SF lands identified for endangered Franciscan Manzanita habitat

In what some environmentalists consider a key step toward the recovery of an endangered plant species in San Francisco, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated approximately 230 acres as critical habitat for the Franciscan manzanita.

The federal agency officially announced Thursday that it has identified the habitat in five areas within the Presidio and six other areas citywide, such as Twin Peaks and Bayview Park. Agency spokeswoman Sarah Swenty noted that the locations were selected primarily based on their type of soil and as areas considered suitable for the establishment of new plant populations.

The land designation comes about four years after a botanist spotted a Franciscan manzanita growing in an area being cleared for the Doyle Drive rebuild project. The plant was presumed extinct after not being seen in the wild since the 1940s. An effort was initiated to replant the specimen and tons of soil around its roots in a protected Presidio location.

The plant was listed as endangered by the agency in fall 2012.

“I think it’s one of the most exciting rediscoveries of our age,” Swenty said. “To find a plant that everyone thought was extinct in the wild, that no one had seen for over 50 years. It really was a very exciting find and a very worthwhile thing to protect.”

Swenty stressed that habitat designations for endangered species do not take away land or close off the sites. Only about 35 acres of the designated habitat are currently occupied by the species, she said.

The total estimated cost of the designation is approximately $31,435 over the next 20 years, according to the wildlife service.

Brent Plater of the Wild Equity Institute, which petitioned the federal agency to protect the manzanita under the Endangered Species Act, said the habitat identification will help lead to the ultimate goal of being able to take the plant off the list so federal protections are no longer needed.

“It’s this fantastic opportunity to bring back this member of our community that’s been missing for many, many years,” Plater said.

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