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On the 15th anniversary of Endangered Species Day, SLO County has 47 federally listed threatened and endangered plants, animals to be mindful of

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Flowering plants make up a majority of the species listed as threatened or endangered in San Luis Obispo County. One budding belle can only be found across 2 square miles in the county, according to Ashley McConnell, public affairs supervisor at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Ventura field office: The Nipomo Mesa lupine.

SMALL HABITAT The endangered Nipomo Mesa lupine is only located in a 2-square-mile range in San Luis Obispo County, according to Ashley McConnell of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. - PHOTO COURTESY OF U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE
  • Photo Courtesy Of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • SMALL HABITAT The endangered Nipomo Mesa lupine is only located in a 2-square-mile range in San Luis Obispo County, according to Ashley McConnell of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

As of May 15—the 15th anniversary of Endangered Species Day—the county had 17 listed petal pushers out of 47 total threatened or endangered species, according to the FWS online conservation database. Eight different birds, six mammals, four reptiles, three amphibians, three crustaceans, three insects, two fishes, and a lone snail—the Morro shoulderband—are also federally listed as endangered or threatened species by the FWS. While several endangered or threatened species like the California condor or Southern sea otter are scattered across the state, some of these species, like Nipomo's lupine, can only be found in the county.

Habitat degradation, such as oil spills, causes many of the current environmental problems endangered species face, according to California Department of Fish and Wildlife Senior Environmental Scientist Mike Harris.

"Alteration of their habitat, the environment which they rely on, has influence on how some of these populations are able to reproduce or thrive," Harris told New Times. "If we're destroying habitat, it can have significant influence on how they would be able to thrive."

Harris, whose research focuses on the Southern sea otter, told New Times that other factors—such as pathogens being transferred from land to sea, along with other human-caused events—can damage otters. The Southern sea otter, for instance, is still trying to recover after being overhunted in the 18th and 19th centuries for its pelt, Harris said.

Over the last decade, other environmental factors that have impacted endangered species include changes in wildfire patterns, invasive species growing, water resource availability, and habitat fragmentation, according to McConnell.

Humans still play a role in habitat disturbance, said Rachel Pass, communications and outreach coordinator at the Morro Bay National Estuary Program.

"Some wildlife, especially the Southern sea otter and Western snowy plover, are especially susceptible to human disturbance," Pass wrote in an email to New Times, adding that it includes "well-meaning wildlife watchers who unintentionally come too close to these animals and cause them unnecessary stress."

Much of the protection given to endangered species comes from the federal Endangered Species Act and the California Endangered Species Act. Marine mammals, according to McConnell, are primarily protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which is administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service administers the federal Endangered Species Act, while the California Department of Fish and Wildlife assists in protecting endangered animals listed under the state's act.

"Under the Endangered Species Act, we administer grant funding, work with partners to implement on-the-ground restoration projects, and develop recovery plans using the best available science to advance the conservation of rare species," McConnell wrote in an email to New Times.

There are some differences between the state and federal acts, Harris said, and how they handle endangered species as a result. These include some animals listed as federally endangered and not state endangered, and vice versa, along with differences in what is defined as harassing, harming, or taking animals listed as endangered, among other nuances.

Locally, McConnell said these conservation efforts include removing non-native, invasive European beach grass to protect the Western snowy plover and working with scientists and stakeholders to draft plans to save the Nipomo Mesa lupine from extinction.

In addition, a recent FWS grant program awarded a little more than $408,000 to assist a wetland restoration project in the lower part of the Los Osos Creek in the Morro Bay watershed. This will improve 55 acres of declining coastal wetlands and coastal dune scrub habitat, McConnell said.

"Some species you see in San Luis Obispo County, such as California brown pelicans, peregrine falcons, and bald eagles, all once faced the threat of extinction in recent history," McConnell wrote. "Due to the power of partnership, implementation of environmental regulations, and the Endangered Species Act, all three of these species reached recovery and were removed from the Federal List of Threatened and Endangered Wildlife."

For sea otters, Harris said the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has cooperated with the fishing industry to identify risk factors in their netting and suggest changes for their fishing gear across the state, including in SLO County. In turn, these modifications have reduced sea otter interactions with fishing gear and lowered their mortality rate, according to Harris.

Conservation efforts also require work on the community's end, however, and both Harris and McConnell offered ways people can assist in endangered species protection.

People can plant native species, save water, reduce their carbon footprint, and contain garbage to deter wildlife interaction, McConnell suggested.

"Think about everything you do on land and how everything goes downhill," Harris said, referencing how products we use can make their way to the ocean. He also suggested using fewer items bound for landfills.

But both Harris and McConnell said one of the biggest ways people can help out is by being cognizant of their environment, such as looking out for posted signs, picking up trash, and walking pets with leashes.

Harris said those who go on trails can be mindful of their surroundings by not crowding the animals and giving them space, which will let them "observe wildlife from a safe distance so you're not altering behavior."

"Living on the Central Coast, we're fortunate to be in an area where we do have a lot of local wildlife," Harris said. "Some of the species are listed, but we are in a very unique section of the coast and have the ability to get outside and see some of these species in their habitat, and we should just respect their space." Δ

Reach Intern Francisco Martinez through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com.

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