Long Lost Manzanita Brings Newfound Problems (Westside Observer re-post)

Editor Notes:
This is a reposting of  an important story about the plan to reintroduce Franciscan manzanita into City park land – and now also private property along Marietta Drive in the Miraloma Park neighborhood. We also want to refer to important background information about the ambiguity of the taxonomy of manzanita.  Click here

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George Wooding

George Wooding

LONG LOST MANZANITA BRINGS NEWFOUND PROBLEMS
By George Wooding

Westside neighbors are concerned a rare manzanita plant will have a profound impact on neighborhood habitats and uses.

franciscan manzanita

Franciscan manzanita

In 2009, a 14-foot wide Arctostaphylos franciscana (Franciscan manzanita) — a plant thought to be extinct in the wild for the last 60 years — was discovered in the Presidio during the 2009 Doyle Drive rebuild. It was deemed to be the last wild Franciscan manzanita and immediately labeled a genetically-unique plant that needed to be saved.

“Does it make sense for over six percent — 318 acres — of City-managed park land to be permanently committed to planting an endangered species that can be readily purchased in nurseries?”

Flash forward to 2013. In just four years, 424 plants genetically identical to the Franciscan manzanita found in the Doyle Drive construction site have been propagated via cuttings, according to Betty Young, director of nurseries for the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, who is coordinating the effort.Manzanita habitat

On September 5, 2012 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued its proposed designation of 11 areas in San Francisco as critical habitat for the endangered manzanita plant. That proposed designation includes part of Mt. Davidson. Critical habitats are places where endangered plants are either known to have existed in the past, or are places that provide what a plant needs to survive.

By June 28, 2013 the Fish and Wildlife Service designated 318 acres in San Francisco as critical habitat for the plant.

Critical Habitat vs. Eminent Domain

One of the new critical area habitats for the manzanita plant includes the area along Marietta Drive facing O’Shaughnessy Hollow all the way down along O’Shaughnessy Boulevard, and includes all of the open space known as Reservoir Lands at Glen Park, which has trails currently accessible on Marietta Drive.

The designation of 3.2 acres of private property directly below Marietta Drive as critical habitat has been controversial. The backyards of 22 homes on Marietta Drive are now designated as critical habitat for the Franciscan manzanita. The government cannot use critical habitat designations to take over or control property rights.

However, at the September 23 West of Twin Peaks Central Council meeting, it was stated that the Fish and Wildlife Service may use “eminent domain” to control the 3.2 acres for possible reforestation. But according to Robert Moler, Assistant Field Supervisor for External Affairs for the Fish and Wildlife Service, “Activities on private lands that don’t require Federal permits or funding are not affected by a critical habitat designation.” In other words, private citizens will still be able to control 100% of their land regardless of a critical habitat determination.

manzanita brush

“Eminent Domain is completely different than a critical habitat designation. Eminent domain is the power of the state to seize private property without the owner’s consent. A critical habitat designation only delineates the best places an organism can survive.”

NAP Clams Up

All of this Mt. Davidson land is controlled by the SF Rec & Parks (RPD). The RPD’s Native Area Plants Department (NAP) will be overseeing the replanting of the Franciscan manzanita throughout this area. Unfortunately, NAP has not met with neighbors to discuss its plans to reestablish the manzanita. Nor has any government agency contacted the neighborhoods about the manzanita. Calls to NAP Director, Lisa Wayne, were not returned.

As with other NAP projects, public access to large areas may become off-limits so that the Francisco manzanita can become reestablished. Neighbors are worried that large sections of Mt. Davidson might be closed to the public for years while the wild Franciscan manzanita is getting established. NAP has been completely silent on whether it will designate open space areas as being off-limits, and for how long.

It cost San Francisco $205,075 to dig up and replant the last remaining wild Franciscan manzanita, including $100,000 to pay for the “hard removal,” $79,470 to pay for the “establishment, nurturing and monitoring” of the plant for a decade after its “hard removal,” and $25,605 to cover the “reporting requirements” for the decade after the “hard removal.”

The Franciscan manzanita is also a commercially cultivated species of shrub that can be purchased from nurseries for as little as $15.98 per plant, and have been available for purchase in nurseries for about 50 years. The plants are propagated by taking cuttings and, therefore, are presumed to be almost genetically-similar.

The last wild Franciscan manzanita may have been found, but it may be a hybrid of the manzanita plants found in nurseries. Recent taxonomic revisions have established Franciscan manzanita as a separate species, based primarily on genetic comparisons, including the fact that Franciscan manzanita has 13 pairs of chromosomes, while its closest relative (A. montana ravenii )  has 26 chromosome pairs.

Manzanita seeds are germinated by fire, but the exact relationship between germination and fire isn’t known. This is why the plant is constantly cloned. The plant also requires full sunlight. How many trees will NAP cut down to provide the Franciscan manzanita with full sunlight?

The Francisco manzanita is listed as an endangered species. The Endangered Species Act listing for the rare bush means anyone who removes or tampers with the plant could face criminal prosecution and fines. The designation also qualifies the plant for federal conservation funds.

Does it make sense for over six percent — 318 acres — of City-managed park land to be permanently committed to planting an endangered species that can be readily purchased in nurseries? How will the Franciscan manzanita be able to survive without fire?

Neighbors need to know what is happening with the 318 acres of San Francisco private and public land that will be used to replant the manzanita, and how the critical habitat determination will impact public open space. RPD outreach to neighborhoods continues to be poor and disingenuous. NAP has stonewalled the public far too long and must be required to meet with Westside neighbors.

by George Wooding, Midtown Terrace Homeowners Association

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One Response to Long Lost Manzanita Brings Newfound Problems (Westside Observer re-post)

  1. Pingback: Land Grab by NAP – Expanding Mazanita “Designated” Area | San Francisco Forest Alliance

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