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Recovery Strategy for the Pink Sand-verbena (Abronia umbellata) in Canada (Proposed)

2 Recovery

2.1 Recovery Feasibility

There are significant knowledge gaps pertaining to this species. However, recovery decisions should consider the conservation of biodiversity and the principle that a lack of full scientific certainty is not reason to postpone cost-effective measures to prevent the reduction or loss of a species that faces threats of serious or irreversible damage (as per SARA S. 38). To act in accord with the assumption that this species has been negatively impacted by human activities and that mitigation is now necessary for its continued presence in Canada may save the species. To assume and act otherwise risks the potentially preventable loss of a component of Canadian biodiversity.

In determining feasibility the following four criteria have been considered:

  • Are individuals capable of reproduction currently available to improve the population growth rate or population abundance? The population at Clo-oose Bay may still be extant as banked seeds. Even if this is not the case, seeds collected at the site in 2001 are available. As a last resort, there are healthy populations in the United States and seeds from those populations are likely viable in Canada. Once suitable seed is obtained, the plants can be raised in a controlled environment and successfully transplanted into the wild where they can reproduce and establish a population (Kaye 2003b).
  • Is sufficient suitable habitat available to support the species or could it be made available through habitat management or restoration? Habitats at the Clo-oose Bay and Pachena Bay sites are relatively intact and there are a number of other beaches between Port Renfrew and Estevan Point which appear to possess suitable habitat. The habitat at some other beaches, where invasive grasses have become established, may still be restored through recovery actions (Pickart 1997).
  • Can significant threats to the species or its habitat be avoided or mitigated through recovery actions?  There are no unavoidable threats to the species or its habitat that preclude recovery.
  • Do the necessary recovery techniques exist and are they demonstrated to be effective?  Recovery techniques have been tested in Oregon (Kaye 2003a,b) and can probably be successfully adapted to sites in Canada.

Based on the above as per the criteria from the Policy on the Feasibility of Recovery (Environment Canada et al. 2005), recovery is considered feasible.

2.2 Recovery goals, objectives and corresponding approaches

2.2.1 Recovery goals

The long-term recovery goal over the next twenty years is presented as component goals in Table 3. These goals will reduce the likelihood that this taxon will become extirpated in Canada by securing yearly seed input to multiple seedbanks where individuals may survive between periodic germination events. These goals are unlikely to lead to downlisting because there is no historical evidence that the Canadian population has ever exceeded the lower COSEWIC assessment threshold for population size (250 mature individuals). However, the recovery goal will ensure the long-term stability of this population at presumed historic low numbers.

Table 3. Recovery goals for Pink Sand-verbena over the next 20 years (2006–2025 inclusive)
COSEWIC CriteriaTermGoal NumberRecovery Goals
B1, B1aLong-term
(Twenty years)
1Conserve Pink Sand-verbena throughout its historical range of occurrence in Canada: an extant Clo-ose Bay population and at least two more populations (re)introduced by 2015 near/within the historic range.
(five years)
2Extant population at Clo-oose Bay.
(Twenty years)
3Protect all existing populations and manage each to ensure it doesn't fall below a minimum viable population size.
D1Short-term (five years)4The Clo-oose Bay population is at least a minimum viable population size.

2.2.2 Recovery objectives (including population and distribution objectives)

Recovery objectives for Pink Sand-verbena over the next five years are presented in Table 4.

Table 4. Recovery objectives: 2006–2010, inclusive
ObjectiveGoal AddressedThreatsCOSEWIC Assessment Criteria
1. Grow plants from a genetically appropriate seed source and introduce to the wild at Clo-oose Bay.2, 4Demographic collapseB1a
2. Mitigate threats to habitat and survival at Clo-oose Bay by removing beach logs derived from harvesting operations on the west coast.2, 4Increased log debrisB1a
3. Increase public awareness of the existence and conservation value of Pink Sand-verbena, associated species at risk, and sand dune habitats.1, 2, 3, 4RecreationB1
4. Secure permanent protection (legal or through stewardship) for sites of historic occurrences.1, 3Demographic collapseB1
5. Engage the cooperation of all implicated landholders in habitat protection.1, 2, 3, 4Demographic collapseB1
6. Identify and rank 5–10 potential recovery (translocation) sites.1, 3Demographic collapseB1
7. Restore habitat to functioning condition at or near proposed sites for restored/new populations1, 3Increased log debris
Demographic collapse
Invasive species

