Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.


Contact: Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185

City of Oakland Warned Over Illegal Destruction
of Rare and Protected Plant Species

Oakland, Calif. – The Center for Biological Diversity (Center) sent a warning letter to the City of Oakland (City) this week regarding violations of the federal and California Endangered Species Acts and illegal harm to protected plant species while carrying out vegetation management and development projects in the Oakland Hills.

Careless vegetation removal, improperly managed goat grazing, herbicide use, and inadequate environmental review of development projects continue to destroy rare and protected plants and their habitats in Oakland. These activities are harming important populations of protected plants such as pallid manzanita (federally listed as threatened and state listed as endangered), Presidio clarkia (federal and state endangered), most beautiful jewelflower (California Native Plant Society list 1B; imperiled in California), and San Francisco popcorn flower (state endangered).

“All known occurrences of these rare plants have been surveyed and mapped and therefore can be avoided during development and fire management activities. Effective vegetation management and fire hazard reduction does not require the destruction of unique and at-risk local wildflowers,” said Jeff Miller, spokesperson for the Center. “The City of Oakland should be proud to host four unique plant species and ought to be the champion for their conservation. Regardless, it must comply with environmental laws that mandate their protection, and we intend to hold the City accountable.”

Pallid manzanita (Arctostaphylos pallida) has a very limited distribution in chaparral habitat in the East Bay Hills; it occurs nowhere else. The species needs fire to reproduce, requiring sterilized soil and scarification of seeds to germinate. There are only 13 known occurrences of pallid manzanita in the East Bay. Of these, ten are within or adjacent to the upper Sausal Creek watershed in Oakland. The plants are found near Skyline Boulevard in or adjacent to Huckleberry, Sibley, Redwood and Joaquin Miller parks. Recent surveys of pallid manzanita show that the population numbers only 25 percent of the estimates reported in a 2002 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Recovery Plan for the species.

The Oakland Hills’ population of pallid manzanita has been reduced by almost half during the past two decades, largely due to the destruction of plants by City operations and lack of proper management. Since the 1991 Oakland Hills fire, the City has carried out vegetation and fire management activities, including grazing, herbicide spraying and contracted manual vegetation removal, that have caused substantial losses. For instance, recent goat grazing contributed to the loss of the entire population of 19 plants at Manzanita Flat in Joaquin Miller Park. The City’s failure to provide legally required habitat protection measures for the Chabot Space and Science Center destroyed 10 of the original 21 plants at the site. Many pallid manzanita plants in the Oakland Hills have been bulldozed for development. A population was destroyed after the City sold a property that supported pallid manzanita for development. Introduced landscape and weedy plant species compete with the remnant population, and herbicide use has reduced regeneration of pallid manzanita along Skyline Boulevard.

Presidio clarkia (Clarkia franciscana) is a beautiful lavender-pink native flower that grows only on serpentine soils in the Presidio of San Francisco and the Oakland Hills. Only six remaining fragmented populations of Presidio clarkia have been documented in the Oakland Hills in and around Redwood Regional Park. Premature vegetation management at three sites in the Oakland Hills in 2005 resulted in destruction of clarkia prior to seed set and dispersal, posing a significant threat to the continued survival of Presidio clarkia in Oakland.

The most beautiful jewelflower (Streptanthus albidus ssp. peramoenus) was listed as a federal species of concern by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1990. There are only two known populations of most beautiful jewelflower in Oakland. San Francisco popcorn flower (Plagiobothrys diffusus) is only found in six locations, with Alameda County’s lone population residing in Oakland. Vegetation and fire management operations threaten Oakland’s extremely limited popcorn flower habitat as well.

The City has illegally allowed housing development and subdivisions in the Crestmont Drive area near Redwood Road to proceed without adequate environmental review of the impacts on special-status plant species occurring there, including Presidio clarkia and most beautiful jewelflower. The City has proposed approval of housing developments in this area without obtaining a permit to destroy the plants under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) or reviewing the impacts under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and has ignored recommendations of the Open Space, Conservation and Recreation element of the City’s General Plan. The City allowed subdivision in 2000 using an erroneous determination of no impacts on special status species at the site. The City is required to prepare an Environmental Impact Report under CEQA when a project has the potential to reduce the number or restrict the range of an endangered, rare or threatened species. The City is also prohibited from causing the destruction of any California listed species unless it has a permit under CESA to do so. The City has allowed development to occur in the Oakland Hills that destroyed listed plants or their habitat without either CESA permitting or CEQA review of impacts, with the inappropriate use of a Mitigated Negative Declaration or Categorical Exemption, and without performing floristic surveys during the period of identification for special status plants.

The City’s vegetation management actions that destroy listed plants have been conducted without securing legal permits or exemptions and are in violation of CESA and the federal Endangered Species Act. The Center has expressed concern that the City’s vegetation management activities may also illegally harm the Alameda whipsnake (Masticophis lateralis euryxanthus), a federally listed threatened species that inhabits portions of the Oakland Hills.

The Center is demanding that the City immediately consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG), East Bay Regional Park District and local watershed groups regarding the locations of imperiled species; discontinue its practices that illegally destroy them; and take steps to protect and recover the plants and their habitats. The City is also legally obligated to prepare an Environmental Impact Report for any project likely to affect these species. Additionally, the Center is requesting that the City mitigate for its extensive past destruction and illegal take of listed plant species by implementing the recommendations of the USFWS 2002 Draft Recovery Plan for Chaparral and Scrub Community Species East of San Francisco Bay, California, the USFWS 1998 Recovery Plan for Serpentine Soils of the San Francisco Bay Area, and the CDFG 1987 Alameda Manzanita Recovery Plan.


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