which comprise the areas under the Natural Resources Division of SFRPD and the SFPUC areas that are managed by the same land managers.

In 2017, they applied Garlon 25 times, up from 23 in 2016. The volume applied is nearly the same; on an “active ingredient” calculation, it’s 61.2 fluid ounces in 2017 slightly down from 61.5 fl oz in 2016. Garlon is used only against Bermuda buttercups (oxalis, sourgrass, soursob, oxalis pes caprae).

The main parks where it was applied were Twin Peaks, McLaren Park, and Mt Davidson, though they did use it at other locations too.

This is especially bad news because Garlon is one the most toxic herbicides the city is allowed to use. Ever since we’ve been following it, not only has it been designated Tier I (Most hazardous), there’s been a notation against it: HIGH PRIORITY TO FIND AN ALTERNATIVE.

Garlon is also supposed to be twenty times as toxic to women as to men. (See page 28 of this California Native Plant Society Presentation which discusses best management practices in herbicide use: Law_Johnson 2014 presentation toxicity )

Oxalis is not considered terribly invasive. Its brilliant yellow color and early spring flowering make it very visible, but it needs disturbance to spread. If it is ignored, it will over time give way to other plants. In any case, after its explosion of spring color, it dies down and other plants take over. There is considerable doubt about the effectiveness of herbicides on oxalis, because it grows from bulbils (tiny bulbs) that are well protected, and will resprout the following season.

Here’s our quick presentation about Garlon and oxalis: Garlon vs Oxalis in Ten Easy Slides. In summary: San Francisco could get rid of this very toxic “HIGH PRIORITY TO FIND ALTERNATIVE” herbicide merely by calling a truce on its war with oxalis. (Here’s a longer article, with some lovely photographs: Five Reasons why it’s okay to love oxalis and stop poisoning it )

Now for the good news:

  • SFRPD has cut back a lot on its use of Roundup (also called Aquamaster), i.e. Glyphosate. This is the chemical that the WHO declared a probable carcinogen.  In 2017, Natural Areas used it three times, twice at Twin Peaks and once at Laguna Honda.
  • The main user of Glyphosate: Golden Gate Park Nursery, which Chris Geiger (the Integrated Pest Management person at SF Environment) explained is not a public area. They used either 25 fl oz or 40 fl oz of glyphosate (active ingredient basis), depending on whether one of the entries is a duplication. We have a question in about that to SFRPD and SF Environment, and will update this when we have an answer.
  • No Tier I herbicides were used in Glen Canyon from Jan-March 2017. Though Natural Areas elsewhere were sprayed with Garlon for oxalis, none was used in Glen Canyon – where neighbors are concerned because of the many small children who play there, as well as potential water contamination.

CONCERNS

We still have concerns, though we do acknowledge the efforts of SF Environment and SFRPD to control the use of toxic herbicides. We will go into those in detail another time, but here are a few, in brief:

  • Allowing the use of Tier I herbicides even in non-public areas does not prevent them from contaminating the environment.
  • This is especially true now that San Francisco will be adding its own ground water to the public water supply. No one wants pesticides coming from our taps.
  • The Natural Areas already severely restrict access by requiring people to stay on the limited number of “designated trails” – mainly broad paths that have been improved in some cases into stairways and mini-roads. Using Tier I herbicides will give them an incentive to block off much of the park, so it is accessible only to SFRPD staff or volunteers.
  • Instead of eschewing herbicides altogether, new combinations are being considered for addition to the list of permitted pesticides.

San Francisco Forest Alliance’s stance: No Pesticides in our Parks.

We continue to work toward this goal, and support the efforts of SF Environment and thousands of people to get there.

 

 

Twin Peaks – Extensive Trail Closures Planned

On Tuesday, April 19th, 2016 (tomorrow!) the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency(SFMTA) Board will consider approving the proposed Twin Peaks Figure 8 Redesign Pilot Project, a cross-departmental project of San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) and the SFMTA. The meeting (which is of course open to the public) is at 1:00 p.m. in City Hall, Room 400.

