Saving the Wild Franciscan Manzanita

Last known wild Franciscan manzanita

One of the ironies of environmental law is that a species considered extinct won’t be on the endangered species list and subject to federal protection, even if a lone survivor is found in the wild.  This is just what the Wild Equity Institute says happened to the Franciscan Manzanita of San Francisco.

The environmental group filed a suit in federal court Tuesday hoping to win an order protecting the lone wild plant and setting aside habitat for it in the Presidio.  The Franciscan manzanita is the first of its species discovered in the wild since 1947, according to the lawsuit.

But the only known surviving plant, discovered by a botanist in 2009, was in the path of a multi-million dollar freeway construction project.  National Park Service and Presidio Trust officials raced to the scene after the discovery to get the plant moved to a more secure area where it now rests in the Presidio.

But getting the plant, once considered extinct, on the endangered species list has been a little tougher.  The lawsuit seeks to compel Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar to enforce the law’s mandatory 12-month deadline to make a decision on the petition to protect the Franciscan Manzanita.

The manzanita once lived on Mt. Davidson and Lone Mountain in San Francisco.  A few remaining specimens were rescued in 1906 from the California Academy of Sciences collection as fires driven by the Great Earthquake and fire threatened the academy’s collections, according to the lawsuit.

Still later, botanists skirted earth-moving equipment to rescue a few wild plants, but the last time it was seen in the wild was more than 60 years ago.

 Salazar’s failure to process the petition to add the plant to the endangered species list deprives it of protection necessary for its survival, the suit states.

 Case: Wild Equity Institute v. Salazar, C11-2904JCS (N.Dist. of Calif.)

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