Endangered Species on Montara Mountain

Red-legged frog lives at the foot of Montara Mountain. [Photo: Peter Drekmeier]

Hickman's cinqefoil Most of the world's known population of this rare plant lives in the path of the proposed bypass. [Photo: Mike Vasey]

San Bruno elfin butterfly was recemtly re-discovered on Montara Mountain. [Photo: Dave Schooley / Bay Area Land Watch]

The listing of the California red-legged frog (Rana aurora draytonii) as "threatened" on May 20, gave Caltrans one more reason not to build the bypass. During the summer of 1995, a large population of the rare amphibian was found in the direct route of the proposed bypass.

Now that the red-legged frog is listed, federal agencies must ensure that activities they authorize, fund or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the species. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) also prohibits anyone from "taking" a listed species, which includes killing, harming or harassing the species.

Whereas an "endangered" species is immediately in danger of extinction, a "threatened" species is one that is likely to become endangered. The ESA protects both listings, the only difference being that threatened status allows for more flexibility in managing the species.

In addition to the red-legged frog, there are two other rare and endangered species on Montara Mountain, a plant called Hickman's cinquefoil (Potentilla hickmanii) and the San Bruno elfin butterfly (Callophrys mossil bayensis). Before its recent discovery on Montara Mountain, Hickman's cinquefoil was found only in one remote area near Monterey. That population of just 25 plants was thought to be too small to ensure the future of the species. But then the Montara population of between 2,000 and 3,000 plants was discovered along the route of the bypass, giving hope for the species if the tunnel is chosen.

The San Bruno elfin, which hadn't been documented in the area for many years, was rediscovered last May during the Hands Across the Mountain ceremony by David Schooley of San Bruno Mountain Watch. Mike Vasey was there to photograph the caterpillar and send the documentation to the appropriate authorities.

One interesting characteristic of the San Bruno elfin is its relationship with native ants. While in its caterpillar stage, the elfin secretes a sweet substance that is eaten by the ants. In return, the ants protect the caterpillars from predators and parasites. Besides Montara Mountain, the elfin can be found only in limited areas of San Mateo County, such as San Bruno Mountain and the Sharp Park area of Pacifica.

The unique blend of coastal chaparral, coastal scrub and coastal prairie comprising the Montara/San Pedro Mountain ecosystem makes it different from any other place in the world. It is up to us to protect these natural wonders, and Measure T will do just that.

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