This plan goes with extensive trail closures on Twin Peaks by SFRPD. We wrote about that last June. We’re republishing that (with minor updates) because it’s immediately relevant. If you oppose the trail closures, please attend the meeting and say so. You can also email or phone them a comment (today, before 5 p.m) at:

Office of the SFMTA Board of Directors
Phone: 415.701.4505
Fax: 415.701.4502
Email: MTABoard@SFMTA.com

—————-

Here we go again – the shrinking of our parks by the Natural Areas Program (NAP). Instead of allowing visitors to experience wide natural lands, these plans want to restrict access to a very limited trail system. From these trails, you can look at the natural areas – but not touch or explore them.

It’s happened in McLaren Park recently. Now, San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) is planning major changes on Twin Peaks. Extensive trail closures are planned for Twin Peaks. In the map below, the trails that will be gone are marked in red.

twin peaks trail closures in red

The project was positioned as one that would close half the Figure 8-shaped roadway to cars to make it safer for pedestrians and bicyclists by making it a Figure 3-shape. What they didn’t publicize was plans to close most of the trails allowing access to the peaks from various points. They will make the entire south side of Twin Peaks inaccessible.

Instead, there will be only one trail going straight through, a sort of pedestrian roadway. (The solid yellow line.)

HIDING THE TRAIL CLOSURES

On June 25th 2015, SF Recreation and Park held an Open House on the Twin Peaks Figure 8 Redesign. Project Objectives were presented, stated as:

“We will share proposals that address the following project objectives:

• Reallocate a portion of the existing roadway from vehicle use to pedestrian and bicycle use;
• Locate pedestrian crossings to link with trail sections; and
• Recommend realignment of the Bay Area Ridge Trail to cross over Twin Peaks Blvd.”

Notice that there was no discussion on Trail closures as part of these Project Objectives now, in 2015.

However, at a September 24 2013 meeting RPD made a presentation that showed extensive trail closures, along the east guardrail and closure of the two southern lobes. See the third page of the presentation here:

http://sfrecpark.org/wp-content/uploads/Twin-Peaks-Trails-Improvement-Project_PORTOLA-TRAIL_Community-Meeting-Presentation_9-24-13.pdf

This trail closure plan was also part of a handout used at a small May 7, 2015 stakeholder meeting. We strongly suspect these closures remain part of the RPD plan, but they do not want to alert the public. The trail closures, along with the new “Stay on Designated Trails” signage, would effectively close off public access to the south side of Twin Peaks.

SF Forest Alliance feels that NAP is going above and beyond the Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan (SNRAMP) before the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is even released and approved. They are using the Draft EIR as a decision-making document to decide which alternative to approve. They are putting out the road lane closure as the focus of this and then sneaking in the trail/land closures as part of the deal.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Write to SFMTA immediately at:

Office of the SFMTA Board of Directors
Phone: 415.701.4505
Fax: 415.701.4502
Email: MTABoard@SFMTA.com

Also, please call your supervisor and let them know as well.

Twin Peaks – Plans for Extensive Trail Closures

Here we go again – the shrinking of our parks by the Natural Areas Program (NAP). Instead of allowing visitors to experience wide natural lands, these plans want to restrict access to a very limited trail system. From these trails, you can look at the natural areas – but not touch or explore them.

It’s happened in McLaren Park recently. Now, San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) is planning major changes on Twin Peaks. Extensive trail closures are planned for Twin Peaks. In the map below, the trails that will be gone are marked in red.

twin peaks trail closures in red

The project was positioned as one that would close half the Figure 8-shaped roadway to cars to make it safer for pedestrians and bicyclists by making it a Figure 3-shape. What they didn’t publicize was plans to close most of the trails allowing access to the peaks from various points. They will make the entire south side of Twin Peaks inaccessible.

