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Old Baldy, Canada | photo by Cameron Schaus

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   Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | monterey county

Rare Clover overlooked

One-of-a-kind plant community in grave danger

by Vince Cheap and Debbie Bulger

Graniterock has applied to the county for a permit to dump mining spoils on a biological hotspot.

Tucked away in the very southeastern corner of Santa Cruz County, just north of Highway 129 near where it crosses the Pajaro River is a rare alkali plant community known as Soda Lake. According to local plant expert, Randy Morgan, this site "is one of the biological treasures of Santa Cruz County with an ecological value out of proportion to its small size. It is the only alkaline ecosystem in this county, in fact the only such in the entire Santa Cruz Mountains bioregion."

Morgan continues, "In more than 30 years of field work, I have neither found nor heard of any location where more than a few of the specialized plant species present at Soda Lake co-occur; six of those species are rare enough that I have encountered them nowhere else."

Graniterock has applied to the county for a permit to dump mining spoils on this biological hotspot. Incredibly, the Draft EIR fails to document the presence of two rare plants, the saline clover (Trifolium depauperatum var. hydrophilum) and Congdon's tarplant (Centromadia parryi ssp. congdonii). In addition to these rare plants, the dumping would wipe out 11 other plants from the county. The saline clover was previously presumed extinct.

This spring a botanist conducting special-status plant surveys for the Soda Lake mining expansion project discovered over five acres of the saline clover at Soda Lake. This discovery brings into question the adequacy of the DEIR and the proposed mitigations.

If the County Planning Commission were to approve Graniterock's application to dump mine waste, they would ignore both the County General Plan and the Sensitive Habitat Ordinance which protect these species. It would be tragic to lose such a biological treasure.

The California Native Plant Society, Santa Cruz Chapter is requesting revision and recirculation of the DEIR. In addition they are asking residents to contact their County Supervisor and the Santa Cruz County Planning Commission regarding this issue. For more information visit

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