by Jaimie Baxter
This post is the fourth in a year-long series celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act. Read the previous post here.
When you think of a species in peril, what comes to mind? In the San Francisco Bay Area, most would say the mission blue butterfly (Aricia icarioides missionensis) or the coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch). These two species are well-known in the Bay Area for their dwindling numbers and declining habitat. The mission blue butterfly was Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s (GGNRA’s) “Species of the Year” in 2011. This meant that educational programs, events and restoration activities throughout the year on GGNRA lands were focused on this sensitive species. As for the coho, these salmon gained front-page real estate in the San Francisco Chronicle more than once for their spectacular spawning rituals. So, what about the lesser-known endangered species? The ones that are not awarded “Species of the Year” but still face habitat threats and alarming declines in population numbers? Endangered species such as the Baker’s larkspur (Delphinium bakeri) have not received the same attention, but they face the same threat of extinction.
The plight of the Baker’s larkspur has been mentioned in past MMWD blog entries, yet much needs to be done to spread the word about this species that only has one small, wild and natural occurrence in the entire world. This population exists on a steep slope in an oak woodland near Soulajule Reservoir in West Marin. Habitat conversion, grazing and roadside maintenance activities have contributed to declining numbers of Baker’s larkspur populations in other areas. Early in 2010, the Marin Municipal Water District, the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the UC Botanical Garden partnered to find suitable habitat in which to plant nursery-propagated specimens of the endangered Baker’s larkspur. Along with members of the California Native Plant Society, these partners planted the larkspur at three sites near Soulajule Reservoir. Directly after the planting, monitoring efforts were encouraging, and optimism filled the air for this fragile, blue-and-purple flower.
Unfortunately, the latest reports state that, while some one-year-old plants survive, it’s too early to know if they will continue to survive the years to come. Holly Forbes of the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden says, “The banana slugs are eating the adult plants. I guess the larkspurs are just so tasty we need to find sites the slugs can’t reach.” Banana slugs are native to Marin County, are often yellow in color and sometimes spotted with brown—just like an overripe banana. To them, the Baker’s larkspur is tasty and because of this, MMWD, the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the UC Botanical Garden attempted to make banana slug cages to protect planted areas. As Holly mentioned in her recent report, the banana slugs are still making dinner of the larkspurs, unfortunately. So, not only have the Baker’s larkspur faced immense pressure from human disturbance, they are now being preyed upon by banana slugs. When will these attractive wildflowers get a break?
Although the mission blue butterflies and coho salmon get the most attention, there are other species disappearing in our wake, other species such as the Baker’s larkspur. But we’re not giving up! Despite initial problems with predators, we hope to gain the upper hand on the banana slugs and help the Baker’s larkspur survive and flourish.