“Goldilocks” plant once believed in danger of extinction now no longer threatened in the wild

a close up of a yellow flower.

The San Benito evening primrose is a small, annual plant with bright yellow flowers once thought to be in danger of extinction. It is now being found more commonly in the coast range in California’s San Benito, Monterey and Fresno counties. Credit: Ryan O’Dell/BLM


By Ashley McConnell
June 1, 2020

A small, annual plant with bright yellow flowers once thought to be in danger of extinction is being found more commonly in the coast range in California’s San Benito, Monterey and Fresno counties, prompting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to propose removing it from the Federal List of Threatened and Endangered Wildlife and Plants.

“Whenever we can propose the delisting of a species due to ESA-inspired partnerships and improved science, it is a good day,” said Service director Aurelia Skipwith. “Thanks to the efforts of the Bureau of Land Management over the course of three decades, our scientific understanding of the San Benito evening primrose has improved and habitat for the plant has been restored and protected.”

yellow flowers

The San Benito evening primrose is being proposed for delisting under the Endangered Species Act. Credit: Ryan O’Dell/BLM

The Service listed the San Benito evening primrose as threatened under the ESA in 1985 due to ongoing threats of motorized recreation activities and commercial mining operations. Since then, the Service has worked to use the best available scientific information to inform our decisions regarding species’ classification on the Federal List of Threatened and Endangered Wildlife and Plants.

“The Endangered Species Act is a mobilizer that brings resources to the table to help the scientific community and land managers better understand how our local ecosystems – plants, wildlife and their habitats – are faring,” said Steve Henry, field supervisor with the Service in Ventura. “As a result of ESA protections, we were able to gather the best available science regarding the species, including how its threats have changed over time. This resulted in a proposal to delist the species.”

At the time of listing, the San Benito evening primrose was documented in only nine locations in a small area of San Benito County. Annual surveys for the species have since found more than 100 areas across multiple watersheds in portions of San Benito, Monterey and Fresno counties.

a sparse rocky landscape with a few yellow flowers

San Benito evening primrose at Clear Creek Management Area. The plant grows only in specific areas of the serpentine landscape. Credit: Ryan O’Dell/BLM

“The San Benito evening primrose is a unique California species that thrives in the absence of competing vegetation. It occupies a bit of a ‘goldilocks’ niche, surviving best in areas with serpentine soils and moderate disturbance, which are unsuitable to many other species,” said Todd Lemein, Service botanist. “What you may observe growing above ground may only be a small fraction of what lies within the soil seed bank.”

a man kneeling on the ground holding a plant

Todd Lemein is a botanist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Ventura, California. Lemein worked with a team to review the status of the San Benito evening primrose using the best available science. Credit: USFWS

The primary threats to the species at the time of listing no longer threaten the plant’s survival in the wild. The threat of motorized vehicle recreation was reduced partially due to a 2008 finding from the Environmental Protection Agency that found motorized vehicle use exposed riders to a higher than acceptable risk of naturally-occurring asbestos at the Bureau of Land Management’s Clear Creek Management Area in San Benito County. This finding resulted in a temporary prohibition of vehicle use where San Benito evening primrose was known to occur. In 2014, formal restrictions on motorized vehicle use were included in the BLM’s Resource Management Plan to protect human health.

“The recovery of San Benito evening primrose is the culmination of 35 years of planning, protection, restoration, survey, monitoring and scientific research,” said Ryan O’Dell, natural resource specialist with the BLM Central Coast Field Office. “Endangered species recovery is a worthy goal, and it is achievable.”

The Service regularly engages conservation partners, the public, landowners, government agencies, and other stakeholders in our ongoing effort to identify innovative strategies for conserving and recovering protected wildlife, plants, and their habitats.

The proposal to delist the San Benito evening primrose published in the Federal Register on June 1, 2020, opening a 60-day public comment period. The Service will consider comments from all interested parties received by July 31, 2020. Information on how to submit comments is available at www.regulations.gov by searching under docket number FWS–R8–ES–2019–0065.

 

Ashley McConnell

Ashley McConnell

About the writer...

Ashley McConnell is the public affairs supervisor for the Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office. Ashley established her love of wildlife and the great outdoors as a child exploring national parks in South Africa. Today, she guides a team of communicators who tell stories about the unique and diverse wildlife and wild places of the southern and central California coast.

You can find more of their work at http://www.fws.gov/ventura and http://www.facebook.com/VenturaFWO

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