Land trust paints plant's future

The world’s largest population of a nearly extinct plant is all but saved.

At a workshop tonight, people can learn about the steps being taken to protect a stand of golden paintbrush about three miles southwest of Coupeville. At 6:30 p.m. in the Commissioners’ Hearing Room in Coupeville, Washington Department of Natural Resources personnel and representatives from the Whidbey Camano Land Trust will explain the plan for bringing the plant back.

“The Golden Paintbrush site has shrunk,” said Pat Powell, executive director of the Land Trust. “What we’re planning to do is to bring it back to its natural extent.”

The Land Trust has arranged to buy the 33-acre property from Seattle Pacific University, which owns nearby Camp Casey. Powell said that the area was slated to be sold to developers if the Land Trust was unable to purchase the property.

Golden paintbrush, or castilleja levisecta, is a yellow plant that is listed as federally threatened and at the state level as an endangered plant species. It was once commonly found on the prairies and various islands throughout the region.

The land is valued at approximately $2 million. As part of the partnership, DNR is chipping in $400,000. But in order to do so, the area must be declared a Natural Area Preserve. After the informational session, a public meeting will occur in which testimony about the project will be heard.

“This is one of the most important and unique properties I have had the opportunity to work on protecting,” Powell said, “and I have worked on the successful acquisition of nearly 300 properties in Washington State over the last 15 years.”

Curt Pavola, a program manager for DNR, said that the project will help replenish the dwindling species. The land is one of 11 sites in the nation that have sizeable populations of the plant.

“Of the 11 sites,” Pavola said, “only two meet the criteria to have as chance for being a successful population.”

Powell said that the public will not lose access to the land, which has a web of trails. But room will be made for new plantings.

Pavola said that the recovery plan has two facets. The first is to manage the intruding species that are choking off the light that the Golden Paintbrush needs to survive.

The other is planting more of the Golden Paintbrush, as well as other species native to the area.

“It’s going to be a good site for environmental education,” Pavola said. “The reason the plant is so rare is because the habitat is so rare.”

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