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San Francisco Chronicle, August 16, 2010

Endangered status weighed for rediscovered bush
By Kelly Zito

Over the next year, federal wildlife officials will decide whether to classify as endangered a flowering bush believed extinct in the wild since 1947 but rediscovered accidentally by a biologist in San Francisco in October.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last week opened an intensive twelve-month study of the Franciscan manzanita - including its genetic makeup, known historic range and population size - as well as any previous attempts to save the plant.

If Arctostaphylos franciscana, as it's known in scientific circles, is designated "endangered," those who remove or tamper with the plant could face criminal prosecution and fines. It also qualifies the plant for federal conservation funds.

"It's not every day that we find a species thought to be extinct," said agency spokeswoman Sarah Swenty. "Now we have an opportunity to save the last one remaining and reintroduce it for future generations."

The low-lying shrub was last seen six decades ago. That's when the old Laurel Hill Cemetery near the present-day University of San Francisco campus was bulldozed for homes and businesses. A local botanist with particular foresight grabbed two specimens, which still reside at Berkeley's Tilden Botanical Garden.

Then, last fall, San Francisco conservationist Daniel Gluesenkamp spotted the plant in a flash as he drove by the Presidio along Doyle Drive. Gluesenkamp, director of habitat restoration at Audubon Canyon Ranch, termed the bush - one of only a few manzanita species native to the city - a kind of horticultural "unicorn."

Experts say workers on the Doyle Drive reconstruction project uncovered the specimen, which had been enveloped in a thick stand of brush and trees. The shrub may have lain hidden since San Francisco was controlled by Spanish settlers.

In January, the city spent $175,000 moving the 1-foot-tall, 20-foot-square plant and its accompanying roots and soil to an undisclosed location within the Presidio about a mile away from its original site.

Clippings have been taken, according to Swenty, and will be used to reintroduce the plant to public lands within San Francisco and the Peninsula. The species thrived only in the cool, wet swath of land between the Golden Gate Bridge and Mount San Bruno, where it enjoyed soil rich in the mineral serpentine.

Gluesenkamp occasionally visits the Franciscan manzanita in its new spot - and it appears to be flourishing. The last time he stopped by, there were tiny, fleshy berries hanging from the branches (hence the name manzanita, which is Spanish for "little apples").

"I hope it gets listed (as endangered) and we have beautiful wildlands where manzanita feed birds and coyotes again," he said.

How you can comment

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is soliciting public comment about the rare Franciscan manzanita as part of an effort to determine whether to list the plant for federal protection. The public comment period closes Oct. 12.

To submit comments online

Go to www.regulations.gov. In the box that reads "Enter keyword or ID", enter the case's docket number: FWS-R8-ES-2010-0049. Click the box that reads: "Submit a comment"

To submit comments by mail

Send to:
Public Comments Processing
Attn: FWS-R8-ES-2010-0049
Division of Policy and Directives Management
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222
Arlington, VA 22203

© 2010 Hearst Communications Inc.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton