San Bruno Mountain Latest Press


Driving Home the Butterfly

The Mission Blue butterfly flies again on Twin Peaks, thanks to six-year relocation project.

Bay Nature
Eric Simons
May 18, 2015
link to original article

The Mission blue butterfly takes its name from San Francisco — the original population was discovered on Twin Peaks, at the time considered part of the Mission — and is the city’s only endangered butterfly. It probably never was widespread, but in the modern era it is incredibly rare. When the Endangered Species Act became law in 1974, there were a lot of creatures that everyone already knew were endangered, and the Mission blue was one of them. It went onto the list in the first big batch of insect listing in 1976. It has declined since then.

Butterfly hunters from San Francisco Recreation and Parks and Creekside Center for Earth Observation look for Mission Blue butterlfies on San Bruno Mountain.

When the the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service created its recovery plan for the butterfly in 1984, the agency declared that for it to come off the list it would need a “self-sustaining” and “secure” population on Twin Peaks.

A male Mission Blue ( Patrick Kobernus, USFWS)At the time, the butterflies were rare but hanging on in San Francisco. By the turn of the 21st century they were not. “Whether the population on Twin Peaks was completely extinct is kind of an open question, but it was really, really, really low,” says biologist Stu Weiss of Creekside Earth Observation Center. “I don’t think they saw any adults for quite a while.”

So a little more than six years ago, a handful of Mission blue defenders highlighted one of those lines in the recovery plan, about butterfly populations on Twin Peaks potentially needing to be “augmented” by moving butterflies from a more stable population on San Bruno Mountain. They showed the line to Fish and Wildlife and asked, well, what about it?

Creekside Center for Earth Observation biologist Lech Naumovich documents a Mission blue on San Bruno Mountain.Earlier this April, lepidopterist Liam O’Brien raced up a grassy slope near San Bruno Mountain’s Owl Canyon, arm and finger outstretched, tracking the stochastic path of a flitting white dot and screaming, “Mission blue! There it is! There it is!”

Kirra Swenerton, a natural resources manager with the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department, swished a net through the air and to the ground, then dove into the grass to inspect her capture. Trapped in the net was a female Mission blue, the fifth one the team had spotted in the last hour. Swenerton kneeled over it, murmuring gentle reassurances. O’Brien arrived a few seconds later, and together they carefully peeled back the net, drew the butterfly out and placed it inside a small plastic storage container.

The butterfly is about the size of a quarter, and mostly an off-white that’s invisible behind plastic. Its folded wings hide the electric blue that give it its name. This pregnant female —“gravid,” in lepidopterist lingo — will go into a cooler, and the cooler will go to Twin Peaks, where the butterfly will be released to lay her eggs.

Kirra Swenerton and Liam O’Brien place a captured Mission blue in its plastic container.The team from SFRPD and Creekside have worked for the last six years to reintroduce the Mission blue to Twin Peaks. They started by moving 22 females in 2009, then watched for a year to see what happened, then moved several dozen more over the next few years before taking 2014 off. At the same time, they have tried to improve the habitat for the butterflies on Twin Peaks by clearing invasive weeds and introducing different types of lupine, the butterfly’s host plant. (There are three kinds of lupine that the butterfly favors, but one of them is susceptible to root and crown fungus. The wet 1998 El Nino year led to a lot of the lupines dying, which probably led to the butterflies disappearing.)

The first winter after they started moving butterflies, they found evidence of Mission blue larvae feeding on lupines on Twin Peaks. In 2010, they saw adults flying on Twin Peaks, even though they hadn’t transferred any that year — meaning some of the eggs from the previous year had successfully hatched. In 2011, they saw larvae. Weiss estimates that there are now around 100 female Mission blue butterflies on Twin Peaks, and the team has seen them expanding into new areas on the hilltops, further cementing the idea that the population is self-reproducing. “They’ve taken,” Weiss says, and they’re now at the point where they might even be able to wind down their translocation effort. Weiss said it’s hard to say what the Mission blue carrying capacity of Twin Peaks might be, but the population is past concerns about a genetic bottleneck, and at some point you don’t gain much by adding a few dozen more to the flutter. This year’s translocation might have been the last push the butterfly needed.

