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Attention: please return to this post as pictures and links are added through the end of October.

The Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA) proposed expansion parcel of more than 3000 acres, otherwise known as Tesla Park to those supportive of its preservation, is not yet safe from the impacts of Off- Highway Vehicle (OHV) recreation. Unfortunately, on Friday, October 21, 2016, the OHMVR Commission convened in Sacramento to approve the General Plan and certify the Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the existing park and expansion. In my three minutes at the podium, I presented a few main points from our EBCNPS letter to the OHMVR Commission. I held out hope that comments from all of the groups in attendance on Friday, may have swayed the commissioners to delay a decision. Our organization has advocated for years that the plan lacks: admission of the significant impacts of OHV recreation to biotic resources; adequate mitigation measures incorporated into this EIR; and most importantly, adequate plant surveys.

The OHMVR Commission heard public comments from about 50 people, approximately 11:00am to 3:45pm, with a lunch break. A multitude of organizations, individuals, politicians, local government agencies, and state government agencies have opposed this expansion project. Read the full list here. Members from several of these groups attended an in-person meeting with OHV Division Deputy Director Mathew Fuzie, on October 12, but this did not result in action to stop the Final EIR and General Plan approval process. On a happy note, related to our organization’s past advocacy at several meetings with the Altamont Landfill Open Space Committee, ALOSC submitted a letter declaring their support for prioritizing funding applications for acquiring or conserving the Tesla expansion area. Commissioners on Friday took only about 15 minutes to review the stack of letters submitted into the record, and then continued with questions for staff regarding some of the comments heard from the public. A couple of public agency representatives also returned to the podium for a few minutes of commission questioning.

By this point, astute listeners realized the public had not yet seen a document referenced to several times throughout the day, and this realization resulted in a big hiccup. The commission had referenced the existence of a CEQA document called a “Statement of Overriding Considerations,” as an existing document already created by the Director of State Parks. This type of document is important for understanding how an agency addressed environmental impact analysis concerns, because it provides an outline that typically both acknowledges significant impacts and declares the agency- level (State Parks’) reasoning for ignoring these impacts. In a last minute twist before a commission vote, the commission broke to tell the remaining audience we would receive a copy of this Statement so as to read it, immediately followed (about 10 minutes later) by a supplementary public comment period. The text of two resolution documents were distributed, which referenced the Statement. But, it ended up that the meeting was adjourned without the public ever having seen the text of this Statement (still unavailable as of this writing). The commissioners themselves appeared not to have read this Statement yet, or know whether or not it existed. Remaining members of the public were allowed two minutes to comment on the resolutions. In my brief reading, these resolutions did not provide substantive information on the agency’s reasoning for dismissing significant impacts. They simply declared the OHMVR Commission’s intent to approve the General Plan and certify the Final EIR. Certainly, under no circumstance is a 10 minute review of any document sufficient for public comment. Minutes later, the commission adopted the resolutions. The ultimate meaning of this hasty action will be addressed by Friends of Tesla Park and others undertaking likely future litigation.

Read EBCNPS comment letter here.

Our conclusion holds that Tesla is not an appropriate place for OHVs, and comparing areas within it to each other to find a “relatively” appropriate development area for OHVs is inappropriate. The General Plan’s Preferred Concept Map clearly demonstrates project intentions for construction of facilities of all types, including trails. Think of this: A programmatic EIR is the last and only environmental analysis document that would look at the Carnegie SVRA and Tesla as a whole recreational facility. Did I mention, that Carnegie SVRA’s only recognized significant impact in these reports, was impacts to air quality?

In the coming months, return for updates on the status of the ill-conceived Carnegie SVRA Tesla expansion project. Following certification of an EIR, the public is also notified of State Parks’ intention to carry out the project when they file a Notice of Determination. We hope that Carnegie SVRA understands that work cannot proceed until at least this notice is posted, as well as a 30- day period following the posting. Additionally, although we question Carnegie’s allegiance to this fact, this Final EIR commits to subsequent environmental review processes before any project proceeds. Regardless, the valuable resources on Tesla should not be consumed as they would be with OHV recreation activity, and we continue to hope Tesla will be preserved.

 

A few main points I covered, also in the EBCNPS comment letter dated October 21, 2016:

The conclusion of no significant impact on biotic resources is not supported. Facility siting and trail design so as to avoid sensitive species and communities is not viable. This avoidance strategy is demonstrated as ineffective based on the history and currently regular occurrence of illegal and unmitigated off-trail damage occurring at Carnegie SVRA even in trails-only areas. Additionally, the vaguely qualified standards of success for project goals are stated as “relative” to an uncertain and unclarified standard of time or management, without descriptions of quantifiable failure or success measurements. Certainly these have been learned from years of Carnegie SVRA operations. Leaving past work and lessons learned unrecognized will place natural resources at risk.

Plant Goal 1 and Plant Guidelines 1.1 to 1.6 of the General Plan will not adequately protect special-status plant resources or sensitive natural communities. The General Plan’s goals and guidelines for plants are necessary but insufficient to identify and avoid special-status plants during planning of future projects. This General Plan is intended to be “sufficient for future planning processes,” including expansion into Tesla. Approval of this document in its current condition, would set a guideline for unacceptable baseline inventory criteria throughout the Carnegie SVRA. The Final EIR and General Plan lack suitable rare plant survey efforts that don’t allow for true impact analysis.

