On August 12, 1997 Bob Wunner lead a North Coast Chapter sponsored field trip to the proposed Lassics Botanical Area, a geographically isolated extrusion of ultramafic and volcanic rock occurring in southern Humboldt and western Trinity County. Of particular interest to the plant enthusiasts present were the two Lassic endemics, the Lassics lupine (Lupinus constancei) and the Lassics sandwort (Minuartia decumbens). We also hoped to see an undescribed Downingia at Dry Lake and the rare Oregon fireweed (Epilobium oreganum).
The Oregon fireweed is of particular interest now that the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has recently awarded a matching grant of $30,000 for development of a conservation strategy for serpentine wetlands and fens occurring in Northwestern California and Southwestern Oregon. Rare plants to be protected under the strategy include the Oregon fireweed, the white and purple forms of the large-flowered rush lily, the western bog violet and the bog gentian. This habitat conservation approach will protect a great many other sensitive plant and animal species that occur in serpentine wetlands. In order to use grant funds it is necessary that matching funds be donated to this endeavor. If you know of anyone interested in contributing please contact one of the board members noted elsewhere in this newsletter.
Unfortunately we were unable to find the Oregon fireweed in bloom. It was too early in the season for it this year. However, we were fortunate to arrive at Dry Lake and find the Downingia in full bloom. This diminutive member of the Bellflower family, which is often associated with vernal pools, turned out to be the elegant downingia (Downingia elegans) and not a rare un-named species some of us were hoping for. We did, however, discover fresh tire marks in the fragile wetlands surrounding Dry Lake, criss-crossing through the downingia. Older tire tracks indicated that this destructive behavior has been occurring here for several years.
We found the same type of damage, from off road vehicles, when visiting one of the handful of known sites of the rare endemic Lassics sandwort (Minuartia decumbens). Remnants of dead plants were found in wheel ruts on cross slopes that no one could possibly have mistaken for a road. This type of thoughtless destruction of extremely rare plants and their habitat is difficult to understand. It is even harder to accept knowing that it is occurring on federal land that is suppose to be managed to protect the unique plants that reside here. There is real concern that increasing use through promotion of motorized use of these areas combined with declining funds for patrol and monitoring may put the rare Lassics endemics in jeopardy.
Lastly, we did visit all three known sites of the rare Lassics lupine (Lupinus constancei). We estimated that there are between 1000 and 2000 plants. This represents the entire known population. It is somewhat sobering for a lover of things rare, green and beautiful to wonder what the future holds in store for such a small fragile unprotected population. Stay tuned. We may have another field trip to the Lassics in the not too distant future.