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Taxpayers Foot Over $200k Bill to Move 'Wild' Bush to Secret Location in San Fran


"The plant’s location was directly in the footprint of a roadway improvement project..."

Workers transplant the manzanita bush. (Photo: Michael Chasse/National Park Service via CNS News)

San Francisco spent over $200k in 2010 order to move a wild bush from one part of the city to an undisclosed location, reports CNS News.

Over $200,000, really.

The bush, a wild Arctostaphylos franciscana (more commonly known as the Franciscan Manzanita), “stood in the path of a $1.045-billionhighway-renovation project that was partially funded by the economic stimulus legislation President Barack Obama signed in 2009,” Thomas Cloud of CNS News writes.

“In October 2009, an ecologist identified a plant growing in a concrete-bound median strip along Doyle Drive in the Presidio as Arctostaphylos franciscana,” the U.S. Department of Interior reported in the Aug. 10, 2010 edition of the Federal Register.

The report continues:

The plant’s location was directly in the footprint of a roadway improvement project designed to upgrade the seismic and structural integrity of the south access to the Golden Gate Bridge.

The translocation of the Arctostaphylos franciscana plant to an active native plant management area of the Presidio was accomplished, apparently successfully and according to plan, on January 23, 2010.

Oddly enough, you can actually purchase the Franciscan Manzanita in almost any garden nursery for about $16. The difference here with the specimen found along the roadside is that it’s thought to be the last wild Franciscan Manzanita in existence.

After the botanist Dr. Daniel Gluesenkamp discovered the specimen, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the California Department of Fish and Game developed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) for saving it from the highway project that had uncovered it.

“The agreement of Dec. 21, 2009 – Memorandum of Agreement Regarding Planning, Development, and Implementation of the Conservation Plan for Franciscan Manzanita – explains how, why, and when the bush would be moved and which agencies would be responsible for which aspects of the move,” Cloud writes.

And here is where large amounts of taxpayer dollars come into play:

…[the MOA] did state that in addition to funding removal and transportation of the Franciscan manzanita, Caltrans agreed to transfer $79,470 to the Presidio Trust “to fund the establishment, nurturing, and monitoring of the Mother Plant in its new location for a period not to exceed ten (10) years following relocation and two (2) years for salvaged rooted layers and cuttings according to the activities outlined in the Conservation Plan.”

Furthermore, Presidio Parkway Project spokesperson Molly Graham told that the “hard removal”… cost $100,000.

The MOA also stated that Caltrans agreed to “Transfer $25,605.00 to the Trust to fund the costs of reporting requirements of the initial 10-year period as outlined in the Conservation Plan,” Cloud reports.

“The $100,000 to pay for the ‘hard removal,’ the $79,470 to pay for the ‘establishment, nurturing and monitoring’ of the plant for a decade after its ‘hard removal,’ and the $25,605 to cover the ‘reporting requirements’ for the decade after the ‘hard removal,’ equaled a total cost of $205,075 for ‘translocating’ this manzanita bush,” he adds.

The Franciscan manzanita (Shelley Estelle, Presidio Trust)

But you think that’s bad? Those weren’t the only costs put on the taxpayer’s tab. According to the MOA, other costs included:

  • Contract for and provide funding not to exceed $7,025.00 for initial genetic or chromosomal testing of the Mother Plant by a qualified expert to be selected at Caltrans’ sole discretion.
  • Contract for and fund the input, guidance, and advice of a qualified Manzanita expert on an as-needed basis to support the tending of the Mother Plant for a period not to exceed five (5) years, provided that said expert selection, retention and replacement at any point after hiring rests in the sole discretion of Caltrans.
  • Provide funding not to exceed $5,000.00 to each of 3 botanical gardens (Strybing, UC, and Tilden) to nurture salvaged rooted layers and to monitor and report findings as outlined in the Conservation Plan.
  • Provide funding not to exceed $1,500.00 for the long-term seed storage of 300 seeds collected around the Mother Plant in November 2009 as outlined in the Conservation Plan.

And here's the kicker: once they removed the wild plant from the path of the highway project, at a great cost to the taxpayer, they moved it to an undisclosed, secret location. Why? Because they’re afraid nature lovers might trample it to death.

“[A] single trampling event could result in damage or the death of the wild plant,” the Interior Department noted in the Federal Register.

Caltrans and Presidio Trust officials uproot the manzanita, January 23rd (photo: Paul Chinn / The Chronicle)

But hey, at least the plant is still classified as “wild.”

“The plant is still considered wild according to the 2011 Federal Register entry because it has been moved to an undeveloped area of the Presidio and ‘is not receiving the level of protection, water, and nutrients that plants in a botanical garden may receive,’” Cloud writes.

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