Even the currently deficient state of surveys for this EIR demonstrate an abundance of overlapping rare plant occurrences, habitats, and sensitive natural communities, all with legitimate legal protection status. Already, the opportunity for on-the-ground protocol project surveys which would assist in determining cumulative impacts over the entire project, has been pigeon-holed into checking in on known occurrence information which is itself from spottily- acquired and outdated original survey work. Where there could be significant impacts, it is inadequate to defer impact analysis and/or mitigation measures to subsequent CEQA analysis, especially as there are not any provisions ensuring that impact analysis and/or mitigation would occur.

Apparently, no combination of resources (biotic, cultural, etc) is deemed valuable enough to completely ban OHV facilities from any area of Tesla or Carnegie SVRA, according to the project’s Preferred Concept Map legend descriptions in the General Plan. A reasonable consideration and preparation for avoidance is required before an agency is allowed to delve into mitigation measures. Supposedly limiting trails to the “minimum necessary to serve their intended purpose” is simply appropriate protocol for management of a trail located anywhere. An actual commitment to avoiding impacts on sensitive resources would specify at least some areas where all OHV facilities are banned with no exception, or would provide language on methods of avoidance, with at least as much specificity as proposed mitigation measures. The EIR needs to take into account potential impacts from imperfect enforcement and management mis-steps, not rely solely on perfect management as its own class of mitigation measure.

Some of the inadequately acknowledged/ surveyed rare plants we have brought to their attention include an unidentified Fritillary species (Fritillaria sp.), and CNPS Rare Plant Rank 1B species such as bent-flowered fiddleneck (Amsinckia lunaris), recurved larkspur (Delphinium recurvatum), Tracy’s eriastrum (Eriastrum tracyi), Mt. Diablo phacelia (Phacelia phacelioides), and many others. EBCNPS Rank A species also previously mentioned include shredding evening primrose (Eremothera boothii ssp. decorticans), green fiddleneck (Amsinckia vernicosa), large flowered fiddleneck (Amsinckia grandiflora), few flowered buckwheat (Eriogonum nudum var. pauciflorum), and many others. These species have been overlooked as “unlikely to occur” even as “potentially suitable habitat” on site is acknowledged, and supporting surveys were not performed.

The OHMVR Commission did conclude that a programmatic EIR was an appropriate level of analysis for this project. Briefly, allow me to explain that opting for a programmatic EIR is not by itself objectionable. For some projects where future project plans are uncertain, this selection of a less-specific analysis document is appropriate. However, in this case, our organization does not recognize that Carnegie SVRA has met the requirements for surveys and impact analysis of even a programmatic EIR. Proper surveys upon which to base a sound EIR are still absolutely necessary. Selection of a programmatic EIR versus a project- level EIR, may not be the correct choice for Carnegie SVRA given that their project plans are actually quite well- known. The Preferred Concept Map clearly demonstrates project intentions for construction of facilities of all types, including trails. Think of this: A programmatic EIR is the last and only environmental analysis document that would look at the Carnegie SVRA and Tesla as a whole recreational facility. Did I mention, that Carnegie SVRA’s only recognized significant impact in these reports, was impacts to air quality?

Our conclusion holds that Tesla is not an appropriate place for OHVs, and comparing areas within it to each other to find a “relatively” appropriate development area for OHVs is inappropriate. Additional important points our organization has made on why this project does not adequately analyze native plant resources present, include:

  • Mapping units (such as acres) are unclear on the maps, map legends, and survey records. Also, maps do not show all relevant survey results, including appropriate areas and population sizes.
  • All vascular plants need to be identified to a taxonomic level allowing rarity to be determined. State Parks has yet to analyze the genetics of a Fritillary (Fritillaria) which could not be identified by professional botanists using available keys. This means it may be an undescribed species new to science. Until identified, this species merits default treatment as special-status and rare, and thus requires adequate surveys and mapping throughout the project area.
  • Native grass surveys identified species which are indicative of sensitive native grassland communities [purple needlegrass (Stipa pulchra), California melic grass (Melica califonica), June grass (Koeleria macratha), curly blue grass (Poa secunda)], but surveys for these communities were not performed, their identification and potential presence as grassland communities was not disclosed, and thus these individual species and their likely sensitive natural community structures were not analyzed for impacts across Carnegie SVRA.

 

The current version of the Final EIR, is the third attempt in 15 years to approve an EIR including expansion plans into the Tesla expansion parcel. All versions contained little significant change to the project, and continued absence of declaration of significant impacts to biotic resources. This is not what usually occurs for public agencies obligated to follow CEQA process.

 

A 935-unit mixed-use community is proposed for the former Oak Knoll Naval Medical Center.  EBCNPS generally supports redevelopment in urban areas, but commented at community meetings in early 2016 that this project fails to protect a large population of the rare and iconic Oakland star tulip (Calochortus umbellatus) and native needlegrass grassland on the site.

