Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.



Contacts: Kassie Siegel (909) 961-7972 or (510) 841-0812

More Information: California Tiger Salamander, Goldenstate Biodiversity Initiative

Today the Center for Biological Diversity ("Center") filed suit in U.S. District Court challenging the failure of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to take any action to protect the imperiled Sonoma County Population of the California tiger salamander. The Fish & Wildlife Service has failed to respond to the Center's petition, filed on June 12, 2001, requesting emergency protection for the species.

"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.

Today, the species has been eliminated from all but four small islands of habitat in Sonoma County. The four areas are west Santa Rosa, south Santa Rosa, west Cotati, and south Cotati. The primary threat to the species is conversion of land to urban development and vineyards. The majority of remaining populations could be eliminated in the near future due to these factors. The largest protected area that supports the Sonoma County population of the California tiger salamander is just over 100 acres in size, far less than is needed for the species to survive over the long term.

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.

Today's suit seeks to force the Fish & Wildlife Service to respond to the Center's June 12, 2001 petition and to list the Sonoma County population as endangered. The California tiger salamander has been listed as "Warranted but Precluded" since 1994, a designation which means that the scientific information indicates that listing is needed, yet the Fish & Wildlife Service is too busy listing other species to process the listing. The ESA grants special protection to species listed as "Warranted but Precluded": the Fish & Wildlife Service is required to take prompt action to prevent an emergency to the species. Today's suit would enforce that provision of the law.

"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 at


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