Saturday, April 14, 2012

Move a Bush? That'll be 200 Gs, Please...

Reader Larry E. passes along this story about $205,075 of stimulus money being used to transplant a manzanita bush.  He comments:
Well, here is our fine government at work. Hundreds of thousands to move and "nurture" a single plant. Paying people 10s of thousands to monitor it?? REALLY?? There sure are a lot of environmental groups making tons of money off this kind of thing. No wonder they run around trying to "protect" every species of plant and animal. They have a financial interest in seeing things classified as endangered or protected etc.
I've seen references before to this sort of bonanza for environmentalist groups (a key Obama/Democratic Party constituency).  What I haven't seen, though, is a rigorous accounting of such shenanigans.  I'll call it an unproven likelihood for now.

I dug a bit into the subject of the article Larry sent along, mainly because (as my long time readers will already know) I'm quite partial to manzanitas in general.  My yard is chock full of them, with beautiful specimens of all four of our local species.

The manzanita in question is Arctostaphylos hookeri franciscana, a subspecies of Arctostaphylos hookeriIt is readily available from commercial nurseries in several horticultural varieties, and is a commonly used landscaping plant in California.  It's also a denizen of a long roster of botanical gardens.  It is not “extinct” as most of us understand that word, as many thousands of individual plants are alive and well.  However, it is “extinct in the wild”, meaning that there are no known naturally occurring specimens.

Or at least there weren't until 2009:
Native San Francisco manzanita bush believed to be extinct in the wild for more than 60 years has been discovered in the Presidio surrounded by concrete and highway traffic.

The wild specimen of Franciscan manzanita was found by a San Francisco biologist who noticed the flowering plant as he was driving in his car.

News of the discovery was like a jolt of fertilizer for local botanists, who see it as an important opportunity to reintroduce to the local ecosystem a long lost part of the city's natural history.

"It's like the unicorn of San Francisco," said Daniel Gluesenkamp, who was returning home from a climate change conference in Sonoma on Oct. 16 when he spotted the plant after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.

"It's a rare second chance to do it right this time ... to relink the chain of life that we broke," said Gluesenkamp, the director of habitat restoration at Audubon Canyon Ranch.

The ground-hugging shrub, uniquely adapted to San Francisco's natural sand dunes, wind and fog, has not been seen growing in the wild since 1947. That's when the last known patch was bulldozed at the old Laurel Hill Cemetery, which was paved over for homes and businesses.

Just before the bulldozers rumbled through, local botanist James Roof saved two specimens, which have been kept alive at Berkeley's Tilden Botanical Garden.

The plant, Arctostaphylos franciscana, has been reproduced and is sometimes sold as an ornamental plant, but experts consider the nursery variety to be a hybrid genetically unsuitable for reintroduction into the wild, as different from the original species as a German shepherd is to a wolf.
Well, that's a bit different, isn't it?  Maybe.  The assertion is that the commercial varieties are genetic hybrids, and “unsuitable for reintroduction”.  I didn't find any other support for that assertion anywhere, though in general the scientific papers that would support it aren't openly published on the web (dang it!).  So I just don't know if there really is an objective, science-based reason for extreme preservation measures for the individual plant discovered.

But even if there were such reasons, the price tag for transplantation (or “translocation” as the scientists called it) seems rather large.  Were there alternatives?  Well, of course there were.  At the very least, cloning the plant would have been very inexpensive – cloning a woody plant is generally quite easy, and has been a common practice for well over a century, by taking “cuttings” and rooting them.  And taking cuttings is the standard procedure for propagating manzanitas.  For a few hundred dollars, the scientists could have had hundreds of plants that were genetically identical to the individual plant in question (and I'm willing to bet that already they've done this along with moving the mother plant).  So the scientific justification – preserving the genome – could have been satisfied for much less money.  Any remaining reasons are, I think, totally sentimental.  And that's rather a lot of my tax dollars to spend for such sentiment...

The conservative blogosphere seems to have gone a little crazy over this story.  A google search found hundreds of hits, most in that world, and generally reacting much as Larry did.  However, I did find some mentions in the left-leaning blogsphere, and they were all rather negative about it as well.  It seems that the “optics” of this look bad to just about everybody...