Please attend an upcoming public meeting to learn more on currently published Draft Supplemental EIR. Here is the Agenda (see item 3, pg 6), and Staff Report. Join EBCNPS and speak or submit comments to Oakland City Planning Commission:

6:00PM @ Wednesday, October 5, 2016

@ Council Chambers, City Hall, One Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Oakland

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(Photo: Oakland star tulip, Calochortus umbellatus, CNPS rank 4.2, EBCNPS rank *A2)

Written comments due October 12, 2016 on the Draft Supplemental EIR. We currently reading this document and formulating our comments, but currently, our focus is on:

  • Opposition to proposed relocation of 732 Oakland star tulip bulbs to build houses (see CNPS policies, positions and guidelines, especially Mitigation Guidelines).
  • Opposition to proposed removal of thousands of mature trees. Although we are supportive of removing unhealthy or unsafe trees, and nonative trees in favor of native trees, and generally favor the City of Oakland Tree Preservation Ordinance, we are analyzing their removal and replanting plan for allowing for further protections.
  • Support of Rifle Range Creek restoration plan, especially with inclusion of native plants in landscaping plans.
  • Support removal of eucaluptus at Urban Wildland Interface between the proposed project and surrounding homes.
  • Recommend increased open space on the Oak Knoll itself, where construction of a large outdoor exhibit and extensive accessible trail system with associated parking spaces, are avoidable large scale impacts that should be reduced or reconsidered completely.
  • Recommend equipment hygiene standards for reducing spread of invasive weeds.

Please let us know if you would like to join our efforts. Keep an eye out for more updates throughout the month of October.

Karen Whitestone

conservation@ebcnps.org

Many land conservation nonprofits in the bay area have locally focused goals or land acquisition targets, but the Bay Area Open Space Council (BAOSC) is the unique glue that effectively bonds us together around important causes. On September 29, 2016, BAOSC hosted an informative presentation and panel discussion on how local nonprofits are using social media for land conservation in the Bay Area. About 125 representatives attended, and we were all curious on how to better engage the public with all the tools available today.

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(Photo: Annie Burke of Bay Area Open Space Council, Lesley Hunt of Walnut Creek Open Space Foundation, Karen Whitestone EBCNPS, at the Brower Center in Berkeley)

I saw some familiar faces over lunch! And made valuable new connections. How do we use images to win hearts and minds, and get work done? This is truly the question of our century. My main takeaway was the importance of strategy and planning before tactics. Was I tempted to go sign us up immediately for Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Instagram accounts? Of course. EBCNPS can better learn how to use these tools in advocacy for land use decisions (favoring parks and open space, and associated public health benefits), and attracting attention of public citizens and public officials. We need a strategy in place, and I am excited to bring this information to our Conservation Committee and the chapter overall. We also should be prepared to continually generate shareable content and feed these channels, in order to get in front of a wider (hint, mobile) audience.

Do you have ideas for setting out our strategy? Is this an area where you have skills to share with EBCNPS? Consider volunteering with us to boost awareness for our organization.

Karen Whitestone

conservation@ebcnps.org

Mountain View Cemetery, a famously beautiful location for contemplation and recreation in the City of Oakland, also harbors many old- growth Oak trees (Quercus agrifolia) that face the chopping block in the cemetery’s expansion plans. Comments  on Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) were due August 1, 2016, plus an extension. Read EBCNPS comments.

Recent other media coverage: East Bay Times: Mountain View Cemetery Seeks to Ax Oakland Oaks (Conservation Committee Chair Jean Robertson, photo credit Mark Hedin)

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Established in 1863 and encompassing 226 acres of rolling hills at the head of Piedmont Avenue, the main portion of the Mountain View Cemetery was designed by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. The cemetery plans to greatly expand the developed area, involving massive land moving, removal of at least 190 mature oak trees, and potential impacts on many more mature oaks. These trees and the oak woodland habitat provide an oasis of natural serenity within the urban setting. EBCNPS commented that the proposed project fails to fully describe impacts on the oaks and woodland, provides inadequate protections for remaining oaks on the site, and urged adoption of a less-impacting alternative.

The planning commissioners and the City of Oakland Staff received many more comments from the public (over 100 e-mails and phone calls), expressing support for retaining the native trees, which include many large individual trees as well as entire swaths and groves. We are all currently in a waiting period, as the comments on the Draft EIR are officially processed. The response to comments can come as early as October, or perhaps up to three more months away.

We encouraged those who learned about the project from EBCNPS, to copy my email address conservation@ebcnps.org when submitting their comments. The following is a thank you letter EBCNPS sent out to those passionate citizens on August 31, 2016.

 

Thank You to Supporters of the Mountain View Cemetery Live Oak Trees:  

The East Bay California Native Plant Society (EBCNPS) would like to take this opportunity to thank you for submitting comments to the City of Oakland, regarding the proposed expansion project at Mountain View Cemetery.  As the Conservation Analyst for EBCNPS, I also submitted suggestions and objections on behalf of our organization. We focused most on the potential removal of 190 or more coastal live oak trees (scientific name, Quercus agrifolia).

Perhaps you first heard of the project from one of your friends. We know that not everyone copied my email address when rushing to make sure their message reached Catherine Payne, of the Oakland Planning Department. All of our impact together surely resounded in the inboxes of the Oakland City Planning Commissioners and the Mayor. You raised important points ranging from your love of oak trees, desire to save habitat for wildlife, and wish to conserve water and other environmental issues. I was touched to read heartfelt emails from people who have family buried at Mountain View Cemetery, and from those who enjoy it as a refuge for solitude, bird watching and walking.  It was obvious: we all love Oakland. Specifically, we showed we care about this peaceful parcel of land with the magnificent live oak trees.

