California has the highest concentration of plants at risk of extinction in the nation | Opinion

Dr. Jun Bando, California Native Plant Society

June 5, 2024

Last spring I hiked Butte County’s North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve, an elevated mesa created by ancient lava flows with incredible views. I was drawn to see the explosion of blooming wildflowers that carpeted the area. The experience did not disappoint; purple lupines, orange poppies and yellow goldfields blanketed the fields.

Seeing these wildflowers is a short-lived experience each spring in California that I treasure. These dramatic blooms are here for a few weeks and gone just as fast, as the weather warms up and the rains end. But while wildflowers are fleeting, there are steps we can take to ensure these blooms continue for generations to come.

Our state and federal governments have set forth a goal to protect 30% of our lands and coastal waters by 2030, or “30×30,” as part of a worldwide effort to safeguard biodiversity and stabilize the planet. This critical goal is the minimum of what we must do to preserve California’s wildflowers and native plants, which are threatened by development, climate change and invasive species.

It is also key to the well-being of our ecosystems and communities: Native plants store carbon, filter pollutants from water and provide food and shelter for wildlife.

The large displays of wildflowers that we experience in California are extremely rare, globally. California is in one of the world’s 36 biodiversity hot spots and is home to more than 6,000 types of native plants, including hundreds of wildflower species. Only a few other places on Earth, like Chile’s Atacama desert and Western Australia, have such dramatic blooms.

A sad reality is that the super blooms that thrill Californians today are but a fraction of the wildflowers that used to blanket our state. Once, wildflowers spanned miles in places like the Central Valley. In just the last 150 years, most of these grassland habitats were lost to development, agriculture and invasive species.

This is not just a problem of the past, habitat loss continues to be the top threat to California native plants — and wildflower habitat is particularly at risk. Depending on the time of year, a prime wildflower spot might look like a dry or barren grassland. That appearance can make these areas seem like good places to develop, but underneath there is a living seed bank ready to burst into bloom. Once we disturb that habitat — or pave over it — we can never go back.

That’s because California has the highest concentration of plants at risk of extinction in the nation.

The 30×30 goal is absolutely achievable in California. We have already conserved 24% of our lands and 16% of coastal waters and the state of California is working alongside land trusts, conservation organizations and community groups to reach the 30% target. Great progress is being made, but we must maintain momentum and ensure that this effort is appropriately resourced.

Last year, the state’s 30×30 goal was codified into law — an important milestone. But amid our current state budget challenges, funding for 30×30 efforts is in jeopardy, just as these projects get underway. We need the state to continue prioritizing funding for local projects that protect what’s left of our native plant and animal species. The only way to ensure necessary long-term funding is for our state leaders to support a robust and equitable climate bond with dedicated funding for 30×30.

Nature can’t wait. I urge state leaders to protect our remaining native grasslands and other threatened habitats so that super blooms and California’s incredible native plant diversity don’t fade away into our history books. By achieving 30×30, we can protect our biodiversity and all the species depending on native plants for survival — including ourselves.

Dr. Jun Bando is the executive director of the California Native Plant Society.

Click here for the full article on the Sacramento Bee.

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