The view north from San Bruno Mountain.Once upon a time, this population recharge happened more naturally. The Twin Peaks population was probably always small, but San Bruno Mountain and Twin Peaks were connected by open space. In a bad year on Twin Peaks, there was that stronghold a few miles to the south, ready with reinforcements. Now, the valleys have filled in, leaving only ridgetop islands. As Swenerton sat in the grass next to her capture, we looked north out at those islands, poking out of the steel-and-concrete sea: North San Bruno Mountain, McLaren Park, Bayview Hill, Bernal Hill, and finally, so close to our human eyes, so far away if you’re a half-inch insect on the wing, Twin Peaks.

From the perspective of the butterfly, you could see how everything once must have been connected, and how irreversibly that connection has been severed. Now, the population on Twin Peaks either has to be resilient enough to survive a bad year — and, Weiss says, you have to understand that insect populations fluctuate dramatically all on their own and this one might just dip and disappear again one day — or it has to be a permanent part of the plan that we’ll keep driving them up there from San Bruno. For now it looks like that won’t be the plan, but it doesn’t mean the responsibility ends, and Twin Peaks will always need careful habitat management to help the butterflies survive.

O’Brien, who is about the best friend a butterfly in San Francisco could have, nonetheless wondered aloud a few times if it’s all just folly. The Mission blue population on San Bruno Mountain flutters around 10,000, stable enough for now, so why all the effort to put them on Twin Peaks? The millions of tourists in their buses, stopping for 15 minutes to take in the panoramic Bay view, manifestly don’t care. Why work so hard for such an unappreciated victory?

But the act of freeing a butterfly, in a place you know is its home, temporarily clears out those questions from the foggy side of conservation. The butterflies are pretty, and they’re local. Transplanting them seems to work. Catch the butterfly, release the butterfly: it’s a straightforward, clarifying, obvious mission. “This is a happy endangered species story,” Swenerton said at one point. “People want to be part of it.”

San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department Natural Resources Manager Kirra Swenerton releases a Mission blue butterfly on Twin Peaks.Late in the day, Swenerton sat next to a lupine on Twin Peaks, where she’d just opened up the container and let a butterfly out. Once they release the butterfly, they keep a net in place over it for a while, to encourage the butterfly to lay its eggs on that plant, so Swenerton was watching the butterfly crawl around on the inside of the cloth. As it warmed up after its time in the cooler, the butterfly started to probe with tiny antennae for a way into the fresh air.

Twin Peaks with your back to the view is inglorious: a scrubby red slope, weary with litter, crowned by tourists pointing over your shoulder, suggesting that the important stuff is the other direction. But Swenerton sat with the butterfly, her head bent over the net. “All’s well, kiddo,” she said.


Deal offers sand dunes protection: Ancient remains and endangered species saved from development

The San Mateo Daily Journal
Austin Walsh
May 2, 2015
link to original article

Endangered plants and artifacts from ancient communities will be preserved from the threat of development, with the donation to San Mateo County of more than 3 acres of privately owned sand dunes in Daly City.

Transfer of the 3.25 acres of property, located on the west side of San Bruno Mountain, to the San Bruno Mountain State and County Park was recently finalized, completing an approval in February by the county Board of Supervisors to accept the land donation.

The site is home to the federally endangered yellow flowered Lessingia, which is found primarily on San Bruno Mountain, as well as an ancient shellmound built by members the Ohlone tribe who used to live in the region. Adoption into the county park system ensures the area will be conserved and spared from development that had threatened the land under private ownership.

The land transfer from private to public ownership is the culmination of a multi-year endeavor by open space advocacy group San Bruno Mountain Watch, which facilitated the donation of the property from previous owner Richard Haskins.

Del Schembari, a member of the San Bruno Mountain Watch board who worked to mediate the donation, celebrated the transfer.

“Eventually we figured it out, but it was a long process,” he said. “It’s a relief, sometimes this feels like hitting your head against the wall.”

