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Science & Space

Rare plant nearly wiped out by work crews

Baker's larkspur (Delphinium bakeri)
Environmental Issues
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

MARSHALL, California (AP) -- One of California's rarest plants was nearly wiped out of existence when county workers used heavy machinery to unclog a roadside drain in the species' sole habitat.

The Baker's larkspur, a purplish plant that blooms April through May and grows up to 2 feet (60 centimeters) tall, is found in only one place in the world -- near a road in western Marin County.

The damage followed heavy rains last October that pushed debris down a hillside and into the drain, flooding the road. Workers used a mechanical digger to clear the plug cut into the hillside at the exact spot where most of the Baker's larkspur grow.

In minutes, a population of 100 plants was reduced to five.

"They had to clear it, but a little bit of notice would have been nice," Doreen Smith of the Marin Native Plant Society told the Marin Independent Journal. "We could have got in there and saved the plants."

Although a 200-foot (60-meter) stretch of the hillside was marked to alert county workers to the plants, the digger crew didn't know the exact location, said road maintenance supervisor Pete Maendle.

"The crews knew the area was sensitive, but it was an emergency situation," Maendle said. "When storms come you don't have time to make plans. It's unfortunate that this happened."

Members of the Marin Native Plant Society, Marin County Public Works Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state Department of Fish and Game met Tuesday to discuss the fate of the plant and how to better protect it.

There is a plan to grow the plant in less precarious areas, but attempts to move native plants and grow them elsewhere fail 90 percent of the time, said state biologist Gene Cooley.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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