2.2.3 Rationale for Goals and Objectives

There are large knowledge gaps pertaining to this species and there is not enough information to accurately characterize its population dynamics; specifically, it is not known what it takes to make a population viable over the long term (Matt Fairbarns pers. comm. 2005). As such the safest assumption is that the population was stable prior to human interference and that humans have reduced seed input (local production and/or long distance transport) into the seedbank--it appears less likely that humans would have significantly affected seed output (viability decrease and transport off site). If this assumption is correct, then immediate action may save the species in Canada. If incorrect, the environmental costs of increasing seed input to a locally unsuitable environment appears negligible. The alternative assumption is that the population was declining naturally (for reasons other than human interference) and that nothing should be done to help the species; to act in accord with this assumption risks allowing human actions to cause the potentially preventable loss of a component of Canada's biodiversity. The former assumption appears to carry less associated risk.

Following the safest assumption outlined above, Pink Sand-verbena should be the target of recovery actions to increase seed input. A further assumption that a seedbank exists is another least risky assumption to avoid the possibility of introducing foreign genetics into a locally adapted population. In accord with this assumption, only the most genetically appropriate seed source should be used for restoration--use local seeds first and if local seeds are insufficient use the next most genetically similar seed source.

Individuals in the seed bank must be considered when estimating population numbers for viability. It is possible that this species forms viable populations with most individuals in a seedbank that is replenished through periodic reproduction (Matt Fairbarns pers. comm. 2005). In this case (depending on the values of variables relating to seed input and output from the seedbank), a relatively small number of mature plants may represent a viable population when the seedbank is considered.

This recovery strategy proposes immediate action along with demographic studies to identify factors influencing the rate of recruitment, survivorship of plants and plant modules (e.g., flowers/flowering shoots/fruits), and seedbank inputs and outputs (by long-term sequestration, germination or mortality). This information should enable the development of more precise recovery goals in later stages of recovery.

2.2.4 Broad strategy to be taken to address threats

Broad strategies for the recovery of Pink Sand-verbena are presented in Table 5.

Table 5. Broad approaches to effect recovery
PriorityObj. no.Broad approachThreat addressedSpecific stepsOutcomes or deliverables
Urgent1Gene conservationDemographic collapse

Improve storage conditions for seed collected from Clo-oose Bay.

Establish an increase program to build up supplies of stored seed.

Formalize issues around the legal collection and storage of seed.

A source of locally adapted seed.
Urgent1Population augmentationDemographic collapse

Within an experimental framework, test techniques for augmentation of the Clo-oose Bay population using transplants derived from locally adapted seed.

Establish a regular transplant program at Clo-oose Bay.

Establish demographic studies at Clo-oose Bay.

Restoration of population at Clo-oose Bay.

Identification of population constraints.

Urgent3Public extension and educationRecreation

Establish an on-site interpretation program at Clo-oose Bay to deter unintentional impacts by hikers.

Temporary fencing during the hiking season should be considered in areas subject to recreation.

Improved conditions for survivorship.
Site securementDevelop outreach programs for landowner contact at potential translocation sites.An outreach package for landowners.

Monitor the Clo-oose Bay population and critical habitat annually.

Encourage public to report sightings (done through interpretation programs).

Identification of threats and determination of population trends.
High6, 8SurveyDemographic collapse

Assess suitability of beach habitats between Estevan Point and Port Renfrew (including historic locations).

Survey suitable beaches on an annual basis for five years (2006–2011).

Encourage public to report sightings (done through interpretation programs).

Identification of sites for (re)establishing populations and documentation of limitations at each.

Location of overlooked populations.

High2, 7Habitat stewardshipIncreased log debrisRemove anthropogenic logs (i.e., logging debris) from the Clo-oose Bay site.Improved habitat conditions at Clo-oose Bay.
High2, 7Habitat stewardship

Increased log debris


Invasive Species

Remove anthropogenic logs (i.e., logging debris) as appropriate at potential translocation sites.

When translocation is undertaken, establish an on-site interpretation program at translocation sites to deter unintentional impacts by recreational users.

Control invasive grasses as appropriate at potential translocation sites.

