| BUSH ADMINISTRATION ALLOWING
EXTINCTION OF CALIFORNIA AMPHIBIAN: GROUP SUES TO PROTECT SONOMA COUNTY
FOR RELEASE THURSDAY, JANUARY 31
"This is an entirely preventable tragedy," said Kassie Siegel, staff attorney for the Center. "The Fish and Wildlife Service under Secretary of Interior Gale Norton is sitting idly on its hands while this magnificent species hurtles towards extinction. There is no excuse for the administration's failure to act. We hope that the federal judge will enforce the law and order the Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Sonoma County population of the California tiger salamander immediately."
The Sonoma County population of the California tiger salamander is one of seven populations of the California tiger salamander (Ambystoma californiense) statewide. Recent genetics work indicates that the Sonoma County population may properly be considered a separate species. Under the ESA, both species and distinct population segments ("DPSs") of vertebrate species can be listed. The Sonoma County population of the California tiger salamander warrants listing either as a separate species or as a DPS. Last year, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service listed the Santa Barbara population of the California tiger salamander on an emergency basis as a DPS.
Historically, the Sonoma County population of the California
tiger salamander was distributed throughout the Santa Rosa Plain and adjacent
lowlands in Sonoma County, and may have ranged into southern Marin and
Napa counties. The species breeds primarily in vernal pools and swales,
unique ecosystems that are inundated by winter rains and dry completely
by summer. The California tiger salamander spends most of its lifecycle
underground in adjacent valley oak woodland or grassland habitat.
The story of the South Sonoma Business Park ("SSBP") exemplifies the threat to the species. The SSBP, a large strip-mall type development, destroyed some of the best remaining California tiger salamander habitat in Sonoma County. Despite an enormous public outcry about the impacts of the project, it was approved by the pro-development Cotati city council. A breeding pool on site was required by the Department of Fish and Game and the Regional Water Quality Control Board to be preserved until the developer purchased other land as partial mitigation for the severe impacts to the species. The "preserved" pool was vandalized this fall (a ditch was dug to the street to drain the pool) and California tiger salamander eggs perished.
Another severe problem is habitat fragmentation and
roadkill from the burgeoning traffic in the area. Stoney Point road in
particular has changed from a rural route to a major urban thouroughfare
in recent years and roadkill during the fall migration season is now devastating
to the salamander.
"There is no scientific debate as to whether the species warrants immediate emergency listing," said Siegel. "Every independent scientific expert on the species that we have spoken to supports the listing. The only mystery is why the listing process, which Congress explicitly stated was to be based on science alone, has become a victim of the Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton's assault on the environment."
The Extinction Rider, a legislative attempt last summer promoted by the Bush Administration and Gale Norton to remove the ability of public interest organizations and individuals to sue the government to compel the timely listing of species, failed last year in the face of massive popular opposition.
Photos and further information regarding the Sonoma
County population of the California tiger salamander are available online