So, what happens next? In a public process such as this, we can expect the City of Oakland to take time to read through our submissions, and hopefully, make revisions to the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR). All those who submitted comments  should receive notice of the next public distribution and comment period regarding this proposed project EIR (even if your comments were submitted after the August 1, 2016 deadline).

City of Oakland Planning and Zoning Commission: Mountain View Cemetery Proposed Expansion Project 2016, and future updates posted on this City of Oakland website. The City may take 3 to 6 months to respond to all the comments submitted.

Are you interested in remaining on my email list, specific to upcoming Mountain View Cemetery proposed expansion project developments? Do you belong to a foundation or organization that would also like to submit their opinion? Could you assist with lobbying? Part of the EBCNPS plan includes greater media coverage for this project.

We are also considering arranging meetings with public officials in order to gain favor for requiring large changes to this project proposal, or even, rejecting it altogether. If we can count on you to be ready to support the next steps to save the live oak trees, and for news specific to the Mountain View Cemetery expansion proposal, please email me directly at conservation@ebcnps.org.

Karen Whitestone

 

Are you a Richmond registered voter? Please seek out a signature booth and confidently add your name to the list of those favoring preservation of the Richmond Hills! This open space near Wildcat Canyon and San Pablo Dam Road would remain open space if you sign this petition, shifting development pressure to areas already served by public transport and utilities. Long term protection would be afforded for this land, which could only be changed into the future by voters in Richmond. Read more about the initiative and its complete text here: https://savetherichmondhills.org/

Through September 2016, the Save the Richmond Hills group will be canvassing neighborhoods and public gatherings, as well as tabling in front of markets throughout the city of Richmond. The California Native Plant Society, East Bay chapter, is a notable supporter printed on the initiative along with the San Francisco Bay chapter of the Sierra Club. The threshold for success of this initiative hovers around 6000 signatures. A translation to the Spanish is currently being processed. You can receive regular updates through their Facebook page, or even volunteer to petition for signatures! Volunteer efforts have won more than 80% of signatures needed. Let’s contribute to the final push.

Our chapter supports this initiative because a portion of this parcel overlaps with an area we qualify as having both potential and documented botanical richness, the Sobrante Ridge Botanical Priority Protection Area (BPPA map). Northern Maritime Chaparral is a sensitive natural community here. Rare and unique plant species include Pallid manzanita (Arctostaphylos pallida), Bent-flowered fiddleneck (Amsinckia lunaris), Western leatherwood (Dirca occidentalis), and Shreve’s oak (Quercus parvula var. shrevei) at it’s only location in the East Bay. These native plant resources may actually extend into this neighboring initiative area, and, at the very least, would be hugely affected by any nearby development and urbanization potentially occurring at the Richmond Hills Initiative Area.

Our chapter’s Conservation Committee and Board of Directors agree that the initiative presents robust reasoning to protect open space and wildlife in the Richmond Hills Initiative Area, as an amendment to the Richmond General Plan.

Karen Whitestone

For more than ten years, the California Endangered Species Act list has languished without additions. On August 25, 2016, the California Fish and Wildlife Commission voted unanimously to grant Endangered Status to the Livermore tarplant (Deinandra bacigalupii). We congratulate all involved in this monumental achievement! It was nearly two years ago that our East Bay chapter’s Rare Plant Chair, Heath Bartosh, submitted the key petition paperwork in 2014 to the Department of Fish and Wildlife. (Featured image credit, Heath Bartosh)

Dienandra bacigalupii was named in honor of Rimo Bacigalupi, first Curator of the Jepson Herbarium. It is an annual Aster with radiate yellow flowers displayed from June to October. D. bacigalupii prefers alkaline, poorly drained, and seasonally dry soil. Livermore tarplant is endemic to the Livermore Valley and does not co-occur with other tarplants in the Deinandra genus, even though its aromatic smell and some rough morphological characters are reminiscent. Unfortunately, only a handful of small populations of Livermore tarplant currently exist, and only one large primary occurrence, which overlaps with EBCNPS’ Springtown Botanical Priority Protection Area. Since informal tracking began ten years ago, at least one population has been completely lost due to construction, and all suffer threat of habitat destruction, as well as encroachment from nonnative plant species and unpermitted recreation activities, etc. Recognizing and protecting highly vulnerable, rare native plants is the ideal outcome of the California Endangered Species Act listing process (and here is more general info on laws protecting California native plants).

Efforts to document Livermore tarplant’s distribution and threats to existence since its original description in 1999, demonstrate the dedicated efforts of many. This is a success that can be shared by all involved in the process but especially Jeb Bjerke (CDFW), Cherilyn Burton (CDFW), Jim Andre (CNPS), Greg Suba (CNPS), Bruce Baldwin (UC/JEPS), Sue Bainbridge (UC/JEPS), and Heath Bartosh (EBCNPS). Thank you to everyone who contributed. With this listing, this very rare plant has the highest level of protection in California, especially on private land. The Department of Fish and Wildlife’s staff recommendations encompass a full description of the plant and its habitat, and shows the timeline for consideration of the petition.

Specifically, the motion which approved the Livermore tarplant petition, reads:

the Commission, pursuant to Section 2075.5 of the Fish and Game Code, found the information contained in the petition to list Livermore taplant (Deinandra bacigalupii), and the other information in the record before the Commission warrants listing Livermore tarplant as an endangered species under the California Endangered Species Act.

