Magazine article Endangered Species Bulletin

A Recovery Plan Begins to Flower

Magazine article Endangered Species Bulletin

A Recovery Plan Begins to Flower

Article excerpt

The landscape on China Hill is dry and rocky, reminiscent of an artist's rendition of some far-away, desolate planet. One wonders what could ever grow in such rough terrain. But junipers and other scraggy shrubs soon catch the eye and remind you that you are indeed in the arid upper reaches of northern California.

Something magical happens here in the spring. Beginning in March, a drab hillside east of the town of Yreka pops to life with the emergence of bright pink flowers. The contrast to the surrounding landscape is vivid. It looks as if someone pinned dozens of corsages to the understated hillside.

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Sharp-eyed locals who know where to look can catch a glimpse of this colorful show as they zoom through town along Interstate 5. On the other hand, some are astonished to learn about this "secret" flower. "I have been here for over 20 years," said one Yreka native who accompanied a team of Service biologists to China Hill. "I never knew this flower existed."

The plant in question is the extremely rare Phlox hirsuita, otherwise known as Yreka phlox. This endangered wildflower grows in small clusters no more than six inches (15 centimeters) high. Its blooms gradually change from bright pink to white, all shades equally eye-catching against the brownish geology of the region.

Dave Johnson, Tim Burnett, and Nadine Kanim, biologists with the Fish and Wildlife Service's Yreka office, have been collecting data on the phlox since March 2008. This effort formally kicked off the implementation phase for the species' recovery plan. It includes developing a monitoring system that will enable biologists to determine if the species is declining.

The biggest threat to the Yreka phlox has been urban development within the species' limited range. Because there are only five known colonies, all in the vicinity of Yreka, events such as fire, drought, and disease are also of great concern. …

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