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‘Endangered’ status may change for small plant found at Vandenberg Air Force Base

The Visitor Control Center hours of operation run from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week, including holidays. These new hours have been in effect since Aug. 2015 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Michael Peterson)
October 12, 2020

The “endangered” status of a small flower found at Vandenberg Air Force Base could be lifted to “threatened” after a protection and recovery plan has increased the number of plants, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed changing the Endangered Species Act status of beach layia, a small sunflower that grows only in California’s coastal dunes.

Vandenberg’s small population of the beach layia is the southernmost colony of the tiny plant that’s found mostly around Humbolt Bay in Humbolt County and at Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County, and three small populations are located on the Monterey Peninsula.

Jeff Miller, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the beach layia has benefited greatly from its protection under the Endangered Species Act.

“Their gorgeous white, yellow and purple flowers now adorn more than 600 acres of our coastal dunes,” Miller said.

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Beach layia was listed as endangered in 1992 because of damage to dunes habitat from human disturbances, particularly off-road vehicles, agricultural activities, pedestrians and development.

Since a recovery plan was developed in 1998, a significant amount of suitable dune habitat has been protected as preserves and conservation areas.

Miller said 2017 surveys found nine robust populations of the flowers that each had more than 1 million plants.

While its outlook has improved, Miller said beach layia still faces threats, mostly from invasive plants, livestock grazing, disturbance from off-road vehicles and equestrians, rapid climate change, sea-level rise and pesticide use.

He said it could benefit from reintroducing plants to former sites where it once thrived to expand its range and resilience.

Former layia populations have been eliminated from San Francisco, Point Pinos in Pacific Grove and two locations in Humboldt County.

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