Endangered Santa Cruz County Plant Nears Extinction Despite Land Set Aside

I found out today that one of my favorite plants, the Scotts Valley Polygonum, will probably soon be extinct…it may be functionally extinct right now…despite decades of the too typical “protect the land, and everything’s okay” mentality.

This State listed Endangered annual wildflower species only grows within the limits of the City of Scotts Valley; it has just two populations! One population is at the old Santa’s Village site…now known as the Polo Ranch. The site has been slated for a housing development for some time. Years ago, the most important part of that site was protected for this wildflower, along with a host of other rare wildflowers. The set aside was due to collaborations between the landowners with the California Native Plant Society, the City of Scotts Valley, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The deals were cut, and then the waiting commenced for the project to get under way. This summer, years later, I understand that grading for the housing started, but I haven’t heard that any management for this species has commenced, besides protecting the preserved area from the grading equipment. There were 11 plants there this year.

The other population used to span property owned by Scotts Valley High and the Salvation Army. A preserve was set aside when Scotts Valley High was built- mostly the same organizations/people were involved with that collaboration. And, again, years passed before any management took place to help the species for which the preserve was established. There were no Scotts Valley Polygonum plants there this year, nor any on the adjoining Salvation Army property. We are hoping that there are seeds in the seedbank that will come up in other springs to come…when management improves.

As with most species, setting aside conservation areas has not been enough for the Scotts Valley Polygonum. Like so many species, this one evolved in an ecosystem with other native wildflowers, with a diverse pollinator community, with native ants, with native grazers, and without a host of non-native invasive plants. When we isolate the species in small preserves, it is now up to us to manage the grazers and to remove the weeds.

What a shame if this species goes extinct, after so much work…but the work had just begun! I wonder what we might do…?

4 comments

    1. Hi Hal, the property is privately owned, and the owners have apparently hired LSA Associates, Inc., to monitor this species; this company has been doing so since 2013. Perhaps the owners would like some help, I’m not sure. I hope that the California Native Plant Society, which has the legal settlement with the owners to protect the habitat, will be looking into how others can help monitor and recover the species.

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  1. Hi Grey, I am just getting caught up on reading 🙂 Thank you for sharing. What is the reason for a delay in management or no management at the sites set aside? funding? Are the natural grazers deer etc? If so, this may be a silly question, how can they be managed? Thank you for keeping us aware of what is happening.

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    1. The reason for delay in management depends on which site- each is unique. The Polo Ranch site is privately owned and is in the process of being developed into a housing development with a preserve set aside- the preserve is the only place this species is currently persisting…that site won’t get any management until the housing development is completed, that date is unknown. The Scotts Valley High School has a set aside preserve, as well; the school has no obligation, however, to manage that site…but, funding could help. The Boy Scouts and/or Salvation Army owns another site, and I don’t know if they are interested in managing it for this endangered species. Our area’s only natural grazers are all extinct; deer are browsers (eat mainly shrubs) and don’t manage grasslands in a way that grassland species have evolved to depend upon. Tule elk were the last native grazing animals, and the Old World peoples drove those to local extinction. Failing native grazers, the sites need to have some sustained management, probably with cattle or other livestock. The entire Scotts Valley grasslands complex needs this same management, so hopefully something will come together so that herds of grazers can move around those grasslands and make the whole place into the vast wildflower fields that they were not 30 years ago…

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