Golden paintbrush, a showy yellow wildflower, once thrived throughout coastal regions of the Pacific Northwest, including here in the San Juan Islands. By the 1990s, however, the plant faced extinction, as most of its prairie habitat had been converted to agriculture or cleared for human settlement. In 1997, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) listed golden paintbrush as a threatened species.
Golden paintbrush growing on San Juan Island | Staff archive
Thanks to restoration efforts by an array of conservation partners in Oregon and western Washington, many populations of this golden beauty have bounced back. Its prospects have improved to the point that, earlier this summer, USFWS announced that it’s proposing to remove golden paintbrush from listing under the Endangered Species Act.
While this may sound like great news, the plant’s local prospects are far less golden. Here in the San Juans, Castilleja levisecta remains in precipitous decline. Without continued plantings and possibly more intensive management of the islands’ shrinking populations, we could see this species wink out entirely. Nearly all of the few remaining naturally occurring local populations are on SJPT-protected land. Our stewardship staff will plant more golden paintbrush plugs this fall.
One ray of hope glows from the thriving golden paintbrush plantings at the Salish Seeds nursery at SJPT’s Red Mill Farm Preserve. The Salish Seeds Project, a joint program of the San Juan County Conservation Land Bank and the Preservation Trust, produces seeds and plugs of locally adapted prairie-plant species for restoration projects on both public and private lands.
To keep up with demand, the Salish Seeds Project is now looking to expand—and you can help!
Visit sjpt.org/SalishSeeds to learn more and donate to support this vital work.