Adrienne Tissier, the member of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors who represents Daly City, echoed those sentiments.

“We are grateful for the donation of land,” she wrote in an email. “It lies contiguous to San Bruno Mountain and enhances the recreational opportunities for walkers and hikers.”

Schembari honored the land transfer becoming official by guiding the public on a series of hikes through the property Sunday, April 26.

He said the tours were well received by those who went on the hikes. “Everyone seemed to really like it,” he said.

The ancient sand dunes, formed nearly 100,000 years ago, are home to about half of the world’s Lessingia, a yellow flowered member of the aster family, and most of the rest is located in the San Francisco Presidio.

A shellmound, formed by members of the Ohlone tribe who discarded remains from meals of shellfish, has sat on the property for thousands of years as well. Some suspect that the mound may contain Ohlone remains as well, said Schembari.

But for open space advocates, the preservation of the region is not complete.

Hilldale School, a private institution, owns a plot that sits between the recently donated parcel and the rest of the park.

San Bruno Mountain Watch said they fear the private property will be developed to expand the school campus, which could threaten conservation efforts surrounding the public space.

But Schembari said in a prepared statement he hoped the recent donation to the county by Haskins would bring light to the need for preservation of the region, and perhaps encourage land owners to consider following suit.

“There are still several acres of the dunes held in private hands and eligible for development. We hope that this donation will inspire the other landowners to donate their land to the park as well,” Schembari said in the statement.

San Bruno Mountain Watch has been working with the county Parks Department to preserve more than 3,000 acres of public space on the mountain through grant funding allocated by the Association of Bay Area Governments, commonly referred to as ABAG.

Earlier this year, the group helped facilitate the identification of regions of San Bruno Mountain, including Sign Hill Park in South San Francisco, as priority conservation areas, which allows the region to compete for grant money that can be used for conservation.

The Daly City Council took similar action in February, to identify regions of the mountain that run through its jurisdiction.

San Bruno Mountain also serves as repository for a variety of threatened species such as three endangered butterflies, rare amphibians and snakes and numerous rare plants.

Schembari said San Bruno Mountain Watch would continue the preservation effort, in hopes to conserve as much of the mountain as possible from development.

But the fight against development encroachment in a thriving region can be an uphill battle, said Schembari.

“We’re dependent on miracles to get open space in this area,” he said.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 105


"Digging the Dirt" - Spring 2015 Glen Park News

Glen Park News
Spring 2015
Kay Hamilton Estey
download Spring 2015 issue
article on page 14

For those who love our native flora and fauna, there is a rich and diverse site nearby: San Bruno Mountain—a plant and wildlife treasure trove, a place of natural beauty and gorgeous views, historical heritage, creeks, hidden valleys and high ridges. And it is all within easy reach of Glen Park gardeners.

Like many people in the region, I have been driving past the mountain for years, unaware of its wealth of plant and wild life. But once I started walking on the well-kept trails and joined guided walks, I became an enthusiast—this is a hidden gem worth exploring.

The go-to place for information and activities is San Bruno Mountain Watch, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to preserve, protect and expand the native ecosystems of San Bruno Mountain. On their website (below), you can sign up for guided walks and find out what is blooming on the mountain.

The center of their efforts to nurture the diverse ecosystems is the Mission Blue Nursery, where volunteers and staff propagate native plants for replanting on the mountain. Best of all for gardeners, this nursery has quarterly public sales of large, healthy plants acclimatized to our environment. Kris Jensen, a Bay Area native and the executive director of Mountain Watch, quoted Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist Edward O. Wilson, who wrote, “San Bruno Mountain is one of 18 global biodiversity ‘hot-spots’ in need of immediate protection.” Kris pointed out there are 13 rare and endangered plants on the mountain, and three endangered butterflies: the Mission blue, San Bruno elfin, and Callippe silver spot. He described the park as a "challenged, delicate, diverse, rich and interesting resource."

The mountain, about 1,300 feet high at its peak and covering about 3,400 acres, has been under threat by developers for many years. One of the wackiest proposals in the late 1970s recommended slicing off the top of the mountain, moving the resulting huge amount of soil over Highway 101 in conveyer belts and dumping it in the bay—thus creating two areas for development. Fortunately for us, that plan failed, due to the efforts of activists.

