Two Channel Islands Plant Species Removed from Endangered Species List

Santa Cruz Island (Photo: John Wiley)

On the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, Channel Islands plant species declared fully recovered

Two plants that live on California’s Channel Islands and nowhere else on earth – the Santa Cruz Island Dudleya and island bedstraw – have been declared fully recovered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) due to the collaborative efforts of conservation partners and no longer require Endangered Species Act protections.

The delisting of the two species arrives as the Endangered Species Act (ESA) celebrates 50 years of conservation in 2023.

Island bedstraw (Galium buxifolium) is a long-lived woody shrub with small flowers that lives on coastal bluffs, steep rocky slopes, sea-cliffs, and occasionally pine forests, of Santa Cruz and San Miguel Islands. At the time of listing, population estimates were in the hundreds. Helicopter surveys from 2017 estimate more than 15,000 individual plants now occur on the islands.

The Santa Cruz Island Dudleya (Dudleya nesiotica) is a flowering succulent perennial that lives on the marine terraces of Santa Cruz Island. Scientists say after its initial recovery the population has remained relatively stable over the last 25 years, with current estimates around 120,000 individuals. 

The Santa Cruz Island Dudleya (Photo: Santa Barbara Botanic Garden)

The successful recovery of these two plants adds to the list of species that have now successfully recovered on the islands, including the island fox, peregrine falcon, bald eagle, California brown pelican, and island night lizard. Recently, the Service also announced the delisting of five species on San Clemente Island: San Clemente Island paintbrush, lotus, larkspur and bush-mallow plants and San Clemente Bell’s sparrow.

“Today we celebrate the flourishing return of two plant species to the Channel Islands thanks to the tireless work of scientists, land managers, and the local community to restore the health of California’s island ecosystems,” said Paul Souza, regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Pacific Southwest Region. “We also celebrate 50 years of the Endangered Species Act, a bedrock conservation law and catalyst that brings momentum, energy, and attention to help recover species that need it most.” 

The delisting is representative of another victory for island conservation, but more work needs to be done to restore the five Channel Islands within the park, according to Ethan McKinley, superintendent of Channel Islands National Park.  “Make no mistake, there is still a great deal to accomplish before these islands are restored to their natural state.  Recovery of native plants remains a keystone to preserving Channel Islands National Park for current and future generations,” he said. 

The ESA is credited with saving 99% of listed species from extinction. Thus far, more than 100 species of plants and animals have been delisted across the country based on recovery or reclassified from endangered to threatened based on improved conservation status, and hundreds more species are stable or improving thanks to the collaborative actions of Tribes, federal agencies, state and local governments, conservation organizations and private citizens.

Scientists say their understanding of the plants’ ecology, habitat needs, and status has improved due to the diligent efforts of the U.S. Geological Survey, The Nature Conservancy, National Park Service, and Santa Barbara Botanic Garden to survey, study, and conserve habitat on Santa Cruz Island and San Miguel Island, two of California’s northern Channel Islands. 

In 1997, the Service determined 13 plants on California’s northern Channel Islands needed ESA protections as a result of decades of habitat loss and alteration due to sheep grazing, competition from non-native grasses and soil loss caused by rooting of non-native feral pigs.

By 2000, sheep grazing ended, and by 2006, all non-native feral pigs had been removed from the islands. In 2000, the Service worked with botanists and land managers to publish a recovery plan that would guide future recovery efforts for the imperiled plants. 

Island bedstraw (Photo: Kathryn McEachern/ USGS)

The delisting is a result of collaborative partnership and research across multiple agencies and organizations.

“Today we get to celebrate the recovery of these two species no longer faced with the imminent threat of extinction, and tomorrow we will be back in the field for those species that still need a helping hand,” said John Knapp, senior scientist with The Nature Conservancy. “All visitors to the islands can be part of the success by staying on established trails and roads to protect vulnerable populations. Recovery doesn’t happen overnight. It takes sound science, collaboration with many partners, and most importantly commitment.”   

“We make conservation our life’s work because we care about biodiversity, but also because it can take a lifetime to see the fruits of our labor,” said Heather Schneider, senior rare plant conservation scientists with the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden “Humans did our part by removing introduced animals from the islands and the plants did theirs by slowly revealing themselves to us. Let us use this delisting as inspiration to propel us forward and bring renewed attention to the conservation and recovery challenges that remain on the islands and beyond.”

“The Navy, as owner and co-steward of San Miguel Island, is proud to have shared more than 50 years of collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and partners to improve the habitat and recover these plant species,” said Capt. Robert “Barr” Kimnach III, commanding officer, Naval Base Ventura County. “This announcement is a milestone in our efforts and should be celebrated. The Navy remains committed to our conservation efforts, and to being good stewards of the natural resources we manage as part of our national security mission.”

Edhat Staff

Written by Edhat Staff

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