July 16, 2002
SONOMA COUNTY TIGER SALAMANDER PROTECTED UNDER FEDERAL ENDANGERED
"This is the vital first step towards preserving this magnificent creature for generations to come," said Kassie Siegel, staff attorney for the Center. The Center filed suit in January of this year when the Service failed to meet the mandatory deadlines under the ESA for processing the petition. In June, the lawsuit was settled when the Service agreed to make a determination on the emergency petition by July 15, 2002. Pursuant to the settlement agreement, the Service must also propose the California tiger salamander for listing throughout its remaining range in California by May 15, 2003, and issue a final determination on that proposal within one year.
"We are pleased that the Service has finally given this species the protection it deserves. We can now move forward with constructive proposals for protecting and recovering the Sonoma salamander and its habitat," said Siegel. Once a species is listed, the ESA prohibits all "take" which is defined broadly as killing, harming, harassing, or destroying the species habitat. An "incidental take permit" is needed from the Service for any activity that may harm the species. The Service is also required to draft a "recovery plan" for the species, which will specify the measures needed to protect the species from extinction and promote recovery. Recovery for the Sonoma salamander will likely require the assembly of larger protected blocks of habitat for the species on the Santa Rosa Plain. The Santa Rosa plain is a unique ecosystem home to many native species including the federally listed Sebastol meadowfoam, a rare plant.
Historically, the Sonoma 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 salamander spends most of its lifecycle underground in adjacent valley oak woodland or grassland habitat.
The emergency listing rule confirms that the Sonoma salamander is a "Distinct Population Segment" under the ESA, because it is both genetically and geographically distinct from other California tiger salamander populations throughout the state. The Santa Barbara population was listed as endangered in 2000.
The emergency listing rule cites habitat destruction and fragmentation as the primary threats to the species. Only seven breeding sites are known to remain in the County, and all are surrounded by a relatively small amount of natural habitat and all occur near roads where migrating salamanders can be accidentally crushed by cars.