AND

the Commission, authorizes publication of its intent to amend Section 670.2, Title 14, CCR, to add Livermore tarplant to the list of plants of California declared to be endangered.

Unfortunately, a lack of additions to the endangered species status list is likely not due to a lack of endangered species in California. We hope this success will encourage a resurgence of petition submittals.

Karen Whitestone

More media:

East Bay Times: Livermore Flower Placed on Endangered Species List 

Bay Nature: Livermore Tarweed

CNPS Fremontia, volume 43.1: Future Directions for the CNPS Rare Plant Program, article describing the unfortunate “strong disconnect between the numbers of qualifying taxa and the reality of successful listing efforts.”

 

 

 

Remember Mount Diablo Buckwheat? Amazingly rediscovered from extinction back in 2005, this dainty pink plant made news worldwide, and was a monumental find for a UC Berkeley graduate student.

Fast forward to 2016. Yes, amazingly, botanists found more. A lot more! The still-rare plant Mount Diablo Buckwheat, Eriogonum trucatum (CNPS Rare Plant Rank 1B.1), also exists in an undisclosed location in Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve. This population is close to 2 million individuals, a veritable sea of pink at the right time of year. Special thanks to our EBCNPS Rare Plants Chair, Heath Bartosh, for his work with agencies throughout Contra Costa County to promote protection of rare plants.

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(Photo Credits: Scott Hein/Heinphoto.com, or Heath Bartosh/Nomad Ecology)

You know what else is nearby the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve? The Sand Creek Focus Area, also in Antioch. EBCNPS stands with several other local nonprofit environmental groups to advocate for sizable conservation of this 4-square-mile area, which was originally planned as extensive low-density residential developments. Save Mount Diablo has mapped two preferable scenarios advocating preservation of hillsides west of Deer Valley Road, and a reduction of planned development covering the entire valley in favor of concentrating higher-density development near the Kaiser Hospital. The next public meeting on this topic held by the Antioch Planning Commission will be September 21, 2016.

Suitable habitat for the Mount Diablo Buckwheat occurs at the Sand Creek Focus Area? Only time and proper botanical surveys will tell…

Karen Whitestone

 

Official press release below:

ANTIOCH – Thanks in part to a team of renowned botanists contracted by the East Bay Regional Park District to survey wildland vegetation in Eastern Contra Costa County, the endangered wildflower Mount Diablo Buckwheat was identified as thriving at Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve in Antioch, California.

Botanist Heath Bartosh working on behalf of EBRPD came across his discovery in May 2016, along with colleague Brian Peterson of Nomad Ecology. A collaborative called the Mount Diablo Buckwheat Working Group has been actively searching for the rare plant since it was first discovered Mount Diablo State Park in 2005.  The Buckwheat working group is made up of members representing California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California Native Plant Society California State Parks, East Bay Regional Park District, Save Mount Diablo, UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley, the U.C. Berkeley Jepson Herbarium and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

When the beautiful Mount Diablo buckwheat was rediscovered in 2005 at Mount Diablo State Park by U.C Berkeley graduate student Michael Park—after being thought extinct for 69 years—there were only 20 of the wildflowers at a single spot in the entire world. Locating the plant has been “the holy grail” for East Bay botanists and news of the rediscovery spread quickly.

The initial discovery of the plant in 2005 unleashed a tremendous amount of public attention around the world, coming just weeks after the possible rediscovery of the ivory-billed woodpecker, also long thought extinct. The buckwheat’s rediscovery attracted media attention in countries around the world and from sources as varied as conservationist Jane Goodall and from an L.A.-based Korean language news source where Park’s parents learned the news. .

After the 2005 rediscovery at Mount Diablo seeds were collected and camera traps installed to monitor the wild population. Beginning in 2006, plants were propagated at UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley. Seeds are stored in multiple seed banks. Efforts made to increase the population at Mt. Diablo have been challenging, but were successful in increasing numbers even during repeated years of drought. The discovery site was kept secret to protect the species.

Habitat was mapped and explored over the next ten years but no additional populations of the plant were found. There was just one location for the critically endangered plant, on the brink of extinction, with just 100-200 plants. Until now.

In May, Heath Bartosh and Brian Peterson of Nomad Ecology were conducting botanical surveys on East Bay Regional Park District’s Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve and found a second population of the Mount Diablo buckwheat. Unlike the sparse population of 100-200 plants at Mount Diablo, the new discovery site was estimated to include approximately 1.8 million plants – but in just two patches totaling approximately a half acre.

“I’m so thrilled to share this news, it’s the find of a career” said botanist Heath Bartosh of Nomad Ecology. “Brian Peterson and I found a new population of Mount Diablo buckwheat while conducting rare plant surveys for East Bay Regional Park District. We were struck by the number of plants at this location and habitat. The most recent records of Mount Diablo buckwheat are from chaparral edges on Mount Diablo. But early California botanist William Brewer, the original discoverer, found it on dry hillsides near Marsh Creek. We recorded this species growing in grassland on highly erosive soils, most likely the same type of habitat Brewer observed. The new information will hopefully lead to the discovery of other new populations. These annual buckwheats have extremely small but resilient seeds; we have much to learn from them.”

