Following a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed to protect the threatened sand dune phacelia under the Endangered Species Act. Only 26 populations of this rare plant remain in the coastal dunes of southern Oregon and northern California.
The Service has also proposed to designate 252 acres of critical habitat in Coos and Curry counties in Oregon and Del Norte County in California.
“This is encouraging progress for this beautiful plant that only exists in the fragile coastal sand dunes of Oregon and California,” said Quinn Read, Oregon policy director at the Center. “The sand dune phacelia simply cannot survive without the protections of the Endangered Species Act. This proposal is a hopeful and long-awaited step to ensure that this species does not go extinct.
Sand dune phacelia is threatened by all-terrain vehicles, invasive species such as European beech and gorse, and rising sea levels due to climate change. The small size of its population makes it even more susceptible to these stressors.
Sand dune phacelia is a member of the Forget-Me-Not family of flowering plants and grows to a height of 18 inches. Its white flowers are a rich source of nectar and pollen for native bees. The number and variety of bee species in dune vegetation is highest in places where phacelia grows. The plant’s silvery hairs – which are an adaptation to the harsh coastal environment – keep salt out of its leaves, decrease water loss and reflect excess light.
The name “Phacelia” comes from the Greek “phakelos”, which means cluster, for its pretty clustered flowers, and from the Latin “argentea”, which means “silvery”, for the appearance of the leaves. Sand dune phacelia blooms from March to September.
The Center’s lawsuit against the Service sought to force the agency to make timely assessments and protection decisions for 241 plant and animal species considered to be on the verge of extinction, including sand dune phacelia.
The lawsuit follows a 2014 petition to protect the species. This petition was filed by the Center and seven other conservation groups: Oregon Wild, Friends of Del Norte, Oregon Coast Alliance, Native Plant Society of Oregon, California Native Plant Society, Environmental Protection Information Center, and Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center. .