| For Immediate Release: Jan. 12, 2007
Contacts: Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity (503) 484-7495
Court Rules Cal Fish and Game Illegally Stripped Protection
Court determines Department of Fish and Game does not have the authority to
SAN FRANCISCO– In response to a suit brought by the Environmental Protection Information Center, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center and Center for Biological Diversity, Superior Court Judge Peter Busch ruled today that the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) cannot lawfully strip protection for the Scott Bar Salamander under the California Endangered Species Act.
“We are heartened that the recently discovered Scott Bar Salamander will receive the protection it deserves,” said Noah Greenwald, a conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). “The Department of Fish and Game’s move to strip protection from this unique salamander was abominable.”
Formerly considered a subpopulation of the Siskiyou Mountains Salamander, which is listed as a threatened species under the California Endangered Species Act, the Scott Bar Salamander was described as a new species in May 2005. Rather than herald the discovery of new species, DFG immediately informed forestry officials and timber companies that the salamander had lost protection, which allowed several logging projects to destroy salamander habitat. At least one private logging plan is currently proposed in Scott Bar Salamander habitat and likely will be affected by today’s decision.
“DFG’s move to allow logging in the Scott Bar Salamander’s habitat runs counter to their mission to protect the state’s fish and wildlife,” said Joseph Vaile, campaign director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center (KS Wild). “The court today made it clear that DFG lacks the authority to remove protections from rare species just because they were described as a new species.”
The court’s decision was important because it clarifies that only the Fish and Game Commission, and not DFG, can remove protection for species under the California Endangered Species Act. Because advances in genetic analyses allow detection of previously undetectable species, it is quite likely that other new species will be separated from already protected species. Today’s decision ensures that these species will continue to receive protection until the Fish and Game Commission has a chance to review their status in light of the thorough scientific review and public comment required under the law.
The Fish and Game Commission was never given the opportunity to analyze whether the Scott Bar Salamander merits protection even though its range is among the smallest of any terrestrial salamander in North America and is primarily limited to old-growth forests at risk from logging.
“Willful blindness and bureaucratic games just won’t cut it when a three-million-year old species is on the line,” said Lindsey Holm, Timber Harvest Plan Monitor with the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC). “In a situation like this, DFG has a moral and legal responsibility to get on the ball. Wildlife are a public trust, and DFG’s most important job is to protect that trust for the future.”
DFG is attempting separately to delist the Siskiyou Mountains Salamander, which would be the first time any California species has lost such protection. This move has been criticized sharply by primary experts on the biology of these salamanders. Forest Service scientist and Siskiyou Mountains Salamander researcher, Dr. Hartwell Welsh, concluded that the “interpretation of the science” used by DFG to support delisting was “seriously flawed” (letter available upon request).
The case is captioned Environmental Protection Information Center v. California Department of Fish and Game; case no. CPF-06-506-585. Attorneys Sharon Duggan, Michael Graf and Kevin Bundy represent the plaintiffs. Media queries for attorneys should be directed to Kevin Bundy at Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger LLP. He may be reached at (415) 552-7272 x 289.