Other partners in the Mount Diablo Buckwheat Collaborative shared their thoughts on the newest discovery of the tiny flowers:

  • “Finding the Mount Diablo Buckwheat in Black Diamond Regional Preserve is exciting,” said Matt Graul, Chief of Stewardship at East Bay Regional Park District. “Both known locations of the plant are tiny and on steep slopes that could be easily damaged. A fire or a landslide might completely wipe out one or both of the populations. The locations are being kept secret to protect the endangered plant and the working group waited until the plants have gone to seed to announce the discovery.  The Park District takes our responsibility to be good stewards of this rediscovered treasure incredibly seriously.”
  • “Rediscovery of the Mount Diablo buckwheat was the holy grail for East Bay botanists,” said Seth Adams, Land Conservation Director for Save Mount Diablo. “This plant is so rare botanists haven’t been sure where to look and many references still suggest the species is extinct. On the one hand a second location is good news, but it could be dramatically affected by East County development pressure. Right now, for example, Antioch is considering plans for more than 4,000 houses.”
  • “The Antioch population is a great discovery. Its habitat is quite different from the 2005 rediscovery site, and provides valuable information for efforts to develop new populations,” said Holly Forbes, Curator and Conservation Officer at UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley. Forbes initially collected the wildflower’s seed on Mount Diablo and a dozen plants were successfully germinated at the UC Botanical Garden. Seed have also been collected from the new site. “Our efforts to propagate this species at the Botanical Garden and to protect seeds in seed banks are insurance against natural disaster in habitat.”
  • “The Mount Diablo buckwheat is a Bay Area treasure,” said Cyndy Shafer, a Senior Environmental Scientist for California State Parks. “The new population is giving us more hope than we’ve ever had for the future of this species We are dedicated to preserving the small and fragile Mt. Diablo population.  Luckily both are on public land, demonstrating the immense importance of protected lands in preserving biological diversity. This conservation story has inspired people around the world.”

Expanding the wild population at the Mount Diablo site has been difficult. At one experimental reintroduction site on Mount Diablo the Working Group in January 2015 sowed 80,000 seeds propagated at the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley.  But experimental plantings never yielded more than 100-200 small plants.  The new site at Black Diamond Mines refocuses our understanding to a forgotten kind of habitat.

Eriogonom truncatum was first recorded on May 29, 1862 by William H. Brewer, a member of Josiah Whitney’s California Geological Survey from 1860-1867.  Brewer’s chronicle of the survey, Up and Down California, is an important work of early California history.  What is less well known is that his biological collections during the survey include many of the first discoveries of California species.  This original “type” discovery of the plant was made on “Marsh’s Rancho” the 13,000 acre Mexican rancho acquired by Dr. John Marsh in 1837. Marsh was one of the area’s first American settlers. Over the next 78 years the Mount Diablo buckwheat was found just a handful of times, for a total of seven historic records.

Before the 2005 rediscovery, little had been known about the Mount Diablo buckwheat, Eriogonom truncatum. The plant had been known from just seven locations historically, the last in 1936 by botanist Mary Bowerman who later became co-founder of Save Mount Diablo. The plant had been presumed globally extinct before its discovery at a single site in Mt. Diablo State Park on land which had been protected by Save Mount Diablo.

Since then Eastern Contra Costa has become a nationally recognized biodiversity hot spot for rare species, as well as for intense development pressure.  Thousands of acres have been preserved, including at Black Diamond Mines, the new Deer Valley Regional Preserve, and Marsh Creek State Park. However the area is also threatened by rapid development and thousands of houses proposed in Pittsburg, Antioch, Oakley and Brentwood.

California has about 6,300 native vascular plant species, about 1/3 are endemic (found only) in the state.  Mt. Diablo has 900 plant species of which a quarter are non-native, yet non-natives represent a vast majority of what you see in grassland areas. Twenty-nine plant species on Mt. Diablo are considered rare or endangered and eleven are endemic to Mount Diablo region, including the Mount Diablo buckwheat.

The Mount Diablo buckwheat (Eriogonom truncatum) is an annual herb, 3-24” in height with white to rose colored flowers from mid-April to May (although records show April to December, with May most common). It was historically found in Chaparral, Valley Grassland, and Northern Coastal Scrub habitats, in sandy soil and grassland slopes.  It is thought that competition by introduced non-native plants is responsible for its rarity.  In recent years its historic habitat has been threatened by development pressure.

 

Previous Press Announcements:

Rediscovery, May 2005: http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2005/05/24_buckwheat.shtml

First Propagation, May 2006:  http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2006/06/07_buckwheat.shtml

Key Contacts:

  • Michele Hammond, Botanist, East Bay Regional Park District: cell (510) 913-1417, w (510) 544-2348
  • Heath Bartosh, Principal and Senior Botanist, Nomad Ecology: w (925) 228-3027
  • Seth Adams, Director of Land Conservation Save Mount Diablo: w (925) 947-3535, cell (925) 381-0905
  • Cyndy Shafer, Senior Environmental Scientist, California State Parks, Bay Area District: w (707) 769-5652 x208, cell (707) 481-8113
  • Holly Forbes, Curator and Conservation Officer, University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley: (510) 643-8040

For more information from our chapter’s perspective contact EBCNPS Conservation Analyst, Karen Whitestone: cell (510) 734 0335, conservation@ebcnps.org

Other published articles since September 8, 2016:

SF Gate, East Bay Times, East County Today, SFBay, ScienceAlert

 

On September 13, 2016, the Richmond City Council emerged with heartening news. By unanimous vote, a motion passed for opening up the land use planning process. Some stated frankly that this decision-making clarity was long overdue, and should make sure to account for the wide diversity represented in the City of Richmond. Presented by Councilmember McLaughlin, three public meetings will be scheduled starting in October, “so that the public can provide input on key values for Pt. Molate’s rehabilitation and redevelopment.” (Read the agenda and minutes for item L-2.) Staff agreed to draft a tentative calendar for the public meetings. This is a huge victory!

