Save Chabot’s Pallid Manzanitas

Did you know we live cheek and jowl with pallid manzanitas, a threatened plant species?  These shrubs, which only live in the Diablo Range, have been officially protected by the Federal Fish and Wildlife Service.

The two major populations grow at Huckleberry Preserve and Sobrante Ridge.  Some eleven smaller populations have also been documented, including a dwindling group outside Chabot Space & Science Center.  Years ago, the Chabot team agreed to take responsibility for these guys.

Unfortunately, Chabot’s manzanitas have seen far better days.  Ralph Kanz, an Oakland-based conservationist, paid a visit to this nearby population last Thursday and sent a note to the Center’s Executive Director/CEO afterward:

Mr.  Zwissler,

Earlier today I checked on the pallid manzanita at the Chabot site and found only six surviving individuals.  Surveys in 1994 documented 21 plants on the site.  The EIR approved for the project in 1995 required the preparation of a management plan for pallid manzanita before issuance of a grading permit.  The management plan, intended to provide for the on site protection of the species, has yet to be completed and over 70 percent of the plants on the site have died.  As you know this presents a threat not only to this particular population, but to the species as a whole.  Because this appears to be a naturally occurring population, the loss of so many plants threatens the genetic diversity of the on-site population.

At present, I would only consider two of the six plants to be in anything approaching a healthy condition.  Today I found one plant that appears to have been recently vandalized.  The damage could likely lead to the loss of the plant leaving only five surviving plants.  Based on past observations I believe one of the plants will die in the next year and that would bring us to four survivors.  Another had a dead tree fall on it recently and its fate is uncertain. That could reduce the population to three, a decline of 86 percent from the pre-project population.  In the 14 years since the City of Oakland approved the Chabot project, there has been no regeneration of the population.

I first wrote to Dick Spees about this issue in 2000.  I attended a meeting at Chabot in July 2005 to discuss the issue and try to help this imperiled species.  Many of us who care about seeing the species preserved and want to contribute assistance have not been kept up to date on what is occurring on the site.  If the mitigation measures agreed to by Chabot 14 years ago are not implemented very quickly there will no longer be a genetically viable population on the site.

What are Chabot’s plans?

– Ralph Kanz

Chabot is a top-notch observatory and educational destination, which mostly looks at skies above rather than grounds below.  However the place does project a conservation ethic, as played out in their outdoors programming and even the gift store!

Based on earlier commitments, the Chabot brass should step up to the plate and help save their remaining handful of pallid manzanitas – or these indigenous shrubs will likely vanish from the area soon.

December 22nd Update:   There’s good news from Kimra McAfee, executive director of Friends of Sausal Creek.  She reports the pallid manzanita plan has been finalized by Chabot, along with a memo issued by CA Fish & Game.  Long story short?  There’s a permit in place, and the Friends will begin working on restoration and enhancement.  Chabot will also remove that dead tree imperiling a shrub, early next year.

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