The Franciscan manzanita was feared extinct until a botanist saw the plant… (Brent Plater )
Reporting from San Francisco -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Wednesday that the Franciscan manzanita — a plant so rare that only one is believed to be growing in the wild — "warrants protection" and proposed declaring the elusive shrub endangered.
The announcement kicks off a 60-day public comment period to allow the federal agency to figure out whether it is possible or necessary to designate and protect habitat critical to the plant's survival and to finalize its determination.
The manzanita, also known as Arctostaphylos franciscana, was believed to be extinct until 2009, when a sharp-eyed botanist saw the lonely plant on a traffic island in the middle of a busy highway, part of a major construction project near the Golden Gate Bridge.
The shrub was eventually dug up and moved to a secret spot in the Presidio of San Francisco.
The Wild Equity Institute filed an emergency petition to get the plant protected under the Endangered Species Act, but federal officials said they did not think emergency protection was warranted.
On Wednesday, the wildlife service said it would consider listing the species. The comment period closes Nov. 7.
Brent Plater, executive director of the institute, said an endangered listing "has been the key element in ensuring that the individual plant has the protection it deserves and, more importantly, promoting the species-wide recovery effort."
The federal agency said in a written statement that "critical habitat is not determinable at this time due to lack of knowledge of what physical and biological features are essential to the conservation of the species, or what other areas outside the site currently occupied may be essential for the conservation of the species."
Plater said the agency is also concerned that "by outlining critical habitat areas on a map, it will essentially give plant collectors a road map to come and harm the plant.... But the benefits of critical habitat protection outweigh the possible impact from poachers."