Opening the Point Molate planning process so that the public can have a voice on the fate of publicly owned land, is what my collaboration this summer with other local environmental groups at Point Molate has been all about: the two tours led by myself and Citizens for Sustainable Point Molate leaders, two documentation trips with local botanists (see our results on Calflora), and one Richmond High School environmental education workshop.

What community benefits can you imagine Point Molate delivering to Richmond citizens, and people of the East Bay? Healthy activity for youth and adults for enjoyment of hiking trails and a campground, values of environmental stewardship, and opportunities for research, all sound more appealing for healthy social benefits, rather than building condos in this special place.

Come and tell the City of Richmond how much you love Point Molate! Listen to presentations on historical background and the different plans proposed over more than a decade of this parcel belonging to the City of Richmond. EBCNPS continues to stand in alliance with many other nonprofit environmental groups to support this public planning process and see it followed through. This beautiful jewel of Richmond deserves no less. Our Conservation Committee is currently forming a position statement that directly declares our ideal land use scenario, advocating first for conservation of precious natural resources.

EBCNPS is fighting hard to protect eelgrass beds, coastal prairie, and diverse chaparral habitats of Point Molate and to ensure an adequate public process for determining appropriate development, despite the City of Richmond’s “closed-door” tendencies and strong pressure to develop this entire 300 acre property owned by Richmond. EBCNPS mounted a very effective targeted email campaign. The response from our members was gratifying and effective. With Citizens for Sustainable Point Molate, EBCNPS also offers tours to interested community members by request, where over a couple hours we explain the native habitat values of the Point Molate watershed and bluff areas, and current politics around land use decisions past and present.

Upstream Development was responsible for the casino concept at Point Molate. Due to the nature of closed sessions, the public is unaware whether the City of Richmond is negotiating a settlement with Upstream Development involving promises for land use, which EBCNPS believes would be an inappropriate decision-making process for a parcel of publicly-owned land. We hope the closed session meetings with Upstream Development will not continue in light of the recent approval for proper process via public meetings. These meetings would provide to the City a window into the public’s preferences- this is our opportunity to bend the City’s ear and significantly influence the final outcome at Point Molate.

More media coverage of the closed door sessions: Oakland Magazine, The Battle for Point Molate; SF Chronicle, Build waterfront parks, not homes for Point Molate. See our chapter’s Bay Leaf archive for more.

Remember, the Point Molate Beach Park on Stenmark Drive is open to the public! Please enjoy it. We protect the places we love.

Karen Whitestone

 

(This post is a revision from a previous post, Plans for Point Molate, published 9/13/2016.)

Point Molate needs your attention once again. There is a City Council meeting happening 5:00pm tonight 6/21/2016. In a closed session, the former proposed casino developer Upstream Development will hold a “conference with legal counsel” regarding existing litigation Upstream holds against the City of Richmond. Arrive before 5:00pm and fill out a speaker card to be heard during the brief window for public comment on the value of Point Molate.

Agenda for City Council meeting 6/21 at 5:00pm TODAY

TODAY JUNE 21, 2016

LOCATION: Community Services Building 440 Civic Center Plaza Richmond, CA 94804

TIME: arrive 4:45pm to fill out a speaker card

We are foremost requesting that any plans for Point Molate be open to public process. We are concerned that Upstream Development will present a new housing development plan to City of Richmond in form of a settlement offer. The City may vote and decide to accept the plan, without asking the public. Many times the residents of Richmond have stood up and said they don’t want inappropriate development there, away from many services and closely neighboring the Chevron refinery. Settling now would be a loss to the City on many fronts. See Citizens for Sustainable Point Molate recent blog post: http://www.cfspm.org/

Our organization will advocate firstly, that land use commitments not be made tonight. We will continue with insisting that want to see the most valuable plant communities preserved, that of the watershed area immediately above the Beach Park. (Have you visited the Point Molate Beach Park on Stenmark Drive yet, which is maintained by volunteers and open to the public?) We believe the best use of this area is as park land, and needs boundary protections for flora from Coastal Prairie bunch grasses stretching all the way up the hillside, to the eel grass beds in the bay.

We do not want decisions made tonight on the fate of this beautiful diverse resource, without due opportunity for public process. We fear that a hasty decision will reflect the City’s current hurt for funds and ignore what the public actually wants there.

CONTACT your Richmond City Council Members today, to voice your concerns. Model letters follow which you are welcome to use. All voices are important at this point, even if you are not a Richmond resident. If Point Molate is important to you we value you adding your voice.

