From: Associated Press
Published February 3, 2005 12:00 AM

Rare Plant Nearly Wiped Out by Work Crew

MARSHALL, Calif. — One of California's rarest plants was nearly wiped out of existence when Marin County workers used a backhoe to clear a plugged roadside drain in the species' sole habitat.


The Baker's larkspur, a purplish plant that blooms April through May and grows up to 2 feet tall, is found in only one place in the world: near a a drain along the Marshall-Petaluma Road in western Marin County.


Last October, heavy rain pushed debris down a hillside into the culvert, backing it up and flooding the road.


When county crews came out to clear the roadside drain with the backhoe, they cut into the hillside at the exact spot where most of the Baker's larkspur were growing. Within minutes, the population of 100 plants was reduced to five.


"They had to clear it, but a little bit of notice would have been nice," Doreen Smith of the Marin Native Plant Society told the Marin Independent Journal. "We could have got in there and saved the plants. Now we have only five left. This is the very rarest plant in Marin, if not the world."


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County officials said they didn't intend to harm the plant but had little choice but to clear the plugged drain, given the emergency.


Although a 200-foot stretch of the hillside was marked to alert county crews not to cut the Baker's larkspur, the backhoe crew didn't know the exact location of the plants, said road maintenance supervisor Pete Maendle.


"The crews knew the area was sensitive, but it was an emergency situation," Maendle said. "When storms come you don't have time to make plans. It's unfortunate that this happened."


Members of the Marin Native Plant Society, Marin County Public Works Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state Department of Fish and Game met Tuesday to discuss the fate of the plant and how to better protect it. The group went to the hillside to search for seedlings, but didn't find any.


There is a plan to grow the plant in less precarious areas, but attempts to move native plants and grow them elsewhere fail 90 percent of the time, said state biologist Gene Cooley.


The Baker's larkspur is one of two endangered plants wildlife officials want to protect by designating 4,400 acres in Marin and Sonoma counties as critical habitat. The other plant, the yellow larkspur, is found near Tomales and north of Dillon Beach.


Source: Associated Press


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