Ah, I just found another reference (PDF) – possibly the original source for this story.  An excerpt:
FREY, M.*1 and CHASSE, M.2
1Presidio Trust, 34 Graham Street., San Francisco, CA 94129
2National Park Service, Fort Mason, Building 201, San Francisco, CA 94123

Saving the Franciscan Manzanita – a Plant Extinct in the Wild

In October 2009, the exciting discovery of an individual plant of Arctostaphylos franciscana (Franciscan manzanita) was made in the Doyle Drive corridor of the San Francisco Presidio. This discovery was significant because the Franciscan manzanita has been considered extinct in the wild for over sixty years. This discovery created the opportunity to bring Arctostaphylos franciscana back into the wild as a viable, reproducing, and self-sustaining species. Construction for the highway in the area of discovery was scheduled to begin in January 2010 leaving only twelve weeks to save the plant without delaying construction. Representatives from the Presidio Trust, the National Park Service, CalTrans, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Game, and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy (five government agencies and one non-profit) all met and drafted a plan to save the plant. The plan had three primary objectives; first, to preserve for posterity the individual (mother plant) discovered in October 2009; second, to allow for the establishment of offspring from the mother plant (clones from rooted cuttings and rooted layers, as well as plants raised from seedlings) both in the wild through reintroduction and ecological restoration and through ex situ preservation of the mother plant offspring in botanical gardens and special nursery environments so that it can serve as an on-going source of genetic material for this purpose; and third, to propagate other known genotypes of the Franciscan manzanita so that at least three wild, self-sustaining populations of the Franciscan manzanita can be established utilizing this diversity of genotypes to promote the long term viability of this species in the wild. Generally, biodiversity conservation strives to protect rare species in situ, that is, in historic wild locations whenever possible. Following this principle, the ideal approach would be to preserve the mother plant in its current location. However, because retention at the discovery location was deemed infeasible because of undue risks associated with that location, the mother plant was translocated to an environmentally appropriate location within the Presidio. Between the discovery and construction in the area seeds, cuttings, and the plant itself were all salvaged. On January 23rd the 10-ton mother plant (with root ball) was moved to a new home in the Presidio.
This confirms a couple of things I guessed at earlier.  Note that the authors are from the Presido Trust and the National Park Service – both organizations are tightly aligned with the environmentalist movement (in fact, they're often accused of being “infected” with environmentalists in need of subsidies).  It's safe to assume that both of them are at least empathetic to the environmentalist mindset, and it's quite likely that they both are active environmentalists (in the modern, politicized sense of that word).  This is basically confirmed by what they state is their first objective in saving this specimen: “to preserve for posterity the individual (mother plant)”.  That is precisely the sentimentalist motive I mentioned earlier.  Their second objective is cloning, and their third is reintroduction.  Their first objective I reject as something that should be funded with my tax dollars (but if private individuals wanted to spend their money on it, I'd be glad to see it); the second and third objectives I would gladly see my tax dollars spent on.

Quote of the Day...

It's my blog; I can have two quotes of the day!  This one is from Mark Steyn:
Sometimes societies become too stupid to survive. A nation that takes Barack Obama's current rhetorical flourishes seriously is certainly well advanced along that dismal path. The current federal debt burden works out at about $140,000 per federal taxpayer, and President Obama is proposing to increase both debt and taxes.
Just last night I finished reading a rather awful book.  It's plot had the world making a sequence of incredibly stupid decisions until the hero came along and saved the world through sheer force of personality and intelligence.  After finishing the book (and vowing never again to read anything written by the author), I thought to myself that initially the plot was quite believable.  That is, the part where the world (society) was making a series of incredibly stupid decisions.  It became unbelievable only when the hero happened along.  

Reading Mark Steyn's piece this morning, I realized I was reading essentially the same plot.  Except, of course, Mr. Steyn's prose was ever so much more enjoyable than the book's...

Kip Hawley on Fixing Airport Security...

Kip Hawley was the head of the TSA for over three years, just before Obama took office.  He has a piece in today's Wall Street Journal in which he makes some surprising recommendations.  Among them: no more banned items (including liquids)...

Quote of the Day...

From an interview with Roger Scruton in the Wall Street Journal:
Many of the people who brand themselves as climatologists are not in the first rank of scientific minds, you know? I'm not really entitled to say that. But you do have a sense that these are guys who are not particularly good at mathematical modeling, they're not particularly good at computer science, they're not particularly good at physics, not particularly good at chemistry, but who put all those together . . . [and] become an 'expert.'
The interview is wide-ranging and quite interesting for more reasons than just the quote above.  Read the whole thing...

Doolittle Raid Survivors...

The Washington Times has video of some of the five survivors...