Center for Biological Diversity

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

August 8, 2003

For Information Contact:
Kassie Siegel, CBD (909) 659-6053
Karen Kraus, EDC (805) 963-1622
More Information: California Tiger Salamnder Web


Designation Will Enhance Endangered Species’ Recovery

CALIFORNIA – Thanks to a successful lawsuit filed by the Environmental Defense Center (EDC) and Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) must designate critical habitat for the endangered Santa Barbara County California tiger salamander by November of 2004. A Central District Court Judge ruled this week that Fish and Wildlife failed to designate critical habitat for this species as required by the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and rejected as “unreasonable” FWS’s attempt to further delay designation by an additional 5 years.

As a result of the lawsuit, FWS now has until January 15, 2004 to propose critical habitat for the salamander and must issue a final designation by November 15, 2004. All interested parties will have an opportunity to comment on the proposal. The recent proposal by Fish and Wildlife to downgrade the listing status of the Santa Barbara population of the California tiger salamander from “endangered” to “threatened” does not affect the requirement to designate critical habitat.

“The ultimate purpose of listing a species as endangered is to get the species to the point where it no longer needs to be protected under the Endangered Species Act,” said Environmental Defense Center Attorney Karen Kraus. “Designating critical habitat is a fundamental step towards achieving that goal for the Santa Barbara County California tiger salamander, and this decision will help ensure that goal is met without further delay.”

Once critical habitat is designated for the tiger salamander, federal agencies will be required to consult with FWS before they undertake or authorize activities that may impact the habitat. In addition, the designation of critical habitat will provide definitive information to landowners and agencies, and increase communication and public input. Designation of critical habitat also facilitates private parties' and state and local agencies' land use decisions by specifically identifying the habitat areas of greatest concern. Critical habitat designation does not preclude private development activities.

Critical habitat designation is an important step towards recovery of a species, and research has shown that species for which critical habitat has been designated are recovering faster than those for which critical habitat has not been designated.

"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's outrageous request for an additional five years to designate critical habitat for the species is just another example of the Bush Administration's refusal to implement the environmental laws they are sworn to uphold," said Kassie Siegel, staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. "Once again, the Court flatly rejected the Administration's arguments and ordered the Service to promptly designate critical habitat for the Santa Barbara California tiger salamander."

On January 19, 2000, FWS published both an emergency rule and a proposed rule to list the Salamander as endangered. The final rule listing the Salamander as endangered was published on September 21, 2000. Concurrent with making a final determination that a species is endangered, the ESA requires that habitat that is considered essential, or critical, to the survival and recovery of
the species be designated. At the time of the listing FWS identified direct loss of habitat, as well as the widespread conversion of land to agricultural and residential uses, which has led to the fragmentation and isolation of the remaining subpopulations, as the primary cause of the decline of the salamander. However, the FWS invoked a limited, one-year extension to the deadline to designate critical habitat for this species. The FWS then failed to meet the final deadline. In response, on October 15, 2002, EDC and CBD alerted the FWS of their intent to file a lawsuit for their failure to comply with the ESA, providing the agency with at least sixty days written notice of the violation. The suit was filed on February 25, 2003.

The California Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma californiense) is a large, terrestrial salamander with a broad, rounded snout and small eyes with black irises. This species once inhabited a variety of habitats throughout California. The Santa Barbara County population of the California tiger salamander inhabits vernal pools and seasonal ponds with associated coastal scrub, grassland, and oak savannah plant communities.


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