You can help this effort by volunteering in the Mission Blue Nursery or joining the “weed warriors” who fight the battle against invasive plants.

A good introduction to the secrets of the park is to take a walk with San Bruno Mountain Watch staff, who will show you such treasures as the shell mounds of the Ohlone people, lovely Buckeye Canyon, grasslands filled with flowers, seeps, bogs and hidden trails.

But the best thing is just to visit and walk. I hike on the Saddle Loop trail, a moderate three-mile ramble among rolling hills covered in low, mounding plants such as coyote brush, coffeeberry, manzanita and more. I often see butterflies, hawks, the ever-present California ravens, and I listen to the songbirds in the eucalyptus forests. There are so many flowering plants to enjoy—and always something new to see each season. Here are four typical plants that will also grow in your garden and, if purchased at the Mission Blue Nursery, will be acclimatized to this area.

San Franciscan wallflower, Erysimum franciscanum: Usually one the first flowers to appear in spring, this lowgrowing biennial garden plant has lovely creamy-yellow flowers and tolerates many soils. I selected this as it appears early in the season, and that pale yellow color is so hard to find. Coast rock cress, Arabis blepharophylla: This cress sends up thin, hairy stems topped with pink-purple flowers from a low-growing clump of graygreen leaves. A sweet-smelling perennial often grown in gardens and endangered in the wild, it tolerates many soils and drought.

Pearly everlasting, Anaphalis margaritacea: A tall perennial with clusters of white and yellow bracts and flowers. The clusters dry up and stay on the plant for weeks and look super planted in groups in a sunny wild native garden. They cover the slopes of the Saddle Loop like snow in fall, and are just starting to grow again now. Checkerbloom, Sidalcea malviflora: A perennial that is showy, low and best in large groups, it tolerates many soil types, some shade, and is drought tolerant. Low, profuse pink flowers are charming in the garden and good for butterflies.

Here are some resources to get you started:

San Bruno State and County Park
555 Guadalupe Canyon Parkway, Brisbane
Maps, directions, volunteer opportunities.
There is a charge for cars to enter the park, seniors are
free during the week, dogs are not allowed.

San Bruno Mountain Watch:

Mission Blue Nursery:

California Native Plant Society:

Bay Natives Nursery:
10 Cargo Way, San Francisco


South City works to preserve Sign Hill: Program could land grant money for conservation of park, San Bruno Mountain

The San Mateo Daily Journal
Austin Walsh
March 6, 2015
link to original article

A movement is underway to preserve Sign Hill Park as officials agreed to nominate the home of the signature "South San Francisco The Industrial City" declaration for conservation and restoration through a regional grant program.

Austin Walsh/Daily JournalUnder approval by the City Council, Sign Hill Park and other public spaces in South San Francisco are now part the ongoing effort to dedicate natural lands as Priority Conservation Areas, and make them eligible to compete for money that would aid preservation.

Councilmembers unanimously approved nominating Sign Hill Park, a portion of San Bruno Mountain, Orange Park, Centennial Way, Oyster Point Marina, the Bay Trail and connecting bike routes from public transportation hubs to open spaces for conservation at a February meeting.

Three privately-owned pieces of land on Sign Hill will be exempt from inclusion in the designation, as the owners elected to exclude their land from the preservation effort.

Kirk Syme, who represented the owner of two parcels on Sign Hill at the meeting, said he supported preserving the public spaces, but chose to not include the private property, citing concerns regarding how his property value might be affected.

A third 14-acre parcel of privately-held land is currently on the market.

Del Schembari, a San Bruno Mountain Watch Conservancy board member, said at the meeting there is no downside to participating in the preservation effort, as inclusion will have no impact on the zoning or land use classification of involved parcels.

The advocacy group has been working with the county parks department to preserve the more than 3,000 acres of public space on the San Bruno Mountain, which includes Sign Hill Park, through grant funding allocated by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG).

