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Conservation of Golden Paintbrush

(Castilleja levisecta)
by Joe Arnett, Washington Natural Heritage Program rare plant botanist
January 6, 2009

Native grasslands are among the most imperiled habitats in western Washington State, and only three percent of their original extent is estimated to remain. Numerous plant and animal occupants of these habitats have become rare. One of them, golden paintbrush, was federally listed as threatened in 1997 under the Endangered Species Act. Historically it ranged into southern Washington and the Willamette Valley in Oregon, but at the present time it is known only from a few islands near the east end of the Straits of Juan de Fuca, and from a single site near Olympia, Washington

The eleven known remaining populations of golden paintbrush occur on land belonging to diverse owners, including private individuals, conservation land trusts, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Washington State Parks, the U.S. Navy, and the public in Canada. Efforts on behalf of the species have been the joint venture of these owners, working in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Washington Natural Heritage Program. A wide network of others have also supported the work, including graduate students from the University of Washington and Oregon State University, the Institute for Applied Ecology, the Au Sable Institute on Whidbey Island, the National Park Service, the Washington Native Plant Society, and many dedicated individuals. Most of the populations are carefully monitored on a regular, and sometimes annual basis. Mowing and controlled burning are both used to reduce overtopping by woody plants, competition that historically was reduced by periodic burning of the grasslands.

The recovery plan for golden paintbrush is explicit in requiring more populations of the species than the number and size of those that currently exist. According to the plan, assurance of the survival of the species will require establishing new populations on protected land. Fortunately, golden paintbrush produces abundant seed, and grows well in cultivation. Extensive efforts are now underway to establish experimental populations in the wild, and to determine what ecological conditions will enable this species to reproduce and maintain itself in new populations.

Additional Resources

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Endangered Species Profile: Golden Paintbrush

NatureServe Explorer: Golden Paintbrush

Encyclopedia of Life: Golden Indian Paintbrush

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