| For Immediate Release: July 6, 2006
Conservation Groups Sue to Protect Rare Salamanders
San Francisco, Calif. – Wildlife conservation groups filed a lawsuit today against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for denying protection to the Siskiyou Mountains and Scott Bar salamanders under the Endangered Species Act. The suit challenges FWS’s April 2006 refusal to begin a one-year review (“status review”) to determine whether threats to the rare salamanders are so serious that the species require protection.
“The Siskiyou and newly discovered Scott Bar salamanders need the safety-net of the Endangered Species Act to survive, not political shenanigans from the Bush administration,” said Noah Greenwald, Conservation Biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity and primary author of a formal petition submitted to protect the two species. “The Bush administration has the worst record protecting the nation’s wildlife of any modern president.”
To date, the Bush administration has protected just 56 species, which is the fewest number for any five-year period in the history of the Endangered Species Act and hardly compares to the 512 species protected under the Clinton administration or 234 protected under Bush senior’s administration. The Bush administration has denied or delayed protection for hundreds of imperiled species.
“We have a responsibility to prevent the extinction of wildlife, because once they are gone, we cannot bring them back,” said Joseph Vaile, Campaign Director for the southern Oregon-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center. “The Scott Bar salamander was just discovered last year. It would be a tragedy if politics led to its extinction.”
Both species of salamander live in mature and old-growth forests, which once covered much of the Northwest. Today, only fragments of these forests remain, and they face increasing pressure from logging and development. In its finding on the petition to protect the salamanders, FWS admits that logging impacts their habitat, but the agency claims other protections are sufficient to safeguard the species.
FWS pointed to the U.S. Forest Service’s “Survey and Manage” Program and the California Endangered Species Act, which currently lists the Siskiyou Mountains salamander as a threatened species. However, the Forest Service is again attempting to eliminate the Survey and Manage Program—having been turned away by a federal court on its first try—and the California Fish and Game Commission is likely to de-list the Siskiyou Mountains salamander next year.
“It is preposterous for the Fish and Wildlife Service to claim that the salamanders don’t deserve a status review because other protections are adequate, when the lights are about to go out on these other programs,” said Scott Greacen, Public Lands Coordinator for the Environmental Protection Information Center. “The Fish and Wildlife Service has a legal and moral obligation to stand up and address these issues squarely, not hide behind paper protections.”
Plaintiffs in this lawsuit include the Center for Biological Diversity, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Environmental Protection Information Center, Oregon Natural Resources Council and Cascadia Wildlands Project.
Photo of the salamander available upon request
Additional Background Information:
The Endangered Species Act is one of America’s most important environmental laws, providing a safety net for wildlife, fish, and plants that are on the brink of extinction. The law requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the places these species call home, and to use the most rigorous science available when making management decisions. The Endangered Species Act has prevented the extinction of the American bald eagle, coho salmon, the gray wolf, and hundreds of other animals, fish, and plants.
Endangered Species Act protections for the salamanders are necessary, in part, because the Administration has eliminated other environmental safeguards. The Salamanders were formerly protected under a provision of the Northwest Forest Plan called the “Survey and Manage” Program, which required the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to conduct surveys for the salamander and protect its habitat. The Bush Administration eliminated the Survey and Manage Program on March 23, 2004 to expedite logging of old-growth forest. Hundreds of Northwest wildlife species are threatened by the administration’s jettisoning of Survey and Manage protections (See: www.endangeredearth.org/library/nwfp-saving-the-pieces.pdf). The Survey and Manage Program has been reinstated by court order, but the Bush Administration is in the process of conducting an environmental review to again eliminate the important protections provided by the Program.
The salamanders have two of the smallest ranges of any salamander in western North America, occurring in southwestern Oregon and northwestern California on rocky slopes under mature and old-growth trees. Members of a group of salamanders called Plethodons, the two salamanders do not have lungs and instead breathe directly through their skin. The dense limbs and shade provided by mature and old-growth forests help retain moisture that is key for their survival. Logging and other activities that remove the shelter provided by these forests destroy the habitat that is vital for the salamander’s survival.
The rarity of the salamanders, along with their unique habitat specialization, makes them more vulnerable to natural and human threats. Protection under the Endangered Species Act for both the Scott Bar and the Siskiyou Mountains salamander would help safeguard their habitat and ensure that adequate resources are made available for recovery efforts.