Instead, there will be only one trail going straight through, a sort of pedestrian roadway. (The solid yellow line.)

HIDING THE TRAIL CLOSURES

On June 25th 2015, SF Recreation and Park held an Open House on the Twin Peaks Figure 8 Redesign. Project Objectives were presented, stated as:

“We will share proposals that address the following project objectives:

• Reallocate a portion of the existing roadway from vehicle use to pedestrian and bicycle use;
• Locate pedestrian crossings to link with trail sections; and
• Recommend realignment of the Bay Area Ridge Trail to cross over Twin Peaks Blvd.”

Notice that there was no discussion on Trail closures as part of these Project Objectives now, in 2015.

However, at a September 24 2013 meeting RPD made a presentation that showed extensive trail closures, along the east guardrail and closure of the two southern lobes. See the third page of the presentation here:

http://sfrecpark.org/wp-content/uploads/Twin-Peaks-Trails-Improvement-Project_PORTOLA-TRAIL_Community-Meeting-Presentation_9-24-13.pdf

This trail closure plan was also part of a handout used at a small May 7, 2015 stakeholder meeting. We strongly suspect these closures remain part of the RPD plan, but they do not want to alert the public. The trail closures, along with the new “Stay on Designated Trails” signage, would effectively close off public access to the south side of Twin Peaks.

SF Forest Alliance feels that NAP is going above and beyond the Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan (SNRAMP) before the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is even released and approved. They are using the Draft EIR as a decision-making document to decide which alternative to approve. They are putting out the road lane closure as the focus of this and then sneaking in the trail/land closures as part of the deal.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

As usual, SFRPD is being disingenuous. Here is what you can do. Take this Project survey – put up by SFRPD – and let them know you oppose outright trail closures on Park lands.

Hurry, the Survey closes next Friday – July 17th, 2015. Survey link is here:
http://sfrecpark.org/deadline-extended-to-july-17-for-twin-peaks-online-survey/

There is a box near the bottom of the survey where you can write in your comments about trail closures.

Also, please call your supervisor and let them know as well.

 

Who’s Using Pesticides: Q1 Pesticides Report

We’ve been reporting that San Francisco’s Natural Areas Program (NAP) has been spraying increasing amounts of toxic pesticides in parks used by people, pets, and wildlife.  The San Francisco Department of the environment restricts the use of pesticides of land owned by the city, and it classifies permitted chemicals into three tiers: Tier III is the least hazardous; Tier II, more hazardous and Tier I, most hazardous pesticides.

Recently, someone asked us how NAP’s Tier I and Tier II pesticide use compares with the rest of SF Rec & Parks (SFRPD) usage. We hadn’t compiled the numbers (and neither, as far as we know, had the city).  But we’ve done so now for the first quarter, Jan-March 2013.

It’s pretty bad. NAP used three times as much of the most toxic chemicals as all the other SFRPD departments put together.

NAP vs Other SFRPD

[Edited to Add: We should note that these figures exclude Harding Park Golf Course. That’s a separate case because apparently the city is under contract to maintain it to certain specifications that involve substantial amounts of pesticides.]

NAP was the only department to use Tier I herbicides.  They used Garlon 4 Ultra against oxalis in McLaren Park, Bayview Hill, Twin Peaks, and Mount Davidson. No other SFRPD area used any Tier I herbicides.  NAP doesn’t use any Tier III pesticides.

Our “Natural Areas” are getting hit with the most toxic chemicals the city permits.

Which areas did they target?

  • In March, it was Mc Laren and Glen Park.
  • In February, it was Twin Peaks, Mt Davidson, Lake Merced, Pine Lake, and Oak Woodlands in Golden Gate Park.
  • In January, it was Bayview, McLaren, and Twin Peaks.

Most of the pesticides used by NAP were applied by the contractors, Shelterbelt.

If this concerns you – as it does us – write to your representative on the Board of Supervisors. And write to the Mayor. These levels of pesticide use just don’t make sense for so-called “Natural Areas.”