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Coastal California Sunflower Is Latest Endangered Species Act Success

by Center for Biological Diversity
EUREKA, Calif., March 30, 2022 — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today changed the Endangered Species Act status of beach layia, a small sunflower that grows only in California’s coastal dunes, reclassifying it from endangered to threatened. The change is due to reduced impacts from offroad vehicles, grazing, and development throughout much of the species’ range.
“The lovely beach layia has benefited immensely from protection under the Endangered Species Act and is heading toward recovery,” said Jeff Miller, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Their gorgeous white, yellow and purple flowers now adorn more than 600 acres of our coastal dunes.”

The largest populations of beach layia are found on the North Coast in Humboldt County, where it grows in 13 locations — mostly around Humboldt Bay — and at Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County. On the Central Coast there are three small populations on Monterey Peninsula, and there is a small South Coast population at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County.

Beach layia was protected as endangered in 1992 because of damage to dune habitat from human disturbances, particularly from offroad vehicles, agricultural activities, and development. Since a recovery plan was developed for the species in 1998, a significant amount of suitable dune habitat has been protected as preserves and conservation areas. Threats have been reduced, especially by preventing offroad vehicles from driving in the flower’s habitat. Beach layia has responded by increasing in abundance, and there are now nine robust populations of the flowers that each had more than 1 million plants during 2017 surveys.

But beach layia still faces threats, mostly from invasive plants that compete for growing space on open areas of sandy dunes. Invasive plants can also artificially stabilize coastal dunes, disrupting natural dune movement and processes that layia plants depend on. They’re further threatened by livestock grazing, erosion and disturbance from offroad and equestrian recreation, rapid climate change, drought, sea-level rise, and pesticide use.

“The future looks better for beach layia, but its survival isn’t secure yet,” said Miller. “There are still many threats to this flower, and it could benefit from reintroducing plants to former sites where it once thrived to expand its range and resilience.”

An estimated 20% of beach layia occurrences at Point Reyes National Seashore have been subject to cattle grazing, which caused an 84% decline in the flowers’ abundance in the park between 2004 to 2018. Livestock trample layia plants and increase the spread of weeds. The National Park Service has restored dune habitats where layia can thrive but recently approved a plan to continue unsustainable levels of cattle grazing at Point Reyes, over the objections of conservation groups that want to end commercial cattle ranching in the park. The Park Service plan would allow cattle to continue trampling 12% of the layia occurrences at Point Reyes.

“There’s no excuse for allowing any cattle grazing in habitat for beach layia and other endangered plants at Point Reyes National Seashore,” said Miller.

Beach layia occurs on the North Coast in five areas in Humboldt County, with the largest populations near Humboldt Bay and the mouth of the Mattole River. One of largest populations in size and acreage is at Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County. Former layia populations have been eliminated from San Francisco, Point Pinos in Pacific Grove, and two locations in Humboldt County.

[Photo: Beach layia. Credit: National Park Service.]

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
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