Pallid manzanita (Arctostaphylos pallida) is a fire-adapted shrub in the heath family that can grow to heights in excess of 13 feet. It grows only on rocky ridges and outcrops in Alameda and Contra Costa counties in California’s eastern San Francisco Bay Area. It has rough reddish bark with bristly twigs and ovate to triangular leaves, and displays dense, urn-shaped white flowers from December to March. Pallid manzanita is limited to maritime chaparral or coastal scrub habitats in the East Bay hills, primarily on thin low-nutrient soils composed of chert and shale. The species requires fire for reproduction, needing fire-sterilized soil and scarification of seeds to germinate.
© 2004 Steve Matson
The plant was listed as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act in 1979 and as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1998. The primary threats to pallid manzanita are urban development, improper vegetation management activities, shading and competition by native and nonnative trees, the effects of fire suppression, herbicide spraying, hybridization, and habitat loss and fragmentation.
DISTRIBUTION AND THREATS
There are only 13 known occurrences of pallid manzanita in the East Bay. The two largest stands each contained up to 2,000 or more plants covering approximately 82 acres at Huckleberry Ridge and Sobrante Ridge Regional Preserves, managed by the East Bay Regional Park District, but they have not been extensively surveyed since 1985. Most of the other remaining populations in Alameda and Contra Costa counties now have fewer than a dozen plants. Almost all pallid manzanita stands have declined significantly since the 1980s and two small populations in Oakland have recently been extirpated. Only three locations show any recent evidence of regeneration and recent surveys show that the total pallid manzanita population numbers about only 1,200 plants, only 25 percent of the estimates reported in a 2002 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Recovery Plan for the species.
Ten pallid manzanita populations are within or adjacent to the upper Sausal Creek watershed in the Oakland Hills, primarily near Skyline Boulevard and in Huckleberry, Sibley, Redwood and Joaquin Miller parks. A 2004 report, Status of Pallid Manzanita in the Sausal Creek Watershed, documented that the Oakland Hills population has been reduced by almost half during the past two decades, to approximately 125 plants, largely due to the destruction of plants by City of Oakland operations and lack of proper management.
© 2004 David Graber
Careless vegetation and fire management activities by the City of Oakland, including grazing, herbicide spraying and contracted manual vegetation removal, have caused substantial losses of pallid manzanita in Oakland. For instance, recent goat grazing contributed to the loss of the entire population of 19 plants at Manzanita Flat in Joaquin Miller Park. Herbicide use has reduced regeneration of pallid manzanita along Skyline Boulevard. Property owners have been told to cut pallid manzanita plants, in violation of state and federal laws.
Many manzanitas in the Oakland Hills have also been bulldozed for development. Development in the area since the pallid manzanita was declared a state endangered species in 1979 has not met the requirements of the California Endangered Species Act, which requires mitigation measures for the take of threatened and endangered species. Development projects in the area have often been improperly exempted from review under the California Environmental Quality Act, which requires the disclosure of the impact of development on the environment, including endangered species. The City of Oakland’s failure to provide legally required habitat protection measures for the recently constructed Chabot Space and Science Center destroyed 10 of the original 21 plants at the site.
CENTER ACTIONS TO PROTECT THE PALLID MANZANITA
In May of 2006, the Center sent a warning letter to the City of Oakland over the ongoing illegal destruction of rare and protected plant species, including pallid manzanita. (Read a press release on this warning letter.) The Friends of Sausal Creek sent a letter of concern to the City of Oakland in July 2006 regarding accidental destruction of pallid manzanita and other native plants over the last several years and recent purposeful cutting of pallid manzanitas on private property.
The Center is pushing the City to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Game, East Bay Regional Park District and local watershed groups on how to avoid further take of pallid manzanita and to come into compliance with California law by preparing Environmental Impact Reports for any projects likely to affect pallid manzanita.
Pallid Manzanita Restoration and Management
The Center has begun working with the Oakland Fire Department and the Oakland Hills Wildfire Prevention District to ensure that further needless destruction of pallid manzanita does not occur during vegetation management. Fortunately, all known occurrences of pallid manzanita have been surveyed and mapped and can be avoided during development and fire management activities. The City of Oakland can effectively manage vegetation and reduce fire hazards without destroying pallid manzanitas or other unique and at-risk local plants.
The Center is also pushing the City of Oakland to complete a proposed “Vegetation Management Plan” for the area that will provide fire protection while taking steps to recover pallid manzanita, by implementing the recommendations of the Draft Recovery Plan for Chaparral and Scrub Community Species East of San Francisco Bay, California. The City committed to develop a vegetation management plan and train its staff to identify and avoid native listed plants in January of 2004, but has yet to follow through on this commitment. The City has now begun to assemble a team that will address the impacts of vegetation and fire management on the pallid manzanita and other sensitive species.
The Center will ensure that the City of Oakland completes and implements an effective pallid manzanita restoration and management plan, with a prioritized list of actions and immediate steps to prevent further decline in the population.
The plan must include:
- Immediate action to stabilize the population and prevent further losses, such as clearing around existing plants, and the identification and mapping of all plants in the watershed for use by City of Oakland staff
- Education of City of Oakland staff and homeowners about the impacts of development and vegetation management programs on pallid manzanita
- Methods to ensure compliance with the California Endangered Species Act and California Environmental Quality Act requirements for all development and vegetation management activities in pallid manzanita habitat
- Identification of properties in the watershed for purchase where pallid manzanita populations can be restored or satellite populations established
- A long-term vegetation management plan for fire safety that includes management goals and objectives for pallid manzanita and other sensitive species
- Hiring of staff or a consultant with the knowledge and expertise to oversee all activities in pallid manzanita habitat
- Amend the City of Oakland Protected Trees Ordinance for consistency with preservation and restoration goals for pallid manzanita and other sensitive species