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For Immediate Release, February 9, 2009

Contact: Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185

California Tiger Salamander Declared Candidate for
Listing Under California Endangered Species Act:
Court Order Required to Force State to Accept Listing Petition

SACRAMENTO, Calif.— The California Fish and Game Commission last Thursday formally designated the California tiger salamander as a candidate for threatened or endangered status under the California Endangered Species Act, extending legal protections to the species for one year while a status review is conducted. The Commission was forced by a Center for Biological Diversity petition and lawsuit, and a recent court of appeals ruling, to make the designation, and Thursday also illegally approved interim “take” regulations that improperly exempt projects that may harm tiger salamanders from the interim take protections under the Act.

“Despite the Fish and Game Commission’s misguided attempts to repeatedly deny protected status to the tiger salamander, the candidate designation sets the listing process back on the right track and should ultimately result in the tiger salamander getting the state protected status it deserves,” said Jeff Miller, a conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Every expert biologist who studies the California tiger salamander has weighed in and recommended the species be listed.”

The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the Commission in 2004 to list the California tiger salamander as endangered due to the impacts of urban and agricultural development. The Santa Barbara County salamander population has been listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act since 2000, as has the Sonoma County population since 2003. The central California population has been federally listed as threatened since 2004.

The Commission rejected the petition in 2004, falsely claiming it did not contain all of the data necessary to prove the salamander population deserved protection. The Center filed suit, and the Commission was forced by court order and a state appeals court ruling in September 2008 to accept the petition. The state Supreme Court refused to review the appeals court ruling. The Commission last week voted 3-2 for candidacy, clearly reluctant to protect the species. One Commissioner repeatedly referred to the presence of tiger salamanders on private land as a “salamander problem” and referred to the court that issued the petition acceptance order as a “jerks” and “stupid.”

The Commission also voted Thursday to implement incidental “take” regulation containing overly broad exemptions that allow projects to harm tiger salamanders without conducting an adequate review under the California Environmental Quality Act.

State candidate species are afforded many of the legal protections of endangered or threatened species while a year-long status review is conducted. A final state listing determination for the salamander is due in February 2010.

The court decision on the salamander has potential implications for other poorly monitored species, since the court ruled that the Commission must consider a listing petition if the information would “lead a reasonable person to conclude there is a substantial possibility” that the species could be listed.

In 2008 the Commission denied a listing petition to protect the American pika, a small relative of the rabbit, which is threatened by warming temperatures due to global climate change. In 2008 it also denied a petition to protect the Pacific fisher, a small forest carnivore that is related to otters and is threatened by logging and development in California. In both cases, the Commission claimed a lack of information prevented it from acting to protect the species. The Commission last week voted to reconsider the fisher petition rejection at its March meeting, due to the tiger salamander ruling, but is expected to reject the fisher petition once again.

The California tiger salamander depends on ephemeral vernal pools for breeding. In recent decades 95 percent of California’s vernal pools have been lost, and at least 75 percent of the salamander’s habitat throughout the state has been eliminated. In Sonoma County, 95 percent of the fragmented and minimal remaining salamander habitat is threatened by development; the Santa Barbara population is also on the verge of extinction. The Sonoma population survives in only seven viable breeding sites and the Santa Barbara population consists of only six breeding groups.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with 200,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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