A New Endangered Species Candidate: Coast Yellow Leptosiphon

Rare plant botanist and CNPS member Toni Corelli volunteered her time and expertise to petition on behalf of the endangered coast yellow leptosiphon.
Rare plant botanist and CNPS member Toni Corelli volunteered her time and expertise to petition on behalf of the endangered coast yellow leptosiphon.

On December 8, the California Fish and Game Commission approved the Coast yellow leptosiphon as an official Endangered Species Candidate.  Toni Corelli, a rare plant botanist and long-time CNPS supporter, successfully petitioned for the protection under the California Endangered Species Act.

“Coast yellow leptosiphon is among the rarest of rare plants,” says CNPS Rare Plant Botanist Aaron Sims. “This endangered listing could be the only hope for its survival.”

Discovered in the early 20th century, along the San Mateo coast, the species has been reduced to a single population of fewer than 500 plants. Today, coastline erosion, invasive non-natives, and the prospect of a nearby housing development further threaten its survival.

CNPS staffer Kate Cooper recently spoke with Corelli to learn more about this special plant and the steps she took to protect it:

K: Why the Coast Yellow Leptosiphon? What threatens the species, specifically?

T: There is only one small population, and it is threatened by habitat fragmentation, and bluff-top erosion. Coast yellow leptosiphon (CYL) occurs in an area approximately 60′ x 30′ at the western edge of the cliff on a narrow strip of public land on coastal prairie habitat. Since CYL is on the cliff edge as the cliff continues to erode by natural and human forces, the plants and seeds will be lost to erosion. Coastal erosion along the California coast is from 7- 60 cm/year. This is a force this plant has faced throughout its existence at this location. The barrier created by the adjacent hard pack informal trail and disturbance of coastal prairie habitat west of the trail leave little room for expansion and recolonization of CYL into the adjacent area without restoration.

Over the last 10 or so years, there has been more disturbance to this area mostly related to proposed development of the private property and outdoor recreational use by the public. All of the other nearby coastal prairie habitat in this vicinity has been developed. At one time this plant was seen for acres at this location, and if this 2.5 acres of coastal prairie habitat can be protected it would provide an opportunity for restoration and recolonization of CYL.

K: What are some interesting facts about the species?

T: When this species was first discovered in the early 1900s this species covered the coastal prairie habitat for acres but was found nowhere else. So it only occurred at this location restricted to Moss Beach, San Mateo County along the San Mateo Coast.

The coast yellow leptosiphon (Leptosiphon croceus) is a newly listed California Endangered Species.
The coast yellow leptosiphon (Leptosiphon croceus) is a newly listed California Endangered Species. Credit Aaron Schusteff

K: What motivated you to lead this effort?

T: Proposed development of adjacent property that would destroy the essential coastal prairie habitat where this plant occurs, knowing how rare this species is, having one population in the world, and observing the decline in population size and number of plants.

K: What is the bureaucratic protocol for approval?

T: The California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) resource team met with me to visit the site and were involved submitting a review of the proposal to the CDFG Commission for their review at the December 8 Commission meeting. Cherilyn Burton, senior environmental scientist with CDFG presented the findings to the Commission at their CFG commission meeting on Dec. 8, 2016. It was unanimously confirmed by the commission as an Endangered species candidate. (See coverage of the meeting here.)

K: What steps did you take while you waited?

T: [I] met with others who have knowledge of this species to see how this species can be preserved: What requirements does the plant need to survive? What needs to be done to restore the disturbed coastal prairie habitat that this species thrives in? Some of the challenges include the removal of invasive species [and] moving an informal trail and benches that fragment and disturb the natural flow of seed distribution.

K:  Have you worked through this process before with another species ?

T:  Yes, Hesperolinon congestum, Marin dwarf flax. Similar experience. Once the research is done to see if a species should be listed by CDFG (this takes the most time), and the petitioner sees that it is necessary for the species’ survival, the process moves along. The question is: will there be support and money available to be used to ensure that this endangered species will survive once listed?

K: What type of support is needed to help its chances of survival?

T:  A question was brought up at the commission meeting by Commissioner Peter Silva, “Is there money to purchase the adjacent land that has habitat?”

Answer by Director Chuck Bonham, “The State has a Wildlife Conservation board since the 40-50s, the primary entity for conservation real estate acquisition, conservation easement. It receives applications for primary funding (sic).”

Coreilli and others caution that the fight for the Coast yellow leptosiphon isn’t won just yet. Conservation and restoration will take a concerted effort. Thanks to Corelli’s careful monitoring and tireless work, the species is one step closer to full protection.

See photos of Coast yellow leptosiphon in the field.
Track the latest on Vallemar Bluff with Midcoast Community Council.

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