Listing the Rare Refugio Manzanita as an Endangered Species

Today, we and our partner, Los Padres ForestWatch, submitted a technical request to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to add the extremely rare Refugio manzanita to the country’s list of endangered species. This manzanita species can only be found along a narrow ridgeline in the Santa Ynez Mountains between Gaviota and Santa Ynez Peaks. Listing the species as endangered would offer more protection from vegetation removal projects and development. More details below.

Santa Barbara, CA — Today,  the California Chaparral Institute and Los Padres ForestWatch submitted a technical request to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Refugio manzanita (Arctostaphylos refugioensis) as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA). This rare plant can only be found in one place on Earth: along the Santa Ynez Mountain Crest between Gaviota and Santa Ynez Peaks in Santa Barbara County.

Discovered by botanist Roman Gankin in 1966 while he was exploring the Refugio Pass near Gaviota, the Refugio manzanita is an evergreen shrub that can grow up to approximately 15 feet tall. Like other manzanitas, its bark is a striking red color and its flowers are urn-shaped and white or pink. However, the Refugio manzanita, unlike many other manzanita species, only regenerates from seed rather than resprouting from the base of its trunk.

11 Legacy A refug

The Refugio manzanita is only found between 1,000 and 3,200 feet in the Santa Ynez Mountains between Gaviota Peak near Highway 101 and Santa Ynez Peak just east of Refugio Road. It has one of the most limited ranges of all manzanita species in the world. “This species is part of the rich and unique natural heritage that makes the Santa Barbara region so special,” said ForestWatch Conservation Director Bryant Baker. “It deserves to be protected.”

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Very High Fire Hazard. They approved it anyway.

For those of us who experienced the 2003 Cedar Fire in San Diego, the comparison between it and the 2017 Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa are striking. Below are before and after photos of Fountaingrove in Santa Rosa and Scripps Ranch in San Diego.

Unlike 2003, Google Earth has jumped right on the post fire images. It took them about 6 months to have images of the 2003 post fire scenes so all you get is mostly bulldozed lots. With the Tubbs Fire, the images of the charred homes are so clear its almost as if ashes are still smoking. Go to Google now and see the damage. It’s heart breaking. Below are some of those images.

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A Plea to Journalists – Wildfires in California: please investigate poor land planning rather than denigrating the region’s iconic, native ecosystem

Many in the fire science community are disappointed by the recent reporting in High Country News (HCN) on the tragic fires in northern California (Shrub-choked wildlands played a role in California fires, HCN 10/24/2017).

Portraying the ecology of the region as “choked” by native shrublands not only demonizes California’s richly biodiverse, characteristic habitat, the chaparral, but fails to come close to explaining why and how the fires occurred. Little effort was made in the article to help readers understand the situation. Instead, the article simply repeated hackneyed phrases over-used to describe fires in the western US.

Every fire is different. Large, high-intensity wildfires have long been a natural feature of these chaparral landscapes. What has changed is that we have put people in harm’s way.

A quick overview on Google Earth of what burned in the devastating Tubbs Fire would have revealed that it was not “shrub-choked wildlands,” but rather a complex patchwork of non-native grasslands, oak woodland, conifers, chaparral, and unfortunately, a lot of homes intermixed.
http://google.org/crisismap/google.com/2017-tubbs-fire

Tubbs veg area south no fire

“Shrub-choked wildlands?” The area burned in the Tubbs Fire was actually a complex patchwork of non-native grasslands, oak woodland, conifers, chaparral, and unfortunately, a lot of homes intermixed. Most of this area shown above burned within the southern portion of the Tubbs Fire, including the neighborhood of Coffey Park (in the lower left hand corner).

Tubbs distance with arrow

The distance of the devastated neighborhood of Coffey Park (tip of arrow) was approximately 1.6 miles from any significant amounts of wildland vegetation (beginning of arrow). Brown/amber colored areas under arrow indicate non-native grasslands burned during the Tubbs Fire.

Blaming nature and past efforts by firefighters to save lives and property through fire suppression ignores the actual problem – poorly planned communities in high fire risk areas.

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