For Immediate Release, March 26, 2015
Contact: Jenny Loda, (415) 436-9682 x 336, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lawsuit Launched to Speed Recovery of Imperiled Flatwoods Salamanders
Found Only in Georgia, Florida, South Carolina
PANAMA CITY, Fla.— The Center for Biological Diversity and Gulf Restoration Network filed a formal notice of intent today to sue the Interior Department for its failure to develop recovery plans for the reticulated and frosted flatwoods salamanders. Although these salamanders have been protected under the Endangered Species Act for more than 15 years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has yet to develop the legally required plans that are needed to save these species from extinction. The two salamanders were historically found throughout the once-extensive longleaf pine forests of the coastal plain in Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and Georgia, but today are limited to a handful of small populations in the latter three states.
|Reticulated flatwoods salamander photo by Jeromi Hefner, USGS. This photo is available for media use.
“These species have continued to decline since their listing more than a decade ago,” said Jenny Loda, a biologist and attorney with the Center dedicated to protecting rare amphibians and reptiles. “Every day without recovery plans drives these species closer to extinction.”
The frosted flatwoods salamanders are continuing to experience marked declines throughout their range, even on the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, where they are directly under the management and supposed protection of the Fish and Wildlife Service. Recent declines at St. Marks and some other parts of the species range can be attributed to improper fire management, including prescribed fires that are too infrequent and conducted at the wrong time of year.
Recovery plans are the main tool for identifying actions necessary to save endangered species from extinction and eventually remove their protection under the Endangered Species Act. Research by the Center has found that species with dedicated recovery plans for two or more years are far more likely to be improving than those without.
Timely development and implementation of recovery plans is critical to saving species, because the plans identify on-the-ground, necessary actions to save the species, such as research and habitat restoration and protection. The flatwoods salamanders are threatened by the widespread conversion of longleaf pine forests into industrial tree farms, fire suppression and urban sprawl.
“Habitat destruction and poor forest management are continuing to drive flatwoods salamanders toward extinction,” said Loda. “We need a concrete plan to combat these threats.”
The reticulated flatwoods salamander (Ambystoma bishopi) and frosted flatwoods salamander (Ambystoma cingulatum) are black to chocolate-black salamanders, with light gray lines and specks that form a cross-banded pattern across their backs. Both species occupy longleaf pine-slash pine flatwoods in the lower southeastern coastal plain. The animals spend most of their lives underground, in crayfish burrows, root channels or burrows of their own making; they emerge in the early winter rains to breed in small, isolated seasonal wetlands.
Once prevalent throughout Alabama, Florida and Georgia, the reticulated flatwoods salamander (Ambystoma bishopi) has not been observed in Alabama in approximately 35 years. In 2009 this species was struggling to hang on in 20 small remaining isolated populations, and the frosted flatwoods salamander (Ambystoma cingulatum) was found in only 25 tenuous populations in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. Since then, many of these populations have declined or even disappeared. More than 80 percent of their habitat has been destroyed, and the remnants of pine flatwood areas are typically fragmented and degraded. These species continue to be threatened by fire suppression, drought, ORV use and disease.
The Fish and Wildlife Service listed the flatwoods salamander (Ambystoma cingulatum) as a federally threatened species in 1999. As a result of a taxonomic reclassification of the species, in 2008 the Service recognized the flatwoods salamander as two distinct species. In 2009 the agency finalized its determination of an endangered status for the reticulated flatwoods salamander (Ambystoma bishopi), while retaining a threatened status for the frosted flatwoods salamander (Ambystoma cingulatum). In response to a lawsuit by the Center, the Service in February of 2009 designated 4,453 acres of protected critical habitat for the reticulated flatwoods salamander and 22,970 acres of protected critical habitat for the frosted flatwoods salamander.
For more information about the Center’s campaign to stop the amphibian and reptile extinction crisis, please visit http://BiologicalDiversity.org/herps.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 825,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.