A rare plant endemic to Del Norte County and Southern Oregon is reclaiming its place in the dunes thanks to an ongoing volunteer effort to remove invasive European beachgrass.

Two staff members with the Tolowa Dunes Stewards counted 174 silvery phacelia plants in an area that was overrun with beachgrass five years ago, the conservation organization announced last week. But Program Director Sandra Jerabek says the number of plants is closer to 180.

“They got so tired at the end they might have missed a few,” she said, referring to the volunteers who counted the plants. “We did find a few that they missed. We GPSed and flagged them all, which is quite the accomplishment.”

Jerabek said she wanted to be vague about where the newly-discovered silvery phacelia plants are to minimize potential damage from humans.

“We’ve already had some ATV guy drive through one of the big patches near the ocean several times,” she said.

Silvery phacelia is found primarily in coastal Del Norte County and has been identified as an endangered species by the California Native Plant Society, according to the Tolowa Dunes Stewards. It is also a candidate for the federal endangered species list, according to the organization.

The 180 newly-identified plants were discovered on a patch of land in the Lake Earl Wildlife Area, that volunteers have worked on for about five years, according to Jerabek. Hundreds more phacelia plants have also emerged in nearby Tolowa Dunes State Park, thanks to beachgrass eradication efforts, she said.

“All we’ve done is remove the invasive European beachgrass,” Jerabek said. “We haven’t replanted anything. This plant, in particular, comes back like crazy, but the other native dune plants also come back strong.”

European beachgrass grows in dense mats, usurping silvery phacelia habitat and other denizens of the dunes such as the western snowy plover, according to Jerabek. The phacelia’s comeback is associated with “rebuilding the web of life,” she said, because it feeds native bees and other insects, which are then eaten by birds.

The Tolowa Dunes Stewards have been using volunteers to eradicate European beachgrass since 2010, working with hundreds of youth volunteers from Crescent Elk Middle School, the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation, Building Healthy Communities and the Sierra Service Project. The organization also has a core group of about 12 volunteers that pull the invasive plant every month.

The Tolowa Dunes Stewards’ ability to map and flag the newly-discovered plants so they’re not damaged is thanks to a $300,000 California Conservation Board grant the organization received last year. The grant will also allow the organization to use heavy equipment and crews from the California Conservation Corps and CALFIRE in their restoration efforts.

The Tolowa Dunes Stewards’ other fiscal sponsors include Friends of the Dunes, the Redwood Parks Conservancy, the California Coastal Commission’s Whale Tail License Plate program and the Rose Foundation.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .

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