For Immediate Release, January 24, 2008
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
Joseph Vaile, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, 541-621-7808
Scott Greacen, EPIC, 707-834-6257
Siskiyou Mountains and Scott Bar Salamanders Denied
Protection Under the Endangered Species Act;
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Relies on Timber Industry
Pseudo-Science to Deny Imperiled Salamanders Protection
PORTLAND, Ore.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined today that the Siskiyou Mountains and Scott Bar Salamanders do not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act. The finding relies heavily on studies conducted by Timber Products Company, a major regional landowner that stands to profit from a lack of habitat-based logging restrictions, to argue that the salamanders do not need old-growth forests to survive.
“The decision to deny the Siskiyou Mountains and Scott Bar salamanders protection flies in the face of sound science,” said Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Bush administration has become infamous for suppressing science to support resource extraction, and this decision is no exception.”
The finding admits that the only peer-reviewed science on the habitat requirements of the salamanders found that they were closely associated with old-growth forests. Indeed, the study conducted by Forest Service researchers concluded that: “mature to late-seral-forest attributes provide optimal habitat for the Siskiyou Mountains salamander” and “stands of mature and older forests evenly distributed and interconnected across the geographical range of this species would likely best insure its long-term viability.”
Yet in its finding, Fish and Wildlife repeatedly discounts these conclusions by relying on unpublished timber-industry studies to conclude that the salamanders “persist in a wide variety of habitat conditions.” The agency relies on these studies despite acknowledging that they were not based on systematic, unbiased sampling, were never peer reviewed, and were conducted by the timber industry. This kind of selective reliance on science has become all too characteristic of the Fish and Wildlife Service under the Bush administration.
“The Bush administration has slammed the door on protection of endangered species,” said Joseph Vaile, campaign director for Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center. “The Siskiyou Mountains and Scott Bar salamanders need the safety net of the Endangered Species Act to survive.”
To date, the Bush administration has protected just 58 species, which is the fewest in the history of the Endangered Species Act, and hardly compares to the 522 species protected under the Clinton Administration or 231 protected under Bush père. The administration has not listed a single U.S. species for 625 days — by far the longest drought in the history of the Act — and has denied or delayed protection for literally hundreds of imperiled species, including these two salamanders.
Denial of protection for the rare salamanders comes at a time when federal land managers and the state of California are weakening protections. The Forest Service has eliminated the Survey and Manage Program, which required surveys and protection for the salamanders, the Bureau of Land Management is in the process of revising its land management plans for western Oregon to eliminate reserves created by the Northwest Forest Plan, and the California Fish and Wildlife Commission is considering removing protection for the salamanders, which are currently listed as threatened species under the California Endangered Species Act.
“We’re just beginning to understand these unique salamanders that breathe through their skin and primarily live under the cover of old-growth forests,” said Scott Greacen, public lands coordinator for the Environmental Protection Information Center. “Yet, despite the fact that protections for the salamanders are highly uncertain, Fish and Wildlife has refused to even conduct a status review to determine if federal protection is necessary.”
Photo of the salamander available on request
Additional Background Information:
The Endangered Species Act is one of America’s most important environmental laws, providing a safety net for wildlife, fish, and plants that are on the brink of extinction. The law requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the places these species call home, and to use the most rigorous science available when making management decisions. The Endangered Species Act has prevented the extinction of the American bald eagle, coho salmon, the gray wolf, and hundreds of other animals, fish, and plants.
Endangered Species Act protections for the salamanders are necessary, in part, because the administration has eliminated other environmental safeguards. The salamanders were formerly protected under a provision of the Northwest Forest Plan called the “Survey and Manage” Program, which required the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to conduct surveys for the salamander and protect its habitat. The Bush administration eliminated the Survey and Manage Program on March 23, 2004 to expedite logging of old-growth forest. Hundreds of Northwest wildlife species are threatened by the administration’s jettisoning of Survey and Manage protections (see: www.endangeredearth.org/library/nwfp-saving-the-pieces.pdf). The Survey and Manage Program has been reinstated by court order, but the Bush administration is in the process of conducting the necessary environmental review to again eliminate the important protections provided by the program.
The salamanders have two of the smallest ranges of any salamanders in western North America, occurring in southwestern Oregon and northwestern California on rocky slopes under mature and old-growth trees. Members of a group of salamanders called Plethodons, the two salamanders are lungless, breathing directly through their skin. The dense limbs and shade provided by mature and old-growth forests help retain moisture that is key for their survival. Logging and other development that removes the shelter provided by these forests destroys the habitat that is vital for the salamander’s survival.
The rarity of the salamanders, along with their unique habitat specialization, makes them more vulnerable to natural and human threats. Protection under the Endangered Species Act for both the Scott Bar and the Siskiyou Mountains Salamander would help safeguard their habitat and ensure that adequate resources are made available for recovery efforts.