SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – There’s just one Franciscan manzanita left in the wild, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has blown off his duty to protect it, after a long, “tragic” history and “heroic acts by famous botanists,” the Wild Equity Institute says.
In its federal complaint, the nonprofit claims Salazar missed his deadline to respond to its petition to protect the ultra-threatened plant, which was thought to be extinct in the wild until 2 years ago.
In 1906, pioneering botanist Alice Eastwood rescued manzanita specimens from the California Academy of Sciences as fires raged through its botanical collections.
Around 1940, when the plant’s known population had been reduced to just three places in the Bay Area, another adventurous botanist, Lester Rowntree, snuck into a graveyard about to be bulldozed to recover a specimen and replant it on her property.
Asked later how she got the bush, she said she had “garnered it ghoulishly in a gunnysack.”
Last documented in the wild in 1947, the plant survived through domestic cultivation. But in 2009 a botanist noticed a Franciscan manzanita while driving by a construction site for the Doyle Drive project. The plant and about 25,000 pounds of soil were moved to the Presidio, in a Herculean effort supported by the California Department of Transportation.
The Wild Equity Institute and other groups that year filed an emergency petition for listing under the Endangered Species Act. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a creature of the Interior Department, said there was no emergency, despite the fact that the last known wild specimen stood in the “path of a multibillion-dollar road construction project.”
The species was initially proposed for listing in 1976; this went nowhere because it was considered extinct.
Now the Secretary of the Interior has blown off his deadline to make a finding, the Institute claims. Despite statements that the Fish and Wildlife Service planned to produce a finding on the status of the plant by this summer, the manzanita did not appear in the register of a “work plan” for endangered species listing, which was part of a settlement with environmentalists.
WildEarth Guardians in May struck a deal to preserve 251 species that have been on an endangered species waiting list, some of them for decades.
The Franciscan manzanita is well-suited for reintroduction to the wild, the Institute says. Brent Plater, the Institute’s director and the filing attorney, asks the Federal Court to order Secretary Salazar to get off the dime and protect the plant.
The Franciscan manzanita, Arctostaphylos franciscana, is an evergreen with maroon bark, in the heath family. It lives near outcrops of serpentine, a metamorphic group of metalliferous minerals that usually appear in clayey soils.