Arcata Field Office contributes to downlisting of California beach plant

Story by Jeff Fontana, Public Affairs Officer, Northern California District. Photos by BLM and Dave Imper, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, retired.

Recent news that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) had downlisted a little-known dune plant from endangered to threatened status was met with cheers on California’s north coast. Perhaps no one was cheering more enthusiastically than Jennifer Wheeler, a botanist (and now assistant field manager), with the BLM’s Arcata Field Office.

Wheeler’s attention to conserving habitat for the beach layia, a succulent plant belonging to the sunflower family, has been ongoing for nearly 30 years. Her work has ranged from coordinating partnerships, securing funding, and monitoring habitat and species populations, to physically pulling up invasive weeds to allow beach layia’s preferred habitat to recover.

White flowers on a dune
Beach Layia (Photo by Dave Imper)

“It’s safe to say the BLM and our partners have invested more than 300,000 labor hours valued at more than $3 million for the hands-on habitat restoration work on BLM-managed lands,” Wheeler said. 

The USFWS recognized this successful collaboration in its announcement of the downlisting.

“Today’s action is the result of the collaborative conservation efforts of many partners, including federal, state, local and private groups,” said Tanya Sommer, field supervisor of the Arcata Fish and Wildlife Office.

Wheeler’s challenge on this restoration effort landed at her feet from almost the moment she arrived at the BLM Arcata Field Office in 1993. The Fish and Wildlife Service had listed the beach layia as endangered in 1992, and much of its north coast habitat was on lands managed by the BLM. The first cooperative agreement for habitat restoration was signed in 1994, and the BLM began providing habitat monitoring data to the USFWS that year. 

BLM partnerships continued to flourish with the California Conservation Corps (CCC), National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Friends of the Dunes, and the USFWS Coastal Program, among the key players. The CCC has been the key contributor to on-the-ground success, logging hundreds of thousands of hours at BLM-managed areas around Humboldt Bay.   

A crew is pulling weeds.
California Conservation Corps working on removal of invasives. (Photo by BLM)
Two  people posing for a photo
California Conservation Corps extravaganza day - every crew turned out to work.
Pictured is Jennifer Wheeler, BLM; and Larry Notheis, California Conservation Corps. (Photo by BLM)

Beach layia grows on dry, exposed beach sites spread across six isolated dune systems in coastal California. From north to south, there are 13 populations of beach layia from Humboldt County to Vandenberg Space Force Base in Santa Barbara County.  

In Humboldt County, much of its preferred habitat had been overtaken by invasive European beach grass. A big focus of the restoration work has been removing this invasive plant and monitoring recovery.

Dune covered in invasive grass
South Spit area before restoration work.
Dune covered in flowers
South Spit area after restoration work.

The work continues, and collaboration continues to be the key to success.

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