Monitoring to enable adaptive management should be included in the monitoring approach

Improved habitat conditions and reduced trampling impacts at potential translocation sites.
High4, 5Habitat securementDemographic collapse

Identify probable locations of extirpated populations at Pachena Bay and Ahousat and assess suitability for restoration.

If habitat appears suitable, contact landowners and discuss issues related to restoration of extirpated populations.

If appropriate, secure historic locations with protection tools.

If historic locations are unsuitable, secure alternative sites for establishing populations.

Secure sites for translocation programs.

2.2.5 Effects on other species

There are no other native plants within the foreshore environment occupied by the Clo-oose Bay population and this small area does not appear to play an important role for any vertebrate species, so the approaches proposed in Table 5 will have no significant direct impacts on existing populations of native plants or vertebrates.

Removal of anthropogenic logs will likely restore natural processes of beach geomorphology and shoreline succession. Specifically, removal of anthropogenic logs may impede or reverse the unnatural stabilization of shoreline systems. A number of species of open sandy areas which are on the BC Conservation Data Centre's blue-list occur near populations of Pink Sand-verbena. At Clo-oose Bay, populations of American Glehnia (Glehnia littoralis ssp. leiocarpa), Black knotweed (Polygonum paronychia), and Beach Morning-glory (Convolvulus soldanella) occur on backshore ridges and dunes. Yellow Sand-verbena (Abronia latifolia) is another blue-listed plant which was once abundant in the backshore at Clo-oose Bay, it has not been seen since about 1995 (Jim Hamilton pers. comm. 2005). The backshore sand dune where American Glehnia, Black knotweed, and Beach Morning-glory are most abundant (and where Yellow Sand-verbena was last observed) has become stabilized due to the development of a forest strand on logging debris along the lower backshore, which now shields the dune from ocean winds. Further dune stabilization could be stopped or reversed by removal of logging debris and the forest strand. This would benefit the blue-listed species noted above and may even lead to the recovery of Yellow Sand-verbena if it is still present in the soil seedbank.

Yellow Sand-verbena also occurs at Pachena Bay, although the population is quite small and may have declined as a result of recreational activities. Recovery actions aimed at restoring the extirpated population of Pink Sand-verbena at Pachena Bay may benefit the dwindling population of Yellow Sand-verbena.

The public extension and education approach may increase public appreciation of sand dune ecosystems along the west coast of Vancouver Island as well as of some of the rare species that occur there.

2.2.6 Evaluation

The overall approaches to recovery set out in this strategy will be evaluated through routine monitoring of the status of Pink Sand-verbena and its habitat. Target levels have been established for plants in terms of occupied range and persistence (Table 3). These targets will be used to assess progress. The Recovery Strategy will be reviewed in five years to evaluate the progress on stated objectives and to identify additional approaches and changes that may be required. The following are additional performance measures that can be used to evaluate the progress of recovery:

  • Formalization of critical habitat designations through a Recovery Action Plan,
  • Number of protective measures established for critical habitat,
  • Number of knowledge gaps successfully addressed,
  • Successful prioritization of sites for securement,
  • Number of high priority sites protected by acquisition or conservation covenants,
  • Designation of the species under the provincial Wildlife Amendment Act as a Species at Risk,
  • Number of Pink Sand-verbena education and outreach materials developed and distributed,
  • Number of sites with appropriate management plans implemented,
  • Creation of an ex situ seed storage programme,
  • Creation of a guide for re-introductions and translocations of Pink Sand-verbena,
  • Number of protocols and Best Management Practices developed and distributed,
  • Number of secured sites improved through invasive species control and other restoration activities.
  • Establishment of a seed increase programme.

2.2.7 Recommended approach for recovery

The recovery team should strive for cross-membership with the team managing recovery of this taxon in the United States and with team(s) that will be set up to manage the recovery of other rare species of sandy coastlines on Vancouver Island (e.g., the Sand-verbena Moth Copablepharon fuscum and Contorted-pod Evening-primrose Camissonia contorta). Despite the obvious benefits of cross-membership with recovery team(s) for other rare species of sandy coastlines, a single species approach is best suited to the recovery of Pink Sand-verbena. This will simplify development and implementation of recovery plans but will not cause conflicts between recovery actions because Pink Sand-verbena does not co-occur with the other two species named above.

A proposed Recovery Action Plan for Pink Sand-verbena will be posted on the Public Registry by July 2008.