Kris Jensen, executive director with the group, lauded South San Francisco’s efforts to move forward toward protecting public space in the city.

"We think it’s amazing what South San Francisco did," he said.

Jensen also said he understood why private property owners would elect to not participate in the designation.

"Some folks are hesitant to be included, and that’s reasonable," he said.

But Jensen noted the inclusion would not have any impact on property owners’ ability to develop their property.

Should the privately held parcels ever transfer back to public property, that property would be included in the application for preservation, which is the impetus for advocates asking private property owners to participate in the program, according to the San Francisco Peninsula Open Space Coalition.

Mayor Richard Garbarino said he respected the wishes of private property owners, but could not relate to their hesitance to participate.

"I don’t understand their reluctance," he said. "It doesn’t have any effect on them."

He said the language of the recommendation approved by the council clearly stated private property would not be impacted.

"I think if they read it, they would find it was not intended to stymie developing property," he said.

South San Francisco will go forward and apply to ABAG to request funding for their protected areas, which could result in grant funding for improvements such as maintenance on the trail ascending Sign Hill Park, said Jensen.

ABAG, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District established the program 2007 to identify lands for environmental conservation.

Last month, Daly City made a similar approval to preserve San Bruno Mountain. Should it be selected, the region would join other previously established local Priority Conservation Areas such as Miramontes Ridge, Ravenswood, Teague Hill, Purisma and El Corte de Madera Creek, Tunitas Creek and La Honda, Windy Hill and Coal Creek as well as Russian Ridge, Skyline Ridge and Long Ridge.

San Bruno Mountain also serves as repository for three endangered butterflies, rare amphibians and snakes and numerous rare plants, according to a city staff report.

Garbarino said he appreciated the protection effort, because it worked to conserve the limited public space in South San Francisco.

"There is a certain degree of open space, and I think it’s important we preserve that," he said. "With the tremendous amount of development that is going on ... we need to never forget that our residents need a place to go and have some open space."

(650) 344-5200 ext. 105


Daly City council signals support for San Bruno Mountain priorty conservation area

The Examiner
Brendan P. Bartholomew - correspondent
February 15, 2015
link to original article

In a unanimous vote by the City Council, Daly City has passed a resolution supporting the establishment of a priority conservation area around San Bruno Mountain.

Brendan P. BartholomewOther Peninsula cities that have either passed similar resolutions or are expected to include Colma, Brisbane and South San Francisco.

San Bruno Mountain Watch Executive Director Kris Jensen said San Mateo County is petitioning the Association of Bay Area Governments to create the priority conservation area to protect and enhance open space, and having those cities on board could make it easier to win approval.

The association's application process is opened every few years, Jensen explained, and the current window of opportunity will close in May. If the application is approved and the conservation area is created, it would give the county potential access to various funding sources that could be used for improving access to the state park located on the mountain, as well as conserving and promoting it.

Improving access is a top priority for Daly City Councilman David Canepa, who said he supported the resolution because it might make funds available to create contiguous bicycle and pedestrian paths that would connect the mountain to the Bay and Pacific Ocean.

Canepa noted that while it is currently possible for bicyclists to take advantage of bike lane improvements on John Daly Boulevard and ride from the ocean to Mission Street, the path those bikers would then need to follow to get to the mountain is "very convoluted."

If the priority conservation area is established, additional funding sources might become available through the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, said Canepa, who sits on that organization's board of directors.

No new developments should be allowed adjacent to San Bruno Mountain's state park, according to Canepa, who said the resolution sends a message that his city values open space and will fight to prevent development from encroaching on the mountain.

But Jensen noted that the potential conservation area would not prevent private-property owners from developing their land. He noted, however, that in cases where a government might be interested in purchasing land in order to protect it from being developed, having the property be part of a priority conservation area can make it easier to obtain funds for the purchase.

One area where such a purchase might be considered is on the north side of Sign Hill in South San Francisco, Jensen said. While Sign Hill is not considered part of San Bruno Mountain, some community members and activists interested in preserving the mountain have also taken an interest in Sign Hill, which currently contains plots of privately owned land that are for sale and could be developed.