Please help us shed light on Richmond. Thank you. Hope to see you at the meeting tonight.
Sincerely,

Karen Whitestone
Conservation Analyst
East Bay California Native Plant Society

510.734.0335

conservation@ebcnps.org

 

LETTERS:

Pt. Molate Alert – East Bay CNPS, Conservation Committee

Below are Council email addresses and samples to reach Richmond City Council prior to the closed-door session on Pt. Molate, Tues. 5pm

tom.butt@intres.com          natbates@comcast.net               jovanka_beckles@ci.richmond.ca.us     eduardo_martinez@ci.richmond.ca.us                       gayle@definingourdestiny.net      jael_myrick@ci.richmond.ca.us                               vinay_pimple@ci.richmond.ca.us

cc: <conservation@ebcnps.org>

Subject: Open and Public Planning Process for Pt. Molate (short version if you just have a moment)

Please do not make any land use commitments to Upstream or any other developer in closed door session. We ask you to initiate an open and public planning process for zoning of land use at Pt. Molate.

Sincerely,

Richmond resident, member of California Native Plant Society, East Bay Chapter

Subject: Open and Public Planning Process for Pt. Molate (longer version).

This Tuesday, June 21, at 5 p.m. the members of the Richmond City Council will be reviewing in closed session a lawsuit against the City by the casino developer, Upstream Development. Upstream Development has been approaching the City recently, and it is feared that they are trying to obtain Council member approval to build a big housing development in the diverse and ecologically-rich south watershed basin that surrounds the Pt. Molate Beach Park. Their

Housing development in Pt. Molate’s south watershed was one of the proposals rejected by the Richmond voters in November, 2010 when we voted overwhelmingly against Upstream’s project, including the casino. Also, recent business expert advice sought by the City wisely recommends concentrating any development in the Winehaven area, reserving the south watershed as parkland due to its amazing ecological diversity and future value to all Richmond residents.

The City has not yet done a public planning process to codify land use zoning at Pt. Molate. Zoning is a public process and precedes any approval of land use.

We ask that the City Council initiate a public planning process so Richmond residents have a say on land uses at Pt. Molate, and that the Council make no land use commitments until a public planning process for Pt. Molate is completed.

Sincerely,

Richmond resident and member, California Native Plant Society, East Bay Chapter

On 29 March 2016, our chapter’s Conservation Committee gathered at a volunteer’s private home to discuss current native plant conservation issues in the East Bay Area. Here is an outline of our main topics:

  • Antioch, CA: Vineyards at Sand Creek development: Several of our volunteers have attended public meetings to understand the impacts of this housing plan on our Four Valleys Botanical Priority Protection Area (BPPA) (map), southeast of the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve. The City of Antioch and Antioch Planning Commission is deciding how to embrace this idea for a Highway 4 gated private residential community, also called the Sand Creek Focus Area. Unfortunately, Antioch decided several years ago not to participate in the East Contra Costa County Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). This particular valley is an important remainder of a once larger east-west migration corridor for plants and animals.
  • Richmond, CA: Point Molate: Conflicts over land use are settling, and this beautiful area is receiving broom removal treatments. The Urban Land Institute recently delivered six future plan alternatives to Richmond City Council, including two favoring total parks or mixed use with public parks and only some housing. This would be great news compared to the alternative of a casino discussed several years ago. It is concerning to note that City of Richmond plans to perform rezoning in the area as early as this week. Our chapter’s objective is to maintain the native vegetation corridor as much as possible from hilltop to beach and eel grass beds beyond. We favor continued public recreational enjoyment of the beautiful Point Molate with simultaneous protection of native plants. The Bay Trail Commission is in planning stages for making a connection through the area, as well.
  • East Bay Regional Parks District and fuels treatments: Our chapter continues to express worry about unclear management protocols for areas like the Huckleberry Preserve, specifically for care of sensitive maritime chaparral and the endangered pallid manzanita (Arctostaphylos pallida). We are working cooperatively with the Parks District on clarifying that forthcoming vegetation management plan. Additionally, we excerpted from their current Wildfire Hazard Reduction and Resource Management Plan for discussing how native plant protections are framed in contract language grazing guidelines, in other regions where fuel breaks are needed.
  • Oakland, CA: Knowland Park addition to Oakland Zoo:  The East Bay Zoological Society is building its California Trail project, but several of our volunteers noted enough (17) permit violations to merit an impressive letter to California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) asking for immediate action to protect remaining rare plant communities and Alameda Whipsnake habitat, including independent monitoring, penalty fee collection for mitigation, and beginning weed removal. We have not received a reply yet from CDFW.

 

Brief updates

– Hilltop Drive, Richmond: One of our volunteers noted construction spoils and indiscriminate herbicide spraying on native grasslands off of this Highway 80 exit.

– Point Pinole, Richmond: Wildlife populations may be declining due to drought or park management practices, including vegetation management.

– Berkeley Global Campus, Richmond: Construction plans are currently paused, which gives us the opportunity to learn more about the native flora and prairie grasslands.

 

Our Conservation Chair Jean Robertson led the meeting and kept our discussions focused. Want to get involved with our committee meetings? We love having more hands on deck! Please contact myself, or our Conservation Chair Jean Robertson (conservation-chair@ebcnps.org). Let us know  briefly what conservation projects in your area you are interested in contributing to, and what skills you can volunteer.

The Conservation Committee will meet again on 26 April, 2016.

Participate in field trips with our chapter from our Meetup page.

Read more conservation updates from our April 2016 chapter newsletter, the Bay Leaf.

 

Karen Whitestone

Conservation Analyst

conservation@ebcnps.org

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conservation@ebcnps.org

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